Sign Up for our Newsletter!
1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453)

Posts Tagged ‘Churchill Wild’

Surrounded by polar bears, sharing a meal at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear mom and cub after seal lunch at Seal River Lodge

Mom and cub relaxing after lunch at Seal River.

by Mike Reimer

Wow! The action at Seal River Lodge is hot and heavy early this year for our great white bears just off the ice!

We’re literally “surrounded” by polar bears as we speak, just point the camera or scope at a point on the compass and you’re likely to see one or two bears. We’re not sure what caused this early concentration but we are not complaining!

Ever wondered what groups of animals are called?

Here at Seal River we have “gaggles” of geese, a “paddling” of duck, a “convocation” of eagles, a “colony” of gulls, a “husk” of Arctic Hares, and today we had a spectacular “sloth” of polar bears.

Six gorgeous bears spent the day sharing a ringed seal one of them had managed to catch. Said seal made the fatal mistake of falling asleep on a nice warm rock on lodge point while the tide was going out and forgot to leave, ending up several hundred meters from the receding water line. This is huge no-no when you are trying to survive on a coastline liberally sprinkled with hungry polar bears and you also happen to be loaded with thousands of calories of their favourite snack, seal fat!

This must have been one of those seals that didn’t belong in the gene pool, and it certainly provided hours of incredible polar bear watching for our Churchill Wild guests. The bears are satiated and fresh as they emerge from their icy Hudson Bay hunting grounds, but they’re certainly not going to pass up an easy meal.

At times there were as many as six bears, including a couple of family groups that were graciously sharing their prize. This certainly won’t be the case come fall when the new ice is forming and the last seal-meal is a distant memory. At present the bears look very well fed and in fabulous shape, so we’re looking forward to another great summer!

Shaping up to be one of our best polar bear viewing seasons yet!

Professional travel writer, author, says nothing compares to walking with Manitoba polar bears at Seal River

Bob the writer meets Bob the polar bear at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Bob the writer meets Bob the polar bear at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Professional travel writer and author Bob Jenkins thought he wouldn’t get close enough to polar bears at Seal River to get any decent photos. He’s glad he was wrong.

Bob flew 2,300 miles last fall as a guest of Travel Manitoba, to experience the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge. He was having second thoughts when he first stepped off the plane at the Lodge, as detailed below in an excerpt from an article entitled Manitoba lodge redefines up-close polar bear encounters, which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

… we’d been lured here by claims of a more personal experience during the initial talk I was having my doubts. But that was before Bones ambled, pigeon-toed, toward us along the shoreline. It was also before Greenspot moseyed around the outside of the lodge – and well before Bob opened his jaws to poke them through a large hole in the lodge’s backyard fence.”

“I’ve been a travel writer for over 25 years,” said Bob. “I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things. The pyramids in Egypt, the old Soviet Union, Antarctica, Rio de Janeiro… But there’s just nothing I can compare this to, getting that close to polar bears.”

That’s quite a statement coming from someone who has spent much of his life traveling to all parts of the world and writing about his experiences.

Polar bear at Seal River - Bob Jenkins photo

Polar bear announces his presence at Seal River – Bob Jenkins photo

A native of Washington, D.C., Bob earned his B.A. in journalism at Michigan State University and carved out a 39-year career at the St. Petersburg Times, where he served as editor of national news, state news, feature stories and, for 19 years, travel editor.

Since taking a buyout, Bob has been writing and selling freelance articles to publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, Miami Herald, AAA magazines, CruiseCritic.com, USAToday.com and his former employer.

He’s also been traveling.

“It’s a great job,” said Bob. “I take my iPad, camera and notebook everywhere I go. But it is a job.”

Unless of course, you’re walking with polar bears in Northern Manitoba on the desolate icy coast of Hudson Bay with a small group of people.

“I’ve photographed black bears, pythons, alligators, birds, snakes…, but never polar bears. It was mesmerizing to get that close to the world’s largest land carnivore. And our group was special. There was a professional photographer from Ecuador and four people from Montana, including one person who had been diagnosed with cancer and who was there on a “bucket list” trip. I wasn’t prepared for the cold weather and hadn’t come fully prepared. One of our group members lent me a neck warmer that I used to cover my face and it just got better from there. There was an exceptional warmth and camaraderie in our group.”

Bob the polar bear joins us  for a group photo

Bob the polar bear joins us for a group photo

Bob also felt the warmth of the Lodge and the Churchill Wild staff.

“The guides were excellent and the food was superb,” said Bob. “The staff really looked after us and always made sure everyone had enough to eat. They even had their own pastry chef!”

But the real goal of the trip was seeing Manitoba, Canada’s polar bears up close in their own environment and photographing them. The bonus was interacting with the bears.

“…we saw as many as three bears at once, lumbering in a widely spaced follow-the-leader train” wrote Bob in an article entitled Photo Safari in Manitoba, which appeared on the travel for boomers site WatchBoom.com. “We also saw two males lying down together, apparently satisfied that they posed no threat to each other. Other times the nine of us, including our guides, would find a bear on the move, and the guides would have us walk a route to intercept it.”

“Guests usually walk in single file, with a guide in front and back. When we encountered a bear, we would fan out behind both guides, to get sightlines for our photos. But if the bear should be coming toward us, it had to be diverted. The routine: One of the guides would talk to the bear, as if it were a domesticated animal. These first sounds were to get the bear’s attention away from the rest of the group.”

Next on the travel agenda for Bob? Cruises. Four of them.

“I’ve booked a cruise along the coast of Alaska, on a canal barge in France, on a riverboat from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, and on a ship from Stockholm, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. I’ll be writing about the trips for CruiseCritic.com.”

The polar bears of Seal River will be traveling with Bob, at least in spirit and conversation. After all, how can you not tell someone – anyone – you meet, that you’ve felt the warm breath of a polar bear on your face?

In their house.


Author Bob Jenkins

Author Bob Jenkins

More about Bob!

Bob Jenkins is listed in Who’s Who, though he says he’s not sure why. His web site is BobJenkinsWrites.com, and he has published four e-books of his travel articles.

Another version of Bob’s adventure at Seal River Heritage Lodge, Visions in White, also appeared in the April 2014 edition of Bay Magazine from the Tampa Bay Times, pages 112-115.

For more information on Bob’s books, please visit:  www.smashwords.com/author/robertjenkins

Award-winning photographer and author Dennis Fast to lead November 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River

Award-winning photographer/author Dennis Fast to lead 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River

Dennis Fast will lead 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River.

Award-winning photographer and author Dennis Fast will once again lead a Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge this year, from November 10-16.

The Polar Bear Photo Safari takes place during prime polar bear season, when the bears congregate in large numbers on the Hudson Bay coast waiting for the Bay to freeze so they can begin their annual seal hunt. The Polar Bear Photo Safari attracts professional and amateur photographers from around the world, primarily due to its rare ground-level access to polar bears and the resulting specialized photo opportunities.

Churchill Wild’s chief photographer for over 20 years, Fast is one of Canada’s best known photographers. His images have appeared in numerous calendars and books, including Wapusk: White Bear of the North, which showcases stunning images of polar bears and their Hudson Bay environs, and addresses the threats to the bears’ traditional migration patterns and their existence in the Churchill area.

Fast’s images also appear in his most recent book, Princess: A Special Polar Bear which tells the story of a mother polar bear who teaches her cubs about life in the Arctic regions of Canada. Designed to be read aloud and to connect children with the excitement of the outdoors, Princess details the relationship between Princess and her cubs, Braveheart and Wimpy, and touches on many of the same challenges and issues parents and children face every day in their own families.

