After visiting Clyde River and then Pond Inlet further north on Baffin Island back in 2005 and 2007, hoping to see Polar Bears in the wild and being disappointed in not seeing any there, we finally tried at Churchill Wild in Northern Manitoba in October of 2009.
Not knowing whether it was going to be third time lucky or not for us this time round, our trip actually turned out to be everything that we expected and more. We got to see Polar Bears at last! Lots of them, up close and personal, and on one occasion, even one large male pushing his nose through the bars across the open window of the hallway near the kitchen in the lodge.
His breath blowing into my face – which was only about two feet away from his – while I thanked my lucky stars (afterwards that is) that I had my camcorder rolling at the moment I stood in stunned silence before this ice giant. Shivers ran down my spine, tingling in excitement at this close encounter I never dreamed would happen to me.
You just cannot get better, or closer, than that! Fantastic experiences, thank you Churchill Wild for being in existence and for making my dreams finally come true.
Mike and Julie Trayhum 2009
Churchill polar bears make Olympic Torch weekend memorable in Manitoba
Sunday, 08 November, 2009 01:35Written by Polar Bears with Pens
The weekend of November 6-8, 2009 was an exciting time to be in Churchill, Manitoba. Not only was polar bear season in full swing, the Olympic Torch also made its way into this tiny arctic seaport community of less than 1000 round residents.
The weekend celebrations began with a town social (a Manitoba tradition to party and raise money for events and charities). There was an excellent turn out of local townspeople, tour operators and especially tourists, who were flocking to the Polar Bear Capital of the World to try and catch a glimpse of these ice giants.
Saturday was a typical day in Churchill during bear season. The streets were filled with tourists and buses were zooming back and forth with people going to see the polar bears on one of the massive buggies that operate just east of the town.
At the Webber house, Helen and I were busy in the kitchen preparing a meal fit for a king. We had been asked by Lynda Gunter of Frontiers North if we could host a dinner for a group of people who were here to see polar bears and take part in the Olympic Torch Run.
Cranberries & Canada Geese Cookbook
Our guests showed up that evening after a very eventful day on the Tundra Buggy. Among them were Steve Allen, the Chairman of the Board for the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), and his wife Marjie; Charles McKee, Vice President International for the CTC; Sandra Teakle, the CTC representative from France; and Donna Campbell, the CTC representative from Australia. Our guests were also staying at the Webber house for the weekend!
Dinner went off beautifully and our 15 guests also included Lynda and Merv Gunter from Frontiers North, their son John and his wife Lisa Joy. The only interruption of the evening was the postponement of dessert so we could all go out and enjoy the fireworks display that was put on that night.
After watching the Olympic ceremonies we took a group of seven from the CTC and crowded into the Turbo Beaver for the 25-minute flight north along the coast of the Hudson Bay to Seal River Heritage Lodge. We thought we were just going for quick lunch, but upon arrival there was a sleeping polar bear only 100 yards away from the airplane.
The big white bear awoke from his sleep and proceeded to check out the new arrivals! He was within 20-yards of us before he decided we were not a threat, and he sauntered off to his napping spot again. We made the 10-minute trek to the Lodge through six inches of glistening white snow, all the while keeping an eye on our new white friend, who had moved to the runway to pushover one of our marking signs.
After a quick lunch of Hamburger Soup and Chocolate Banana Crater Cake, our hosts Mike and Jeanne Reimer, gave us a bit of an orientation, including a history of the area. We took a quick tour of the Lodge, and got the call that the plane was in the air already on its way to pick us up. That was quick! Ten minutes later we looked out the window and saw nothing. We were fogged in and it wouldn’t lift until sundown, which made it too late for the plane to take off from Churchill. We were at the Lodge for the night.
Black Currants & Caribou Cookbook
But there was more than enough room, and the staff appeared to enjoy accommodating an extra seven people for the night. In fact, our extra guests were treated no differently than any other. They enjoyed appetizers and cocktails, as well as the slide shows we present in the evenings about polar bears and the local wild life in and around our Lodge and the Churchill area. Everyone had a bed to sleep in, their bellies were full, and we even found extra toothbrushes and contact solution!
We awoke to a stunning sunrise over the ice forming on Hudson Bay. And just when the sun had fully risen, a large male bear walked up the road and right to the front door of the Lodge. He must have smelled breakfast! And all of our guests had a chance to get up close and personal with the bear while staying in the warmth and comfort of the Lodge. We made it out of the Lodge that morning and everyone made it home safe and sound.
What can we say but -WOW!! What an amazing season we had in 2008 thanks to all you wonderful people who made the effort to travel to our little Arctic paradise to take part in one of our polar bear wilderness adventures.
We might have to turn down the “volume” a bit as the sheer numbers of incredible “gigabyting” bear and whale sightings got to be a little overwhelming at times! (Websters: gigabyting: the sound made by multiple high speed shutter exposures blending together, usually involving six or more digital cameras. Occasionally applies to singular user if finger has become fixed in full auto mode due to visual over-stimulation.)
