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Posts Tagged ‘polar bears’

Surrounded by polar bears, sharing a meal at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear mom and cub after seal lunch at Seal River Lodge

Mom and cub relaxing after lunch at Seal River.

by Mike Reimer

Wow! The action at Seal River Lodge is hot and heavy early this year for our great white bears just off the ice!

We’re literally “surrounded” by polar bears as we speak, just point the camera or scope at a point on the compass and you’re likely to see one or two bears. We’re not sure what caused this early concentration but we are not complaining!

Ever wondered what groups of animals are called?

Here at Seal River we have “gaggles” of geese, a “paddling” of duck, a “convocation” of eagles, a “colony” of gulls, a “husk” of Arctic Hares, and today we had a spectacular “sloth” of polar bears.

Six gorgeous bears spent the day sharing a ringed seal one of them had managed to catch. Said seal made the fatal mistake of falling asleep on a nice warm rock on lodge point while the tide was going out and forgot to leave, ending up several hundred meters from the receding water line. This is huge no-no when you are trying to survive on a coastline liberally sprinkled with hungry polar bears and you also happen to be loaded with thousands of calories of their favourite snack, seal fat!

This must have been one of those seals that didn’t belong in the gene pool, and it certainly provided hours of incredible polar bear watching for our Churchill Wild guests. The bears are satiated and fresh as they emerge from their icy Hudson Bay hunting grounds, but they’re certainly not going to pass up an easy meal.

At times there were as many as six bears, including a couple of family groups that were graciously sharing their prize. This certainly won’t be the case come fall when the new ice is forming and the last seal-meal is a distant memory. At present the bears look very well fed and in fabulous shape, so we’re looking forward to another great summer!

Shaping up to be one of our best polar bear viewing seasons yet!

Churchill Wild featured in exclusive $1 million safari itinerary

JourneyToNaturesEdge

Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge has been featured in a new exclusive $1 million safari itinerary called Journey to Nature’s Edge.

The itinerary, created by the wildlife specialists at Natural World Safaris, heads around the globe to 12 different countries in search of 18 endangered species. The safari has been designed to raise awareness and understanding of conservation issues, with a percentage of the cost of the trip being donated to each project visited.

Journey to Nature’s Edge has received considerable international press interest, being featured by CNN, The Telegraph and Independent, among others, and there have been a number of enquiries from prospective travelers.

Will Bolsover, Managing Director at Natural World Safaris, felt it was important to include polar bears in the list of endangered species supported by and encountered during the trip.

“Polar bears are one of the flagship species that are in trouble due to climate change,” said Bolsover. “They spearhead the fight against climate change and are also one of the most incredible creatures to see in the wild.”

“We chose to visit Churchill, Canada in search of the polar bear, as it provides one of the most expansive wilderness backdrops remaining in the world today. Through Journey to Nature’s Edge, we want to show our clients the world we live in, and for them to understand the true size of our world, but also to understand the challenges that we face when it comes to conservation, globalization and climate change.

“Seal River Heritage Lodge was the natural choice for the accommodation during this leg of the trip. It is the perfect base from which to explore this remote region with expert guides, comfy lodging and some of the best polar bear sightings within this region. Away from the madding crowds of Churchill, Seal River Heritage Lodge provides exclusivity along with both fall polar bear safaris and summer polar bear tours, putting our clients in the right place at the right time.”

Fore more information please visit Journey to Natures Edge.

New Zealand couple wins trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by +George Williams

Photos courtesy of Bob and Lynne Croy

Churchill Wild is proud to announce that the winners of the Great Ice Bear Adventure 20th Anniversary Contest and a trip for two to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge are Bob and Lynne Croy of Wakefield, New Zealand.

Congratulations Bob and Lynne! We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Great Ice Bear Anniversary Contest winners Bob and Lynne Croy at Dymond Lake Lodge.

Great Ice Bear Anniversary Contest winners Bob and Lynne Croy at Dymond Lake Lodge.