Polar bears sparring near Seal River Heritage Lodge. Dennis fast photo

Polar bears sparring near Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Calendars that have featured Fast’s photos include those published by National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation, Inner Reflections, Manitoba Autopac (including an exclusive polar bear calendar in 2010), Parks & Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and many more. Thirty-five of Fast’s best polar bear photos are also on display in the new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) in Winnipeg.

Fast’s expertise and experience photographing in extreme northern conditions have put him among the select photographers in the world with a talent for capturing the light and magical qualities of the north. He’s traveled extensively across Canada, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Greenland, Iceland and the United States in pursuit of the perfect shot, but the polar bears of Hudson Bay will always be one of his favourite subjects.

“Polar Bears are among the most magnificent predators on earth and have fascinated me since childhood,” said Fast in an earlier interview with book publisher Heartland Associates. “I never dreamed that someday I would actually walk in the land of Wapusk (Cree for white bear). I still remember in vivid detail my first sighting of a wild polar bear and the feeling of awe it inspired with its beauty and latent power. Since then, I have had many polar bear encounters, ­ from mothers and young cubs coming out of their dens, to adult males wrestling for supremacy.”

“When you’re on the ground and a polar bear gets close to you, the shot is that much more intimate,” said Fast. “You can’t get these types of shots from above, from a vehicle. You have to be there, on the ground. At the Lodge you can get them either by hiking over the tundra or through the specialized fence that surrounds the Lodge.”

Polar bears wrestling eye-to-eye on the sea ice at Seal River. Dennis Fast photo.

Eye-to-eye on the sea ice.

The beauty of the Seal River Heritage Lodge location is that polar bears have to walk by the point of land that juts out into Hudson Bay where the Lodge is situated, 60 km north of Churchill and nine km north of the Seal River. Polar bears are naturally curious. They smell the cooking at the Lodge and they’re also interested in the activity.

It’s not unusual to have polar bears meander right up to the front door of Seal River Heritage Lodge, and at various times of the year bears will spend days lying around the Lodge enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of humans. It’s a unique environment where humans can meet polar bears in their natural home amidst spectacular scenery.

Using a super wide angle lenses you can not only get unobstructed shots of the bears up close, but also of the landscape in the background. The wide buffalo fence keeps the bears out while still allowing for exceptional photos. Smaller zooms can go right through for really intimate shots.

And it’s not just about polar bears. Last year there was a herd of caribou at the Lodge and three years ago there were over 3,000 caribou in the area, although the actual number of caribou around the Lodge at any given time depends on weather patterns. Arctic foxes have been known to come right into the compound and just about take food out of your hands. There are also arctic hares, and in 2009 photographers were lucky enough to catch a White Gyrfalcon. Additionally, the unique combination of location and weather at the Lodge can  result in phenomenal northern lights viewing.

“Through guiding photo tours and staying at the Lodge I’ve met some fascinating people,” said Fast. “From professional photographers and photojournalists at elite publications like National Geographic and the L.A. Times, to some of the world’s wealthiest people, I’ve traded stories with some very interesting and enjoyable company. I’ve met people from Japan, Mexico, China, Russia, Germany and the USA at the Lodge. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Polar bears relaxing north of Churchill at Seal River Heritage Lodge after sparring. Dennis Fast photo.

After the battle…

“The facilities at the Lodge are excellent. The food is superb, prepared from the family’s award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears, and the trips are all-inclusive. That’s important.

“Expenses can add up on a trip to Churchill when you take into account airfare, hotels, hot meals, day tours etc. So the cost of staying at the Lodge is actually quite reasonable when you consider it’s an all-inclusive adventure vacation and you’re actually staying in the wild, experiencing the polar bear’s natural environment. Yet you still have all the comforts of home along with outstanding meals and great company.”

And of course, a chance to meet polar bears, eye-to-eye.

Nursing professor learns, loves and laughs with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by +George Williams, Photos courtesy of Jo Eland

Jo Eland gives polar bears a rest at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Nina Williams photo.

Jo gives the polar bears a rest.