There is always a lot of work behind the scenes that goes on prior to the delivery of any great wildlife experience and this past year was no exception. We hope you enjoyed the new bedrooms with en suites as it took more than just a little effort to complete that renovation in time for the opening date in July. The project actually began taking shape with much planning, measuring and sketching going on in July of ‘07 while we were running that year’s Birds, Bears & Belugas program. This was followed by ordering and purchasing materials in fall of 07, shipping them to Churchill via train in January of this year, and finally hauling the 80,000 lbs of building materials to the lodges.
The hauling from Churchill to the lodge took place in April over the sea ice using a D6 Caterpillar and large sleigh which is quite an adventure in itself and soon to be a photo feature on our new web site. We then returned on June 15th with a construction crew of 6 very able bodied men and women who “slaved” many long exhausting hours to be ready for opening day. Stuart put the last coat of paint on at 4 a.m. six hours before the first guests arrived. Kudos to Len, Real,Yvan, Stuart,Andy,Terry, Riley, Karli and of course the “human forklift” – Barney!
The new rooms still need a few finishing touches and Jeanne has her sites set on a new kitchen and dining room which means we’re starting the whole building project planning over again for 2010!
Spring hauling was a great success, a lot was accomplished, no one got hurt or lost in a “whiteout” (blizzard) and best of all no equipment failures! Four of our Inuit friends from north of the border brought their trusty Bombardiers down from Arvait on the sea ice and managed to haul in 20,000 lbs. in one trip. Talk about a traveling road show, what a riot that was, though Dave and I had a little trouble with the raw beluga, walrus, and caribou offered for lunch and were grateful for the moose meatloaf Dave had packed for us.
Our Fire & Ice adventure in April, though a bit on the short side, was a huge success.All guests raved about Dave’s awesome cookery, the dogsledding, snowshoeing to the sea ice, northern lights, snowmobiling, and of course the finishing blizzard on the way back to Churchill wasa hit as well!
Polar Bear cries Wolf on Tundra
Thursday, 11 June, 2009 17:20Written by Polar Bears with Pens
Woke up at 6:30 a.m. and was watching a wolf playing with/teasing a bear out by the airstrip. The wolf would get in close to nip and the bear would charge after her, the wolf always staying just out of its reach, literally one step ahead. Awesome sight!
After 30 minutes the bear just laid down and completely ignored the wolf. She would nip at him along his hind quarters and he would just lay there bored, so she moved on and started harassing a second bear slightly closer to the lodge in our bear waiting area – incredible behavior to watch. This time the wolf, seems a little more serious about its attempts at bothering the bear. Through the spotting scope you could easily see she was showing her teeth and acting in a much more aggressive manner with this bear. Food being the sticky point maybe. This went on for a short period of time before the wolf gave up hope. Before the wolf left, she took some time to mark a number of trees in the area, then moved off to the west towards Swan Lake. All this action before breakfast!
Out on the Bay at 8:15, great morning, super calm and loads of Beluga about. The whales were very curious again today, following us closely the whole time we were in the river mouth. They were very vocal and once the Hydrophone was in the water the whale song was all around us.. Vocal enough in some instances to not even need the Hydrophone. At the end, after everyone who wanted in the water had gone in, we sat and drifted with the tide and wind as the Belugas came and circled us, turning on their sides to peer up at us, as curious about us as we were about them. We drifted offshore a ways into much clearer and deeper water. Under and around us, huge males were swimming just beneath the surface. What was going through their minds? Spectacular!
Back for lunch, then a short rest to digest. Dave put out a great spread! When everyone was ready we headed out towards the north. I had spotted two bears bedded down in that direction earlier. We hiked out to see what we could find.
We decided to stalk the bear furthest away from us, but the wind was wrong on our approach. He scented us and decided to move off as we came in sight of him. He moved into some brush at the base of the next point to
the north. It seemed he didn’t want to be viewed so we decided not to chase him any further.
But we were now in a perfect position to stalk the closer of the two bears near the lodge. Walking back into the wind, we managed to get in closer to him, within 50 metres. We set ourselves and everyone managed to get some great photos. The bear eventually looked up, saw us and moved away onto the tidal flats where he laid down in a position to keep an eye on us.
We then found a third bear we hadn’t noticed before out towards a kill sight from the previous week (beluga whale washed up on shore.) We approached him cautiously, staying quite a distance away, watching. He knew we were there, but didn’t move. We decided we’d leave him laying there, he might have been a little more protective of that particular area.
It was such an awesome day I almost forgot about my own personal close encounter in the morning! I was out working, dropping my Zodiac in the water and looked up towards the lodge, hmm… a bear was standing watching me work about 30 metres away! Mike and Ryley as well, with big grins on their faces. Nobody had said a word to me. Guests were standing in the dining room window snapping shots – a few good ones as well! We tossed some rocks and yelled at the bear and he moved away – but not before providing me with another lesson. Never get too engrossed in my work to look around – you never know what’s watching you!
Curious bears… another excellent day! What will tomorrow morning bring?