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Posts Tagged ‘polar bear photo safari’

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!

New Dining/Viewing Lounge at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge now complete. First looks!

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

New dining room and viewing lounge at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

The new lunch time at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge!

The new dining room and viewing lounge at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is now complete to rave reviews!

We had only a few minor things to complete when the first guests of the Nanuk season arrived on August 29 for the Polar Bear Photo Safari, and all thoroughly enjoyed dining, relaxing and viewing picture-window wildlife from the new lounge.

The first group of guests were treated to daily visits from black bears just outside the lounge and polar bears were found every day out on Hudson Bay flats. The first group was able to get up close and personal with polar bears, and the second group of guests. All from Australia, had both polar bears and wolves at the compound fence! These were also easily viewable from the new lounge windows, as well as on our daily treks to the flats. And the northern lights cooperated!

Professional photographer Robert Postma led the first groups of guests, got along famously with everyone and went out of his way to be helpful. He also provided us with some great photos of wildlife, landscapes, people and the new lounge (see below).

Eighteen loads of lumber, timber frame, plumbing, electrical supplies, solar panels, inverters, a 45 kW generator and some energetic builders and helpers were required to complete the new lounge. All materials were flown 110 km from Gillam via a customized DC3 Bassler BT67 from Cargo North. It was a real team effort that we detailed in our last Nanuk construction update.

A sincere thank you to friends, family, construction crews, lodge staff, Robert, our wonderful guests (and the wildlife!) for helping us to make the new Nanuk dining lounge and viewing area a huge success.

You are all greatly appreciated!

Award-winning photographer and author Dennis Fast to lead late fall Polar Bear Photo Safaris at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and Seal River Heritage Lodge

Polar bear approaches at Nanuk.

Polar bear approaches at Nanuk.

Dennis Fast has been Churchill Wild’s chief photographer for the past 20 years, starting out as a guide in 1993 and progressing to lead numerous photo safaris. This year he will lead the Polar Bear Photo Safaris that take place at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from September 23-30, 2013 and two that take place at Seal River Heritage Lodge from November 10-16 and November 14-20.

One of Manitoba’s best known photographers, Dennis’s images have appeared in many calendars and books, including the award-winning best seller Pelicans to Polar Bears, a Manitoba wildlife viewing guide. His calendar credit list is impressive and includes 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. Most recently, 35 of Dennis’s best polar bear photos were placed in the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) in Winnipeg.

PolarMomandCubNanuk540

Polar bear Mom and Cub at Nanuk.

Dennis was a school principal for many years before retiring in 1998 to devote more time to his dual passions of birding and photography. He first met Churchill Wild’s Mike and Jeanne Reimer in the early ‘90s through Mike’s sister, who gave a presentation at his school. That led to doing photography workshops for the Churchill Northern Studies Centre and eventually to flying over what is now Seal River Heritage Lodge when it was an abandoned whale research centre ravaged by wolves and polar bears in 1993.

“I thought Mike was crazy at the time,” said Dennis. “But I started out guiding for him and look at it now. It’s the most gorgeous showplace on the tundra.”

Hmm... how come all the other bears are white?

Hmm… how come all the other bears are white?

Dennis has made major contributions to a number of books since then, including Wapusk: White Bear of the North, the first book to feature his work exclusively. Wapusk: White Bear of the North showcases stunning images of polar bears in their Hudson Bay environs, but also addresses the threats to the bears’ traditional migration patterns and their existence in the Churchill area.

Over the past 10 years Dennis has photographed polar bears every season, and has had some amazing encounters with the world’s largest land carnivore. He has also observed firsthand the changing climate of the North and its effect on the polar bear. Ever-shortening winters have left many bears still hungry when summer approaches, and it has made them leaner and more aggressive, and driven them to increasing contact with man and his refuse.

Batten down the hatches! Storm at Nanuk.

Batten down the hatches! Storm at Nanuk.

Most recently, Dennis’s images appeared in The Land Where the Sky Begins, which was commissioned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada to document the last remnants of Manitoba’s tall grass prairie and aspen parkland. Written by Barbara Huck, one of Canada’s premier natural history writers, The Land Where the Sky Begins is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the landscapes and wildlife that constitute this vanishing wilderness.

Dennis has traveled extensively across Canada, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Greenland, Iceland, and the United States in pursuit of photographs, most recently to Iceland and Greenland to photograph landscapes. The latter, along with the polar bears, are what attracts him to all three of Churchill Wild’s polar bear lodges.

What's going on over there? Polar bear Mom and Cub at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

What’s going on over there?

“They’re all different,” said Dennis. “Seal River has the lunar landscapes when the tide goes out, Dymond Lake is a little more inland with trees and Nanuk is flat with smooth beaches, lagoons and grasslands on the coast, and tons of birds. Each have their own unique qualities. And they all attract polar bears.”

And the light conditions should be ideal.

Polar bear approaching fast at nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Polar bear approaching fast!

“There’s no warm water mixing with cold air to produce fog as it does when you’re near Churchill,” said Dennis. “The clear skies should result in some excellent opportunities to photograph the northern lights. I’m expecting the same at Seal River with the Solar Max. At Nanuk we’ll take the ATVs out to the coast every day to see the mothers and cubs, but we’re also going to get some exceptional landscape shots and photographs of other wildlife in the area.”

That wildlife includes thousands of different birds, wolves, moose, caribou and more. And Dennis will be helping his fellow photographers not just with the technical aspects of taking pictures, but also the processing of the images.

“I’m really looking forward to helping everyone get the best photos possible,” said Dennis. As are we!

On the beach. Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

On the beach. Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma to lead Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma will lead the 2013 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in early September, and he’s excited about getting back on the tundra at ground-level with the world’s largest land carnivore.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Postma speaking from his home in Whitehorse, Yukon. “I’ve never been to Nanuk, but have wanted to go ever since I started visiting the Churchill Wild Lodges, especially to head a photo safari. I’m looking forward to helping the other photographers get some great shots, give tips and advice, answer any questions they might have.”

The 41-year-old Postma has worked as professional photographer since 2003. His photos have appeared in numerous magazines including National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Up Here, Our Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Astronomy, as well as in brochures, annual reports and calendars. On April 2, 2012 his photo of a great horned owl bursting from an abandoned toolshed in Saskatchewan appeared as the Photo of the Day on the National Geographic Web site. Examples of Postma’s work can also be seen on the gallery section of his website at at www.DistantHorizons.ca and also on his Robert Postma Photography Facebook Page.

A few of Postma’s photo contest wins include the 2010 Banff Mountain Festival Photography Competition, The Nature of Things and Planet in Focus Nature in Focus Environmental Photography Competition, the Show us your Canada photo contest in 2004 and 2008, the Up Here Fantastic Photo Contest and Canadian Geographic Photo Club’s Annual Photography Contest in 2011, for which the theme was extreme weather. He has worked on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut and traveled all over North America as well as to Iceland, Australia, Bolivia, Peru, Guyana and Lebanon.

The Nanuk Polar Bear Safari represents a perfect progression for Postma, who was part of the group that attended the 2012 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River.

“I always look forward to my trips with Churchill Wild,” he said. “I‘ve been to both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Lodge and they were phenomenal experiences — first class, great meals, gracious hosts and excellent guides. And for some reason I’m just drawn to remote landscapes.”

It doesn’t get much more remote than Nanuk. Located approximately 150 kilometers southeast of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast within the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is only a 10 minute bush plane flight from Canada’s historic York Factory, the original trading post established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

“We still find remnants of old ships occasionally in the mud flats,” said Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer in an earlier interview, perhaps referring to the Battle of Hudson Bay in 1697, the largest Arctic naval battle ever fought. “From brass railings to cannons to old grave sites, you never know what you might find. And our guides are direct descendants of the Western Woods Cree, the “Home Guard Indians” who worked with the Hudson Bay Company over 300 years ago at the original settlements — guiding, hunting, interpreting and procuring wild game and furs for them.”

And not only is the area surrounding Nanuk drenched in history, it’s right in the heart both the newly discovered polar bear denning areas and the impending solar maximum, which occurs approximately every 11 years. According to Canadian Geographic in their January/February article Sun Struck, 2013 promises to be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to experience the sun’s magnetic power at its height, which could mean northern lights displays that are even more spectacular than usual at Nanuk.

“Solar activity, — flares, sunspots, solar winds and other forms of radiation — is governed by changes in the sun’s magnetic field,” writes Peter McMahon in the article. “These activities wax and wane on a fairly predictable 11-year cycle known as the solar maximum. The peak of this cycle hits this year (predicted to be September 2013 or later), which is why skywatchers and scientists are so excited. The solar maximum should bring with it the brightest and most frequent auroral displays for more than a decade.”

“If we get clear skies during the solar max we could see some stunning aurora borealis displays,” said Postma, who has taken numerous photos of nature’s most spectacular light show.  But what he’s really looking forward to is photographing polar bears at ground level on a picture-perfect backdrop that includes the Hudson Bay coastline, fall colours and beautiful interior lagoons.

“I’ve photographed polar bears from both the tundra buggies and on the ground,” said Postma. “But it’s on the ground where you can really get the good shots. I like to try to portray emotion in my photographs. I want people to experience what I was feeling when I took the shot. I like to get down low, looking up at the bears. People don’t think about that, but when you’re on your knees at eye level with a polar bear, it’s intense, and that comes across in the photos.”

“If the bears are interested they will sometimes get as close to 30 feet from you,” continued Postma” “But I’ve never felt scared or threatened. The guides are knowledgeable; they know the bears and they always have their eye on them. All precautions are taken.”

After a hearty breakfast, Postma and his band of photographers will hike the tundra in search of polar bears and the perfect shot. They’ll do the same after lunch and sometimes even after dinner. That’s assuming they aren’t interrupted by polar bears at the Lodge fence or a spectacular Northern Lights display.

“Walking on the tundra up there is a special kind of experience,” said Postma. “I’ve done it a lot, but I’ll never get bored of the wide open spaces. It awakens a part of me that just lays dormant.”

“It’s good for the soul.”

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma