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Posts Tagged ‘polar bear photo safari’

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.

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma returns to Churchill Wild for three dates in 2014

Polar bear cub at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge - Robert Postma photo

Here I come… Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma will be back at Churchill Wild again in 2014, this time to lead three different groups of photographers and guests in their quest for the perfect polar bear photograph at Seal River Heritage Lodge, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge.

Postma will be at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from September 9-15 and will return to Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge from November 2-13.

Never one to shy away from adventure, Postma split his time this winter between relaxing in Bolivia, South America, and on-call nursing at remote First Nations outposts in Yukon, Canada.

Wolf at  Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Wolf at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge – Photo Credit: Robert Postma

“I’m hoping to catch the fall colours at Nanuk this year,” said Postma, who was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for the first time in 2013. “We got some great shots last year. I caught a polar bear and a black bear in the same photo, wolves came right up to the tundra Rhino, and we also experienced a full-on intense thunderstorm. I just love photographing storms.”

Storm over Nanuk.

Storm over Nanuk. Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Postma won the Canadian Geographic Photo Club’s Annual Photography Contest in 2011 when the theme was extreme weather and he’s certainly no stranger to winning photo contests. He also won the Banff Mountain Festival Photography Competition, The Nature of Things and Planet in Focus Environmental Photography Competition, the Show us your Canada photo contest, the Up Here Fantastic Photo Contest and Canadian Geographic Photo Club’s Annual Photography Contest, among others. And on April 2, 2012 his photo of a great horned owl bursting from an abandoned toolshed in Saskatchewan was the Photo of the Day on the National Geographic Web site.

“I haven’t been entering many contests lately,” said Postma. “I just haven’t had the time. I’m looking forward to getting back up to the Churchill Wild lodges. You just never know what’s going to show up when you go out the front door (of the lodges).”

Polar bears sparring at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Polar bears sparring at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Photo Credit: Robert Postma

“The arctic foxes, like the red foxes, will sometimes come right up to you at Seal River,” said Postma. “We caught a red fox watching two polar bears sparring last year. There’s also an elusive wolverine at Dymond Lake. And there’s something very special about a backlit polar bear walking towards you through the mist at Seal River, as the sunlight cuts through the steam rising off the icy coastal boulders.”

“If the weather is clear we should also be able to get some great shots of the aurora borealis,” said Postma, who wandered about the Nanuk compound in the wee hours of the morning last year helping guests photograph the northern lights. This year he’ll again be tasked with helping guests take better photographs, while also giving tutorials and slideshows during the evenings.

Northern lights over Nanuk.

Northern lights over Nanuk. Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Postma has worked on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut and traveled all over North America, as well as to Iceland, Australia, Bolivia, Peru, Guyana and Lebanon. His photos have appeared in numerous publications including National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Up Here, Our Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Astronomy, as well as in brochures, annual reports and calendars. Examples of his work can be seen on the gallery section of his Web site at www.DistantHorizons.ca and on his Robert Postma Photography Facebook Page.

Postma prefers on-the-ground polar bear photography over the tundra buggy variety. He likes to get down low; to look into his subject’s eyes; in an effort to portray emotion in his photographs. Crouched down, lens ready, face-to-face with a polar bear, your heart pounding….

Could you take the shot?

Polar bear paw closeup

Sometimes you do not need to see the entire bear… Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Summer at Seal River Lodge, Notes from an award-winning wildlife photographer

Guest Post by Steven Blandin, Award-Winning Wildlife Photographer
www.bird-wildlifephotography.com

Churchillwild - Splashing Bear

When is the best time of the year to go on a polar bear safari?

That was my initial inner question when my wife showed interest in exploring the possibilities of a trip to see polar bears. I knew we did not want to go as far as Northern Europe, and as it turned out, Canada was in fact the place with the larger population of polar bears.

Now set on finding a great spot in Canada, it seemed that the west bank of Hudson Bay would be the ideal place to see polar bears from July to the middle of November. Why? Because polar bears cross the large Bay after spending the winter north of the Arctic poles. They then congregate west of the Bay waiting for it to freeze anew, so that they may cross and head back to their winter turf.

Churchillwild - Summer landscape

That left us choosing between three seasonal time periods: summer, early autumn with the fall colors or late fall, when there would be snow on the ground. Not wanting to go on our adventure when temperatures were too low, we opted for a summer trip. That might seem counter-intuitive to some, as most of us imagine polar bears on a snowy landscape.

We decided that the Fireweed blooming season, which lasts about three weeks, would be the ideal time to go. The plants flower with purple colors and in big numbers. This provides a very unique green and purple backdrop, which we thought would be a bit different than the typical snowy environment. We targeted a week with likely Fireweed blooming days and booked our adventure.

Churchillwild - Bear Portrait
Flying on a small plane from Churchill to the Seal River Heritage Lodge offered a fantastic view of the grassy coastal landscape on the Hudson Bay shores. And the green contrasted superbly with the rice in the waters. Wait… the rice? Yes!

Large pods of beluga whales can be spotted from up above, and they give the impression of bowl of soup filled with rice. A great introduction to this remote land, we thought, this was going to be a very nice photographic experience!

We arrived to a warm welcome from Lodge owners Jeanne and Mike Reimer and our other hosts, who did wonderful work in the week that followed. The food was absolutely delicious, the rooms were quite comfortable, and our guides were amazing.

We saw polar bears every single day! Whether during walks, or just staying at the Lodge and peeking through the fence, we had memorable encounters with the bears. And all of our meetings with the bears occurred in an environment that was safe for both us and the bears.

Churchillwild - Golden Bear

I was also very happy with the fact that we had not missed the blooming Fireweed season, as we arrived in the last week of blooming. Even though we had missed the most intense blooming days, we were still amazed by the very unique purple and green color mix. We were also delighted to have photo opportunities in which the blooming flowers contrasted beautifully with the majestic bears.

Polar bears are curious creatures. On more than one occasion they actually walked towards us. Another key characteristic that struck me was that polar bears sleep quite a bit! Maybe they should be renamed the polar lions.

Churchillwild - Approaching Bear

We had a specific male polar bear sleeping close to the Lodge for a few days on a small peninsula, but he also took occasional walks and swims. We really felt that he was like another guest who just preferred to spend his nights under a starry sky.

Churchillwild - Sleeping Bear

The Seal River area is not only known for polar bears, but also for its migrating beluga whales and the aurora borealis. The latter phenomenon occurs when particles in the atmosphere are swept by the solar wind, and can be visible during clear nights for a few minutes to a number of hours. Though there are more clear nights during the winter, we did experience a couple of nights with spectacular northern lights. And we did not have to freeze to death to capture good shots!

Churchillwild - Aurora Borealis

Being on the Hudson Bay coast, we also took the opportunity to hop on a couple of the Zodiak boats to experience a swim with the belugas. Having been raised in the warm waters of the Caribbean, the icy waters of Hudson Bay were an initial concern, but once geared up with dry suits, tied to the boat by our ankles, and floating in the water, we found that we did not get cold, and the whales swam within arms-length of us.

In the end, I believe every season brings unique opportunities for a polar bear safari. We experienced the summer season, but the fall is highlighted by beautiful yellow and red colors, along with potentially more diversity in wildlife viewings. And late fall and winter adds the expected and still magical white coat of snow. So really, one might want to experience every single season!

Churchillwild - Yawning Bear

This trip allowed me to add many top notch polar bear photographs to my blog.

Polar bear and black bear caught together in rare photo at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

Polar bear and black bear together at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bear and black bear together at Nanuk! Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Professional photographer Robert Postma was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in early September to lead photographers on our Mothers and Cubs Adventure and a Polar Bear Photo Safari.

He got me something I’ll treasure forever.

I am always after my professional and amateur photographers for something out of the ordinary, and while visiting Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge one of my requests has always been a picture of my favorite North American land carnivore the polar bear, and everybody’s cute and fuzzy black bear – together, in the same photograph. This time it really did feel like my request might finally become a reality.

Black bears were wandering around the compound regularly, cleaning up the last of the berries that this wonderful land produces, and polar bears were circling the Lodge enjoying the smells from our culinary expert Riley Friesen. I’m not sure whether it was the moose hamburger soup, the caribou bacon wraps, or the smell of freshly baked bread and Jayne’s delicious chocolate chip cookies that kept attracting the bears.

Whatever it was, it was working!

On numerous occasions our guests commented that today Nolan may just get his picture. Well, after three years of wonderful shots of these magnificent creatures on separate slides, my request was finally filled when Robert approached me and suggested he may have gotten a picture of both bears, but the light was not great.

As you can imagine, I was quite excited. Only once had I missed this opportunity myself. Polar bears and black bears do not like to spend time around each other, let alone posing together for photo!

Polar bears are generally solitary animals, but they will spend time with other polar bears. Black bears, on the other hand, will tolerate other black bears more freely, but there have been countless occasions at the Lodge in which we have seen black bears running into the tree line at the slightest whiff of an approaching polar bear.

Robert presented me with the photo of the black bear and the polar bear outside the Lodge at Nanuk on an early September evening. You can just see the black bear peeking out of the bushes in the top right hand corner of the photo. It is one of my most coveted photographs and I am proud to share it with all of you.

Thank you Robert!

Happy days from up here at The Next Great Arctic Safari!