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Posts Tagged ‘photographing polar bears’

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

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.

“I don’t think there is a better place in the world to observe and photograph polar bears.” — Joel D. Davidson

Polar bears dancing near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge on the coast of Hudson Bay.

Polar bear dancing lessons...

I don’t think there is a better place in the world to observe and photograph polar bears.Joel D. Davidson, Photographer

Joel Davidson was at Seal River Heritage Lodge in early November for Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Photo Safari, which takes place when the polar bears congregate in large numbers on the coast of Hudson Bay in anticipation of freeze-up.

Rugged and remote, but with all the comforts of home, Seal River Heritage Lodge is ideally located in the heart of polar bear country on this coast. For the serious wildlife photographer willing to spend long hours in the field getting up close and personal with the arctic wildlife, the ground level photo opportunities at the Lodge are exceptional.

“I chose Churchill Wild and Seal River Heritage Lodge to observe and photograph polar bears at ground level,” said Davidson. “I did not want to photograph the bears 15′ high from a Tundra Buggy. Our guides were very professional. Their primary concern was our safety, but they still allowed us to get close enough to the bears for good photo opportunities. My experience far exceeded my expectations!”

Arctic fox yawning on tundra near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Don't be scared, I'm only yawning.

Photos taken on the Polar Bear Photo Safari feature stunning backdrops of sea ice and the rocky landscapes that surround the Lodge. The snowy Hudson Bay shoreline is ideal for photographing polar bears in their naturally icy environment at this time of year and is praised by the many photographers that visit the Lodge.

“I took over 4,000 photos,” continued Davidson. “I have been fortunate to photograph wildlife all over the world and have never taken so many fine images in just four days!  The hardest problem was selecting the best images from hundreds of excellent photos.”

Davidson immensely enjoyed watching (and videotaping) the interaction and the wrestling of the polar bears. See video below.

Although he missed the Northern Lights, which often romance and dance on clear nights for photographers and guests at the Lodge, Davidson felt that observing so many arctic fox on the trip was a bonus. And we have to agree – he did get some fabulous arctic fox photos! See gallery below.

“The accommodations were excellent, the food was superb, and the staff was outstanding,” said Davidson. “Staying at Seal River Heritage Lodge is a photographer’s dream.”

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To view more of Joel Davidson’s polar bear photos please visit his Web site at: http://joeldavidsonimages.com/