“When you brush your teeth make sure you spit in the fire, otherwise the grizzlies will come in.”

That’s what professional photographer Robert Postma told Jo Eland while rough camping along the Dempster Highway in Canada’s Yukon a few years ago. Jo got no such advice last year when walking with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, but she likely didn’t need it, as polar bears and grizzlies are two very different animals.

She did however, appreciate the insights and education she received from polar bear guides Andy McPherson and Albert (Butch) Saunders while at Nanuk.

“The knowledge of the guides at Nanuk was impressive,” said Jo. “And even though we were on the ground within 100 yards of a polar bear at different times, at no time did we ever feel unsafe or insecure. They watched the bears like hawks.”

Polar bear walks the Hudson bay coast at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once. ~ Jo Eland

A highly educated (PhD RN FAAN FNAP) Associate Professor of Nursing at The University of Iowa, Jo admitted she wasn’t quite prepared for walking with polar bears when she arrived at Nanuk, but she soon embraced the adventure.

“After looking at the photos on the Web site, we thought the bears would come right up to the fence,” said Jo. “We never thought we would be walking out to the polar bears, but it was exhilarating to get so close to them in their own environment. And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once.”

While bears do come up to the fence that surrounds the Lodge (and interrupt meals) on a regular basis, especially black bears, on most days at Nanuk the guests are out traversing the mudflats in the “Tundra Rhino” tracking polar bears, enjoying the vast stress-relieving landscapes of the Hudson Bay Coast. Jo particularly enjoyed the day trips, despite losing a boot in the mud one day.

Jo Eland taking photos of polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Jo Eland ~ Polar Bear Photographer.

“One of my boots came off when we were walking out to a polar bear, but it was my own fault. You need proper fitting boots, which the Lodge does provide. I brought my own and they were too big. I stumbled a bit but Nolan (Director of Lodge Operations) grabbed my arm and helped me out. My camera gear was okay, I was okay, and we just kept on going.”

Actually, we think Jo’s comment at the time went something along the lines of, “I’m still here aren’t I! It’ll take more than that to stop this old gal!”

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk. Jo Eland photo.

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk.

Considering her background as a specialist in pain management, and some of the work trips she has taken over the past 25 years, Jo’s comments were not unexpected. This winter, her and her students spent three weeks in India working with the poor in a hospice, while also taking photographs for the families.

“I’ve been going to India for five years now,” said Jo. “Most of the people have no family photos, no photos at all. So I combine my passion for photography with my passion for helping people. Eighty percent of the people we see there live below the poverty line. This year we took a picture of a mother and her disabled daughter, whom she had cared for since the age of four, 37 years. They had no photo of themselves together. It really makes you appreciate your lot in life.”

Prior to her trips to India, Jo had been traveling to Italy for 20 years, utilizing her medical skills to assist in children’s hospitals. Jo has now spent a total of 27 years working with children with cancer. Such a career, while immensely satisfying, can take a toll on a person.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

“Trips like Mothers & Cubs are much needed,” said Jo. “They free your mind. You can’t see and do India without clearing your head later on trips like Nanuk. I’ve done a lot of living in my 66 years, but this was my first time seeing the polar bears and I loved every minute of it.”

“Getting that close to the bears was marvelous,” continued Jo. “But it was much more than that. The people, not only the other guests on the trip, but the Lodge staff, were remarkable. The staff at the Lodge had an excellent work ethic and an exceptional desire to please. You just don’t find that anywhere. I’ve been to hundreds of 5-star hotels and I’ve never been looked after like I was at Nanuk. And to top it off, when we left the Lodge to fly out on the final day, the pilot did a few extra circles over the polar bears for us, so we could get a few more photos. Who does that?”

Jo also admired the ingenuity and creativity it took to build a Lodge in the Artic, and the owner’s commitment to the environment and to those less fortunate in the area.

“If a piece of garbage had floated in off the Bay, the guides would always stop to pick it up,” said Jo. “And there was their commitment to the less fortunate, which included personally delivering excess meat from hunters in the area to a food shelter in Gillam, where it would find its way to elders who couldn’t hunt anymore.”

Some of that meat might also make it into specialized dishes at the Lodge, such as moose stew in a bread bowl.

“I’m pretty picky about my food,” said Jo. “And I’d never seen that before, or tasted anything like it. The food was fascinating, interesting and excellent.”

Godwits at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland Photo.

Godwits at Nanuk.

An experienced photographer, Jo took a 400 mm lens with her on the trip, but said that many in the group were simply using point and shoot cameras and getting good photos.

“One of the guests in our group, Mandy from Australia I think, was using an iPhone,” said Jo. “And she was having a great time. Robert Postma was leading the group, and both he and I attached our lenses to some of the cameras belonging to the others in the group, so they could get some close-up shots. When I showed people our photos, they couldn’t believe we were on the ground walking with polar bears. It was such a privilege being on their turf and getting so close to them. I don’t think people really appreciate what it’s like to get that close to polar bears in their own environment.”

The highlight of the trip for Jo came on the final day.

“The guides spotted a polar bear on a sand bar,” said Jo. “We walked out to her as a group, and she posed for us for hours, cleaning her paws, rolling over… We learned, loved and laughed. It really was, the experience of a lifetime.”

Polar bear sitting on gravel bar at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Final day polar bear posing for the group.

Cat train on the move to upgrade Churchill Wild polar bear lodges for 2014

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

The Cat Train Crew, led by Mike Reimer and myself, will soon be on our way to Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge and Seal River Heritage Lodge with the materials required for a number of exciting Lodge upgrades! You can watch part of last year’s cat train adventure on the video below.

Once again we have hired Jarret O’Connor to drag his big sleigh and move a few of the heavier pieces, but for the most part it just takes some adventurous teamwork and cooperation combined with a little good luck, favourable tides and decent weather, to get this all done in a timely fashion.

The heavier items include a customized 1970-era dump truck that we built for runway work, and a Stuart Reimer-designed trailer dubbed The Beluga Hydration Unit, that will be used for hauling fresh water, as well as for fire truck duties in its down time.

Now for the upgrades!

Seal River Heritage Lodge

Seal River Heritage Lodge is home to our Birds, Bears & Belugas safari, and it will receive some well-earned equipment to improve the road out to Swan Lake, along with a Kubota tractor and a custom water trailer to help with the movement of water. We will also be completing power upgrades that will bring Seal River up to the level of power we are running at Nanuk, with a 1500-Watt addition to the solar array and a revamp of the power grid. This will help meet the power demands of electric heat and the charging of camera batteries and laptops. We’re also hauling in new dining room furniture to enhance the look and feel Jeanne Reimer has worked so hard to create in the beautiful octagonal dining room, which overlooks Hudson Bay.

Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge

Last year we hauled an entirely new three-phase power system into Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge, but it was put on the back burner until we could finish the main Lodge and shop at Nanuk. Now Dymond gets to shine! There will be much focus on installing the new system along with 3000-Watt solar panels and a 45 kW Shindaiwa generator. We’re also hauling in new kitchen tables and chairs and a large deck/viewing platform that will be erected overlooking Hudson Bay off the north end of the runway. Dymond Lake’s Great Ice Bear Adventure visitors will now dine in luxury while having a fabulous view of the Bay!

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

I’ll be taking a crew into Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge at the beginning of June along with some birders and scientists, to study the northern bird migration. Shortly after that we’ll begin working on a long list of planned improvements for this Lodge. In the middle of June we’ll fill the sky with Cargo North’s Bassler BT67 loaded up with the remaining construction materials we need to complete Mike Reimer’s new vision for this Arctic Safari location, which includes two new guest wings with eight bedrooms and bathrooms. The construction will continue through July and into a portion of August but will be completed before the start of the Mothers and Cubs Adventure.