Extensive travelers since retiring eight years ago after 31 years of operating a service station, the couple had already been on safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa before traveling to Canada for the Great Ice Bear Adventure last November with Churchill Wild.

“We had dreamed about the Great Ice Bear Adventure for so long,” said Lynne. “And it turned out to be an amazing trip.”

“We had actually sent an inquiry to Mike Reimer at Churchill Wild many years ago and we were going to go but we had some issues at the station and couldn’t make it work,” said Bob. “We kept that letter all this time and showed it to Nolan (Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild) when we arrived at Dymond Lake.”

The couple turned their Great Ice Bear Adventure into a month-long Canadian vacation, beginning with a flight from New Zealand to Vancouver. They then went to Victoria for a few days before flying to Winnipeg and on to Churchill, where they boarded their flight to Dymond Lake Lodge on a cold Canadian November day.

The polar bears soon warmed them up.

First polar bear on Great Ice Bear Adventure, Dymond Lake Lodge, Manitoba, Canada.

First polar bear at Dymond Lake!

“It’s generally 25 degrees or better where we are,” said Lynne. “My husband always wears shorts, and I had never worn ski pants, but we were well prepared, even when it got to 37 below. We had our Merino Wool layers, ski pants and jackets and we were out to see a polar bear on our very first day at the Lodge.”

“It was very special to get so close to such a large animal in the wild,” continued Lynne. “We were surprised at how big they were! We spent a lot of time photographing that first polar bear. It was a wonderful experience.”

“There were quite a few white foxes about too,” said Bob. “One day, while out walking, we came upon a sleeping bear, and two Arctic foxes ran out and startled him. The bear jumped up quickly and that was quite a sight from up close! But we always felt safe when out walking. The guides were extremely professional.”

Arctic foxes getting ready to wake up a sleeping giant polar bear at Dymond Lake.

Arctic foxes getting ready to wake up a sleeping giant.

The couple and their fellow travelers on the Great Ice Bear Adventure also enjoyed a beautiful evening of aurora borealis displays while at the Lodge.

“We had a lovely mix of people with us,” said Lynne. “A fabulous group, we’re still exchanging photos and videos from the trip. And the food was amazing. We bought their Blueberries and Polar Bears Cookbook and fully intend to use it.”

And their trip wasn’t over when they flew back to Churchill from the Lodge. The Croys also spent two days on the Tundra Buggies and then added in a dogsledding adventure. “Doreen (Adventure Specialist at Churchill Wild) arranged that for us,” said Lynn. “She was very helpful and it was a lot of fun!”

Polar bears at Dymond Lake Lodge.

You know I can still see you, right?

Continuing on with adventurous nature of their trip, the Croys took the train from Churchill to Winnipeg instead of flying, and were blanketed by a fresh snowfall that made for “picture perfect scenery the whole way.” They then took the scenic train ride from Winnipeg to Jasper to Vancouver before heading home.

The Croys can now add polar bears, Arctic and red foxes to the host of wildlife they’ve been up close and personal with, a list which also includes lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wildebeest, zebra and more. Next on their agenda is a trip back to Tanzania this spring to see the young animals in the wild.

The Croys are planning their trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for 2015, and there’s a very good chance they’ll be able to add polar bear mothers and cubs, black bears, wolves, a myriad of birds and possibly even moose and caribou to their growing list of wildlife sightings. This time they say they’d like to see the fall colours of Nova Scotia before they head up to the Lodge at Nanuk, which will have even more upgrades by the time they get there.

Polar bear leisure activities.

Polar bear leisure activities.

“We really wanted to see the mothers and cubs,” said Lynne. “But we never thought we’d get back there. When we got home my husband turned on the computer and said you’d better come and look at this. It was an email saying we won the trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. We were thrilled!”

“Let’s just say it got a little noisy in the house,” said Bob.

Curious black bear at Nanuck Polar Bear Lodge.

This curious black bear popped up in front of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge last fall while we were returning from a day trip and was snapped by numerous guests. If you would like more information and photos on the Mothers & Cubs trip the Croys won, click the bear :) This photo courtesy of Robert Postma.

Birdwatching at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Guest Post and Photos by Christian Artuso, PhD
 Bird Studies Canada – Manitoba Program Manager

Seal River Heritage Lodge lies 60 km north of Churchill, right on the Hudson Bay coast. Below is a view of this superb lodge… oh yeah and a big furry white thing.

Seal River Heritage Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bear relaxing in front of Seal River Heritage Lodge.

This is arguably the best place in the world to watch polar bears, like the mother and cub in the photo below, and these massive animals are certainly the biggest draw for most visitors, along with the beluga whales.

Polar bear mom and cub at Seal River

Polar bear mom and cub at Seal River.

Nonetheless, along with the big mammals, there are many opportunities to view other fascinating wildlife around Seal River, and the birdwatching is excellent. This area, for example, represents the southernmost range limit for certain Arctic species like the Arctic ground-squirrel below, famously known as “Sik-Sik”. These fascinating animals don’t occur south of Seal River and hence are not found in Churchill, but they are very common around Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Arctic ground squirrels, commonly referred to as "sik-siks"  are common around the Lodge.

Arctic ground squirrels, commonly referred to as “Sik-Siks” are abundant around the Lodge.

Seal River Heritage Lodge is further from the trees than Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and most of the birding is therefore along the coastal strip. For most birders, having dinner in the main dining room and watching the tide roll in, pushing massive flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds to within easy viewing distance, along with the accompaniment of passing raptors and jaegers and other northern specialties, is the main attraction.

Nonetheless it is well worth going slightly inland towards the treeline transition for excellent birding, with a whole host of specialties. Rocky peat land such as that in the first photo below taken just west of the Lodge, is breeding habitat for the beautiful Smith’s Longspur (second photo below). This area is one of only a few places where you can witness this avian gem on its breeding grounds in spectacular breeding plumage.

Treeline transition: Excellent birding territory!

Treeline transition: Excellent birding territory!

Rocky peat land is prime habitat for Smith's Longspur.

Rocky peat land is prime habitat for Smith’s Longspur.

The treeline transition is also the best place to find the superb Harris’s Sparrow (North America’s largest sparrow and always highly sought after by visiting birders).

The treeline transition is the perfect place to find  Harris's Sparrow.

The treeline transition is the perfect place to find Harris’s Sparrow.

Birding around the small lakes near the Lodge is sure to produce many waterbirds, shorebirds and the thrill of seeing the northern loons up close and personal. The first photo below shows a Pacific Loon with her chick and the second photo shows a Red-throated Loon (both breed locally).

Pacific Loon with chick at Seal River.

Pacific Loon with chick.

Red-throated Loon at Seal River.

Red-throated Loon.

Another northern species with great appeal for visiting birders is the Willow Ptarmigan. They breed near the Lodge and are usually fairly easy to find, although many will leave the area in fall (in late fall Rock Ptarmigan move down into this area from further north). The first photo below shows a male Willow Ptarmigan displaying to a female and the second photo shows a young chick.

Willow Ptarmigan displaying to a female at Seal River.

Willow Ptarmigan displaying to a female.

Willow Ptarmigan chick at Seal River.

Willow Ptarmigan chick.

Short-eared Owls also breed on the open peatland here and are sometimes seen from the Lodge. With considerable luck, it is possible to find other species of owls here, such as the juvenile Northern Hawk Owl (you’ll need to walk back to the trees to find this species). Other owls are few and far between, although Snowy Owls are possible, especially in late fall.

Short-eared Owl Seal River.

Short-eared Owl.

Northern Hawk Owl Seal River.

Northern Hawk Owl.

Most of your birding will occur close to the coast, where the waterfowl and shorebirds congregate. If you enjoy the spectacle of massive flocks of waterfowl such as the Snow Geese shown below, you’ll love the Seal River area.

Snow geese at Seal River.

Snow geese at Seal River.

Common Eider breed here and also occur in large flocks in the fall. All three species of scoter also occur. The photo below shows White-winged Scoter and Common Eider.

White-winged Scoter and Common Eider, Seal River, Manitoba, Canada.

White-winged Scoter and Common Eider

In the fall, flocks of Brant move along the western coast of Hudson Bay. This species is rare anywhere else in Manitoba.

Brants over Hudson Bay.

Brants over Hudson Bay.

Although all three species of jaeger have been recorded in the Seal River area, only the Parasitic Jaeger is regularly occurring. The jaeger show is always a special treat as they perform extraordinarily acrobatic flight maneuvers in order to steal food from other birds such as gulls and terns.

Parasitic Jaeger are seen regularly at Seal River.

Parasitic Jaeger. A regular at Seal River.

The Lodge offers truly superb shorebirding. In July, local breeding species don their breeding colours and may be observed with downy young. By late July the migration is already underway and the flocks start to build. If you hit the tide right, the mudflats can be just teeming with shorebirds. One of the big attractions is the magnificent Hudsonian Godwit. The first photo below shows a Godwit in breeding plumage and the second shows a juvenile feeding on worms in the Hudson Bay mud.

Hudsonian Godwit at Seal River

The magnificent Hudsonian Godwit.

Hudsonian Godwit feeding on worms at Seal River Lodge.

Breakfast time!

A July visit to the area offers a chance to see shorebirds breeding, including observing downy young and juvenal plumages. Below a recently hatched Semipalmated Plover chick crosses the tundra (first photo) and eventually finds shelter underneath a parent along with other siblings (second photo).

Recently hatched Semipalmated Plover chick at Seal River.

Recently hatched Semipalmated Plover chick.

Semipalmated Plover Seal River.

Semipalmated Plover. There are chicks under there!

The next two photos show another local breeding shorebird, the Dunlin, in full breeding colours (first photo) and in juvenal plumage (second photo).

Dunlin in breeding plumage.

Dunlin in breeding plumage.

Juvenile Dunlin at Seal River Lodge.

Juvenile Dunlin hopping across tundra.

Shorebirding in late July and August in the Seal River area is all about finding the flocks feeding on the mudflats. Shorebirds gather here in the tens of thousands to feed in the very productive inter-tidal zone. This is a truly fantastic location to wait on a boulder and photograph shorebirds. It allows you to observe quietly in close proximity to the birds and to witness an array of fascinating behaviours.

Most of the shorebirds here are feeding on the high quantity of worms and other invertebrates available in the inter-tidal mud, as shown in the photo below of a juvenile American Golden-Plover pulling a worm, and again by a Pectoral Sandpiper that has also found a tasty morsel.

American Golden-Plover at Seal River Heritage Lodge, Manitoba, Canada.

American Golden-Plover pulling a worm.

Pectoral Sandpiper at Seal River Lodge, Manitoba, Canada.

This Pectoral Sandpiper isn’t missing breakfast either!

Shorebirds are typically less shy than waterfowl, and sitting quietly in areas where the shorebirds are feeding can allow for fantastic close-up photos, such as this portrait of a Pectoral Sandpiper that walked to within a foot of me as I was conducting shorebird counts.

Pectoral Sandpiper close-up at Seal River.

Pectoral Sandpiper close-up.

In addition to foraging behaviour, you can also observe aggressive interactions, responses to predators, and preening and bathing, as demonstrated below by a juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper.

White-rumped Sandpiper takes a bath at Seal River Lodge, Manitoba, Canada.

White-rumped Sandpiper enjoys a bath.

In this next photo, a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper stretches in preparation for flight away from the busy mud flat.

Baird's Sandpiper juvenile prepares to take flight.

Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile prepares to take flight.

There are also shorebirds a little further inland on the coastal flats that are grazed by Canada Geese and Snow Geese. In late July, August and early September, this is the best place to look for one of the avian stars of fall birding here — the magnificent Buff-breasted Sandpiper. They are masters of camouflage however, as you will note from the photo below.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers

Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Camouflage experts!

If you spotted three Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the above photo, well done! If you spotted any less, go back and take a second look. The two photos below give you a closer look at these beauties!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper poses for the camera.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

As did this one!

Other species that forage on these flats include American Golden-Plover, Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark, as shown in the photo below.

Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark and American Golden-Plover. Seal River, Canada.

Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark and American Golden-Plover on the flats.

Below is a close-up look at one of the Lapland Longspurs in fall plumage. July is the time to see Lapland Longspurs in their magnificent breeding colours, but in August and September there are flocks of thousands near the Lodge (Smith’s Longspurs depart earlier than Lapland Longspurs).

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur in fall plumage.

And of course, there are still a variety of northern songbirds to observe, even in the fall here. Below an American Pipit that has already moulted out of its pink breeding plumage interacts with a begging youngster.

American Pipits

American Pipit interacts with a begging youngster.

Amongst several warbler species present, the Northern Waterthrush is a common breeder in the willows around the Lodge. In August I managed to photograph the individual below foraging on rocks in the bay near the Lodge, offering an unusually clear view of this often skulking species.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush foraging on the rocks.

The birds pictured here represent just a small handful of the many species found in the Seal River area. Diversity is very high in the summer and you might record over 100 species on a trip if you encompassed various habitat types. Especially if you were present during the migration, when the high Arctic shorebirds join the local breeders.

Fewer species can be seen in the fall, but that is nonetheless a superb time to watch the spectacle of massive migratory flocks, or to search for rarities, and, of course, to view polar bears and other amazing northern wildlife.

 For more information and photos from Christian Artuso, please visit his Web site at http://artusophotos.com. You can also read Christian’s photo essays on his wildlife blog at http://artusobirds.blogspot.com.

Thanks for the polar bears, caribou, arctic foxes, northern lights… and thank you to our guests!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Qamanirjuaq caribou. Out for a stroll at Seal River Lodge. Dennis Fast photo.

Qamanirjuaq caribou. Out for a stroll at Seal River Lodge. Dennis Fast photo.

Hello fellow adventurers!

The long awaited ice has finally arrived and the world’s largest carnivores have moved back to their favourite hunting platform, the rugged sea ice, to begin the “fattening” period. Our friendly summer-fall polar bear visitors will spend the winter dining contentedly on yummy seals.

Polar bear outside Seal River Lodge

Hmm… no seals here. Dennis Fast photo.

We were blessed this year at Seal River with the return of thousands of Central Barren Ground Caribou. These photogenic creatures provided many bonus hours of “shooting.” The caribou herd pictured here is known as the Qamanirjuaq. Numbering an estimated half a million animals, the Qamanirjuaq herd takes part in one of the last great wildlife migrations on the planet, and certainly the largest of its kind in North America.

Qamanirjuaq caribou herd stops by for lunch. Dennis Fast photo.

Qamanirjuaq caribou herd stops by for lunch. Dennis Fast photo.

The caribou ventured south from their summer home in the barrens and are heading into the tree line to find shelter from the harsh winter winds. Most of them will overwinter in the North Knife Lake region of Manitoba, feeding, resting and avoiding wolves until they begin their trek north in the spring, back to the calving grounds.

Arctic foxes have been seen in abundance this year

Arctic foxes were seen in abundance this year!

Not to be outdone, the arctic foxes were back again in record numbers with 40 to 50 in sight at any one time. And of course, the northern lights have done their part and provided many a great light show for bleary eyed but happy photogs.

Lonely Zodiac at Seal River Lodge awaiting the return of summer and another chance to frolic with the belugas on Hudson Bay RJ Payne photo.

Lonely Zodiac at Seal River Lodge awaiting the return of summer and another chance to frolic with the belugas on Hudson Bay. RJ Payne photo.

Thanks to the polar bears bears, the caribou, the arctic foxes, the northern lights and nature, for providing Churchill Wild with yet another great season of adventure travel at our northern Manitoba lodges.

Polar bear says goodbye at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear saying goodbye to Seal River Lodge guests.

But most of all, a sincere thank you to our wonderful guests. You make this all so worthwhile.

Helicopter at Seal River Lodge

Time for a helicopter ride!