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Posts Tagged ‘Seal River Heritage Lodge’

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!

Contentment at Seal River

Polar bear mom with nursing cubs at Seal River Lodge.

Contentment in the morning at Seal River Lodge. Photo by Richard Voliva.

There is a reason the adventure tours at Seal River Heritage Lodge are called Birds, Bears & Belugas at this time of the year. The guests are treated to the most amazing wildlife sights in the North.

It is said “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”  That applies to the wildlife here at the Lodge as well. Just “wait five minutes” and there is something new to see. To say the views, sunsets and wildlife are stunning here, falls short. From polar bears on the ground, to swimming with beluga whales, we have seen it all.

Including this morning’s sighting of a mamma polar bear nursing her two cubs, that I was able to capture on what we call “film” these days.

Fantastic!

Direct from Seal River Heritage Lodge,

Richard Voliva

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.

Oceans North to continue beluga whale research at Seal River Heritage Lodge, What we’ve learned so far

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge - Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge – Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Oceans North Canada, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, will be back at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge for a two-week period beginning July 3, 2013 for the second year of their three-year research study on the Hudson Bay population of beluga whales. They have 14 tags in total to deploy in both the Churchill and Seal rivers.

In our last update we mentioned that three tagged beluga whales had been successfully transmitting data back to the research team. Although full data analysis on habitat use by the beluga whales won’t start until the tagging project is complete, Oceans North Canada has learned a few things about beluga whale behavior so far:

  • Belugas stayed close to the Seal river as expected throughout the months of July and August, with the highest density area near the mouth of the estuary
  • Migration stated at the end of August/early September and all belugas still transmitting at the time of migration followed the western Hudson Bay coast closely and traveled around the north side of Southampton island
  • Belugas arrived in what now appears to be their winter ground for this season in late November, which is similar timing to that of whales tagged in the Nelson estuary
  • The winter range of the belugas is considerably further west than expected in the Hudson Strait
  • Tagged bowhead whales from the Foxe Basin area are wintering in the same general area this year.
  • Although they lost a few tags early on (could be many factors: battery, attachment, demise of whale), this is not unusual and two tags transmitting nine months after attachment is considered good (7.6 months was the longest tag from five years of beluga tagging work in the Nelson estuary)

 
Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world converges on southwest Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. This is one of the main reasons Churchill Wild began the offering the popular Birds, Bears & Belugas safari many years ago.

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Thanks to you, our valued readers and guests, Birds, Bears & Belugas has now become one of the most popular wildlife adventure vacations in Canada, if not the world, and it is now part of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Signature Experience Collection.

Birds, Bears & Belugas takes place during July and August and combines the thrill of swimming with beluga whales (as weather permits) with the Churchill Wild signature “on the ground” safari of summer polar bear viewing on a backdrop of tundra alive with flora and fauna!

Watch the Beluga Tagging Videos at Discovery Channel Canada!

 
An estimated 57,000 belugas migrate to estuaries formed by the Seal, Nelson, and Churchill rivers every year. More scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn to these estuaries and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected. This research is also important to the hundreds of Inuit families in the area.

To learn more about this exciting and worthwhile study, please visit the Hudson Bay Beluga Project online, where you’ll find beluga whale facts, videos of the beluga whale tagging from Discovery Channel Canada, an interactive beluga tracking map and more!

Churchill Wild celebrates 20th Anniversary! Thank You!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013

Celebrating 20 years! Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013.

20 years? Say it isn’t so. Wow!

Seems like just yesterday we were flying north up the coast from Churchill to have a look at a couple of old tumbled down shacks near the mouth of the Seal River, with hopes of finding a spot for a polar bear lodge.

Dennis Fast shook his head in disbelief when he first spotted the site.

“You better buy it quick before Jeanne sees it!”

Seal River Lodge in 1993

What we saw from the plane in 1993!

Well, we made the plunge, and as they say, the rest is history.

