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Posts Tagged ‘Manitoba’

From Beijing, China, to Seal River, Manitoba, for polar bear photos

Xie Jianguo and his hardy group of photographers from Birds Eye Media traveled all the way from Beijing, China this week to pursue our great white bears with their cameras.

Fireweed!

Fireweed!

From all aspects the trip was a “smashing” success, sorry Li, no pun intended after dropping that new 600 & D1 on the rocks! Hope it is repairable. And Xie hopes that his feet will one day thaw and feel warm again.

Lazy day in the grass.

Lazy day in the grass.

The weather, tides, bugs (lack thereof), and wildlife all conspired to give us an exceptional experience. Mike was fortunate to be able to get out with cousin Quent and help guide for a change of pace from regular lodge operations and it was a blast.

As the photos indicate, there were some very special photo opportunities to be had and the group will have many exhausting hours of editing ahead of them.

Love is in the air.

Love is in the air.

Moms, Cubs, Blooms and Belugas all in fine form at Seal River!

 by Terry Elliot, Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guide

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Just about at the halfway point of our summer season and I thought I would let everyone know how things have been going.

There have been so many mothers and cubs this year that I have lost count! This morning we saw a Mom with two cubs nursing on the tidal flats with another Mom and her cub in the distance. The last group saw two separate nursing sessions with one of the cubs vocalizing his displeasure at having to move on too soon.

Great groups of people and everyone leaving just blown away by the things they have seen. The belugas have been amazing with many of the guests getting kissed and nuzzled by them.

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

The flower bloom has been spectacular (as usual) and thanks to a warm dry spring the bugs have been almost nonexistent. Looking forward to the rest of the season, and to the Arctic Safari, my favourite trip!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

New Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge construction well underway

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Timber-frame lounge/dining room construction well on its way!

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Timber-frame lounge/dining room construction well on its way!

First we had to plan and organize all the building materials, which included lumber, timber frame, plumbing, electrical supplies, solar panels, inverters, a 45 kW generator and more. Then we had to find a way to haul it 110 nautical miles from Gillam to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, along with two construction crews and even more helpers.

After that we could start building the brand new state-of-the-art 24 x 60 shop with a triple phase electrical system. Once the shop was complete we could start on the new Nanuk lounge and dining hall that will be attached to one of the existing buildings and completely renovated into a new kitchen.

Albert, Vinnie and myself were on the apron of the Gillam runway when the bright yellow Bassler BT67 from Cargo North coasted in and rolled to a stop. The modified DC-3 has been stretched approximately 10 feet and has had its power converted from an old radial engine to brand new turbine engines that can haul over 10,000 pounds. Everything from stacks of lumber to the Tundra Rhino were going to fit on this plane.

The Tundra Rhino was custom built by Stewart Reimer to travel the coastline and move up to eight guests at a time. It was 8-wheeler when we started loading and a 2-wheeler by the time we were done, but it fit! We also had less than an inch of space left when the loader put the generator through the door.

Tundra Rhino!

The Tundra Rhino has been tamed!

With a crew of three including myself in Gillam, a front-end loader; the pilot, co-pilot-worker, engineer-worker and another helper; Riley, Karli and four more helpers on the ground at Nanuk; the hauling began. Load after load after load for a total of 18.

Fourteen-hour days ensued and we managed to complete the task of hauling everything in over five days. The only downside to having a plane as large as the modified DC3 that did the hauling was the fact that our runway is only 3,000 feet long and 120 feet wide, which left nowhere for the plane to turn around. We came up with a fun solution for that. See video below.

We are now one month into the project. The shop is built, the power system overhaul is complete and includes 16 235 W solar panels that deliver 4000 W of charging power to the 48-volt battery bank. We also have an eco-friendly 45 kW diesel generator as backup, but the generator rarely runs due to the ample solar power.

The floor is built for the new lounge and the erection of the timber frame has begun. Stewart Reimer is in camp with his trusty helper Ryan and they are working on a list of mechanical repairs an Indy pit crew could not complete in the timeframe I’ve given them: Retro-fit the guest trailers; get the Tundra Rhino up and running; perform maintenance on all five quads; move a bunch of buildings; get the CAT running and clean up the runway.

And it’s all getting done!

We’ve had four-legged visitors almost every day. Seems all the animals on the coast and in the forest want to know what is going on. The workers have to be weary by now of the two polar bears at camp posing for pictures, and I counted at least six more polar bears within 10 km of us during our flight out to Gilliam.

There have been multiple black bears on site and Ivan recently got us all up from coffee to check out two 6-foot tall yearling moose twins standing beside a pile of lumber. Riel also managed to call a young black wolf right up to the fence.

There are never ending chirps to wake us at 4:30 a.m. so we are never late getting started. And the weasels and bunnies are a common site all through the evening as we sit outside enjoying the smell of the fresh salt air.

But enough chit-chat for now, there are things to do. We have an incredible combination of crew and family working on this project, doing what they love to do. By the end of August, when the first guests arrive at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, we will have a very special experience waiting for them.

Something that only Churchill Wild can provide.

Panoramic landscape at Nanuk. Click for larger image.

Panoramic landscape at Nanuk.

Honeymoon with a wolf at North Knife Lake

by Karli Friesen

Wolf at North Knife Lake

Our friend the wolf was always close during our honeymoon at North Knife Lake Lodge.

Our decision to honeymoon at North Knife Lake Lodge in northern Manitoba was made years ago before we were even dating.

“You can’t honeymoon there, I’m honeymooning there!” we said to each other.

Little did we know (though by that time we may have hoped) that three years later we’d be honeymooning there – together!

Karli and Riley at North Knife Lake Lodge

Sunny day at North Knife Lake Lodge!

North Knife Lake Lodge is the perfect honeymoon destination. That’s assuming you can stand 25 degrees C, sunny blue skies, no bugs, loons calling at night, long walks in the woods, canoeing and fishing on windless days and various animals providing endless photo opportunities. Every moment we felt like we were the ones being watched and studied, not the other way around.

Oh, and did we mention the wolf pups?

As the plane flew off into the distance, we stood on the runway watching, wondering, if our decision to be completely alone in the Canadian north for a week was a good one. We started the hike back to the Lodge, hoping to return with the four-wheeler for our gear before any wild animals got into the groceries.

As we rounded the first bend on the trail, 25 yards ahead of us a big timber wolf stopped and looked back over his shoulder toward us. We froze and everyone watched each other for a moment, before the wolf trotted off into the bush. That was our first sighting of him, and afterwards, we knew he was never very far away.

The next morning, I was excited to show my new husband the wolf den that my cousin and I had discovered a little less than 10 years earlier. We packed the essentials — food, matches, water, camera, flashlights and rain jackets — and headed off toward a lake known as Wrong Lake. As soon as we were on top of the first esker off the west side of the runway, we saw the wolf again, trotting through the trees below us, about 200 yards away.

Every so often he stopped to look back at us, but wasted no time posing for pictures before he was gone again. We continued on toward the wolf den. When we were within a couple hundred yards, though we couldn’t see it yet, we decided to circle down below the den in case it was active. Though I had been to the den every summer since we’d found it, it had never been active to my knowledge. Still, on the off chance it was, we gave the den – and whatever wolves were around – some space.

Karli Friesen

Karli by the creek. There’s fish in there!

We came up from the bottom of the esker about 50 yards from the den. As we approached the entrance, we could see that most of the grass around the entrance had been flattened, and that there were wolf tracks and caribou hair surrounding the entrance. Still, we weren’t sure.

I crouched down by the main entrance and looked down into one of the secondary entrances. Small tracks and some scat lay around the smaller entrance, but both looked too small to belong to a wolf. Maybe a fox though.

The trees at the den entrance groaned slightly as they swayed in the wind, and we chatted quietly, mulling over what we were looking at and wondered if the den was active. Until we realized that the groaning wasn’t the trees!

Suddenly, the groaning sound was joined by whimpers, grunts, snorts and whines, the sound a sleeping pile of puppies make when they all start to shift and jostle. I was beyond excited! As a young girl, I had always dreamed of finding an active wolf den and finally the day had arrived!

Since we knew the male wolf was around and now suspected that these puppies probably belonged to him, we left the den entrance and headed up over the top of the esker to make our way back to the Lodge. Sure enough, only 100 yards away, just on the other esker, that same wolf stood watching us. He was directly in our path but heading west, so we swung east to give him plenty of space to get back to the den.

That evening, we fished the creek north of the runway and brought a few fish home with us. We saved the guts and trimmings and decided that the next day we would take the fish remains out to the wolves to let them know we were friendly. The next morning, we set out early again, bucket of fish guts in tow.

When we arrived at the trail that would take us from the Wrong Lake esker to the den esker, we heard a bark behind us. We snapped our heads up and found ourselves looking at our wolf again, standing in the middle of a sand patch on the esker south of us. He barked again, and again, before letting out a long, low, howl, the kind that makes you pay attention. He seemed agitated and continued to bark and howl over and over.

We waited for a response from another wolf, but there was none. We guessed that he was trying to draw us away from the den or warn his mate of our presence. We decided not to go back to the den, but to leave the wolves as they were before we showed up, so we dumped the fish guts where we stood and started walking straight toward the wolf. He watched us coming towards him for a moment then disappeared over the edge of the esker.

We stopped on the same sand patch where the wolf had stood and had our lunch. Afterwards, we were making our way home and as we emerged from the trees, the wolf appeared on the edge of the runway. Again, we stopped to watch each other, before both parties crossed the runway and continued on our paths back to the Lodge. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing a wolf is escorting you back to your home and away from his.

Riley and I agreed that we wouldn’t return to the wolves’ esker after that, but still each day we saw the wolf. Nearly every time we crossed the runway we were guaranteed to see him there, a few hundred yards off, watching and waiting to see which way we would go. No matter where we went, we had a feeling that he was nearby, adding an element of mystery to all our hikes.

One day, we crossed the runway with the wolf and stopped on the east edge to watch him. He stopped as well and sat down, facing us. Suddenly, he threw back his head and howled, barked, then howled again. We watched and listened in awe for a few minutes, before deciding to try our own barks and howls. We were pathetic at first – we sounded more like scrapping cats than wolves – but as we got the hang of the low, deep, drawn out howls, our wolf started to respond to us.

We stayed there about 10 minutes, just us and the wolf, howling back and forth at each other.

Karli and Riley Friesen at North Knife Lake Lodge

Karli and Riley. Honeymoon in paradise)

Surely he understood everything he was trying to communicate and probably wondered what foreign dialect these strange creatures were speaking.

When our voices started getting weak, we made our way back to the Lodge, with our escort slipping in and out of the trees, unseen and unheard, but definitely felt.

Now the Lodge sits empty again, and I imagine a den of puppies somewhere grows bigger and stronger every day, practicing barks and howls, uninterrupted by worries or cares and enjoying the magical wilderness at North Knife Lake.

A special place we were lucky enough to be a part of for one fabulous honeymoon.

Walking where the white bear prowls

Walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild

Polar bear saunters by guests at Churchill Wild.

Safaris

Walking where the white bear prowls

This story originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Up Here Magazine.

In Churchill, a wildlife-watching company steps into daring territory.

When it comes to ferocious carnivores, Ian Johnson’s seen it all. The veteran safari operator from Johannesburg, South Africa, has walked among lions, leopards and rhinos; he’s had narrow brushes with nasty ways to die. But nothing could prepare him for Churchill Wild’s polar bear walking tours last year, when he got within shouting distance of the largest Arctic predator.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Johnson. “I mean, they’re the biggest, most dangerous carnivore on land.”  And yet – though they came as close as 50 metres – Johnson says he felt perfectly safe.

Churchill Wild is the only outfitter in Canada, and perhaps the world, that trots tourists this close to polar bears. How do they get away with it? Andy Macpherson, one of the company’s lead guides, says they’ve got it down to a science.

“It’s all about interpreting behaviour,” he says. Guides read bears’ posture and body language, looking for sign the animals are agitated. And of course, they carry bear bangers and shotguns – but they boast that they rarely use the bangers, and have never shot a bear.

“The guides are so good, you fall into a sense of security,” says Johnson. “You carry on as though there isn’t a large carnivore who hasn’t eaten since June.”

To take your own walk on the wild side, visit their website: ChurchillWild.com.

 

Interested in having your heart beat a little bit faster?

Our Great Ice Bear Adventure takes place in October and November when the bears are congregating in large numbers on the coast of Hudson Bay waiting for freeze-up and anxious to get back to their hunting grounds. This is prime polar bear season!

One of the most diverse and holistic fall wildlife viewing packages offered anywhere in the world, the Great Ice Bear Adventure combines four days at Dymond Lake EcoLodge, where many of the Arctic’s most famous residents are seen and photographed on foot or from the Lodge, as well as on one day in Churchill on a buggy tour. We’re also expecting some spectacular Northern Lights this year due to the Solar Max!

If you would like more information on the Great Ice Bear Adventure, please call 1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453) or e-mail us at info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you!

Our Guests Say It Best!

It was amazing! I had really high expectations and the experience lived up to them. All of the staff were very friendly and the logistics were well coordinated – everything went very smoothly. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and really added to our experience. I’m so glad I opted for Churchill Wild rather than the typical polar buggy tour. Seeing a polar bear on foot was unforgettable!

~ Debra Hartsell & Michael James