The first few seasons were “interesting” to say the least, and thank goodness we had Jeanne’s parents Doug and Helen Webber backing the program with their years of experience in the fishing and hunting lodge business.

Our first summer (1993) was spent cleaning up the site and making the existing building habitable. It had been used previously as a whale research station and for some goose hunting, but had sat abandoned for many years. All the windows and doors had been knocked out by marauding polar bears; the swallows were nesting in the light fixtures; and the Arctic foxes had found it a convenient spot to get out of the wind for a bathroom break.

With much elbow grease, lots of paint, new beds, plumbing, electrical, roofing and some new doors and windows, we eventually had a place to call home. Of course, just to remind us of whose turf we were on, a curious polar bear smashed out one of the new windows in the first week before we had a chance to get some bars up.

That first season was not a real money maker to say the least, with only one client, but the adventure level was very high. We had an endless supply of new routes and trails to explore and establish!

Like most small businesses, Jeanne and I ran the whole show for a few seasons while we got our feet under us. Jeanne was chef/housekeeper/bear guard/hostess/expeditor/berry picker (with our kids as helpers) while I did all the other stuff, none of which I can seem to remember right now!

I do remember that our first bedroom, which eventually became the laundry room, was five feet wide by 14 feet long with Jeanne and I at one end and our girls — Rebecca, Karli and Allison — stacked three deep like cordwood at the other end. When Adam came along he slept on a shelf above our bed! All very cozy, the kids loved it and thought it was all one big adventure, though Jeanne had some other ideas at times.

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge today. We've come a long way!

We discovered, much to our delight, that Seal River had an incredible array of flora and fauna. It was going to be a spectacular choice for an ecolodge! The mechanics of building and operating the lodge came naturally (mostly!) as we had both gained a wealth of very valuable experience working together with Doug and Helen at their lodges. They were pillars of much needed support in those early years.

Operating any sort of lodges or remote camps in the Arctic has its share of challenges, as the source of all supplies is usually hundreds of miles away. And they are being purchased from people who really do not have a clue as to how difficult it is to get anything to us.

Everything must be ordered weeks and sometimes months in advance, to be shipped by train from Winnipeg to Churchill where it can be flown to the lodge, or, in the case of building materials, dragged over the sea ice during the winter with our old 1956 D6 Cat. If anything breaks down you can measure in days and weeks the amount of time it takes to get a replacement part, and sometimes the season ends before the new parts arrive!

Our environment entirely dictates our activities, and on this type of jobsite you might find yourself stuck offshore on an ice flow; broke down in a howling blizzard on Hudson Bay; or sitting in the floatplane on a lonely stretch of river waiting for the fog to lift so you can get much needed groceries to the lodge.

Inside Seal River Heritage Lodge

Interior of Seal River Heritage Lodge today. It wasn't always this nice!

Occasionally you might find yourself whacking an overly curious polar bear on the nose for sticking his head through the shop door, or crawling under the lodge at 3 a.m. to thaw out frozen pipes. There’s a whole host of weird and challenging things at all kinds of crazy hours, in all sorts of weather. Never a dull moment in this business!

There have been many, many adventures and challenges over the years. Maybe someday we’ll find the time to write them all down in a book. At present we continue to add new destinations and safaris. Along with Seal River Heritage Lodge and the Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear experience, we also operate Dymond Lake EcoLodge, home of the Great Ice Bear Adventure, and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, as well as North Knife Lake Fishing Lodge, the Arctic Safari, Polar Bear Photo Safari and Black & White Adventure. Our growth has resulted in the need for more staff. Luckily, we have been blessed with the best. Those little kids we used to stack up on the shelves are now our chefs, managers and admin staff!

Jeanne & Mike

Jeanne & Mike Reimer

Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without you, our guests. A big polar bear hug goes out to all of you, for spending your hard earned dollars and time with us. We have thoroughly enjoyed your company and made many lifelong friends.

Thank you for making it all possible.

Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild