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Posts Tagged ‘Seal River’

Walking with polar bears at Seal River Lodge — Special Guest Report

Polar Bear Walking Photo Journey Report, Tropical Birding Trip Report, October 2013
Guest post and photos by guide Iain Campbell of TropicalBirding.com

PolarBearPeaking

I am used to being somewhat underwhelmed when people sprout hyperbole. You go there and it is not quite as amazing as they made it seem. Well I can say that this trip to Seal River Lodge was point blank the best photographic and wildlife adventure that I have ever experienced.

After five days with polar bears, I wanted to stay for another week, and was excited when our flight out was delayed by four hours. Time for one more walk.

The trip started in Winnipeg, where you arrive the night before to ensure you make the early morning flight the next morning to Churchill, Manitoba on the southwestern banks of Hudson Bay. After arriving in Churchill, people needing warm weather gear got fitted out and we took a small 8-seater plane for a low flight north to Seal River Lodge. As we left Churchill we flew over the last of the Taiga forest and onto the tundra. The landscape is not classically beautiful, but glorious in its starkness.

On arrival onto the small runway at the Lodge, the snow was blowing strong, our temperatures dropped, and one person decided that the two minute drive to the lodge was better than the 10 minute walk, so she headed off with the luggage. The remaining six of us braved it out, and were rewarded by our first polar bear sighting off the edge of the runway, chilling out in some willows.

After settling in, grabbing a great lunch and getting an introduction to dealing with massive carnivores that you feel inclined to cuddle, we set off with Tara and Andy, the two local guides who made us feel completely at ease.

We were about to walk around the tundra with polar bears, so having A-grade guides who know their stuff was very important. On the first afternoon we had a bear rolling around, stretching and generally just checking us out. We also had an Arctic Fox in its new winter plumage.

Polar Bear rolling around on the tundra at Seal River Lodge.

It was only that night that we really spent time to check out the Lodge. If you want plush with all the bells and whistles, satellite television and a spa, this is not it. It is however, much better than that, very comfortable with ensuite bathrooms, and there is an extremely cozy lounge to hang out in and chat. And best of all, amazingly helpful staff that do everything to make sure that you have a brilliant experience. Where in the world do you have staff that hops up hourly through the night to call you when the northern lights are shining? Well, they do here.

The food was outstanding, and although I would have been happy in an igloo eating beans, it was fun to have great food every lunch and dinner to warm you up between walks.

The next three days were very similar, where we left the compound, walked on the tundra and on Hudson Bay looking for polar bears. We found at least one polar bear on each walk, but they were always in different situations, different lighting and doing different things.

At no point did I, or any others in the group, feel as though we were doing the same old, same old. So although it was almost all white, it was by no means only polar bears. We spent a lot of time stalking down the flocks of hundreds of Willow Ptarmigan that have turned into their winter plumage. They would let us approach quite closely and you could have taken decent shots with a 300mm. We also chased Arctic Hare all over the place but only managed really good looks inside the Lodge compound.

Willow Ptarmigan Hudson Bay

Sometimes you did not need to head out of the Lodge compound to have a close encounter. Bears are walking up and down the coastline of Hudson Bay, so every few hours or so, one may walk past the Lodge.

Now, sitting for a month waiting for ice to form would test even the most Zen polar bear, so having a person to interact with is a pretty interesting way to fill in the time. If one was in the area and I went out to the compound and sat beside the fence, the bear would come up to the fence. I spent about 20 minutes with the one in the photo above before I was late for lunch and being rude to the kitchen staff. I went in, had lunch and watched him play in the snow.

When we went on the walks, the guides talked about all aspects of Arctic biology, history and culture. We found ourselves talking about Inuit and First Nations lifestyles while being watched by another local. The general protocol was to not let new bears get too close (about 100 yards) before the guides made noise to keep them away. When it was a bear that the guides knew, and knew its behavior, they would let it get to a safe distance.

Arctic Fox at Seal River Lodge

There was one bear that followed us a lot, and would walk to within 30 yards and usually lie down and watch us before dozing off. Now that is not to say that there were not times when my adrenalin went sky high with a bear not wanting to back off.  At no time did the local guides lose their composure, and they were always in control of the situation.

The photo at the top of this trip report was one of those situations. The bear did not want to back down, and after having noise made and snow thrown at it, he went and hid behind a large rock and kept poking his head above the rock to watch us. Now playing peekaboo with a massive carnivore seems surreal, but every time he popped his head over the rock, we would all make a noise saying, “We still see you Bob”.

Again, the local guides were in complete control of the situation, which did not feel threatening, as the bear was showing signs of nothing but curiosity.

On the last day of the trip the plane that was due to pick us up had mechanical difficulties, and it looked as though we might not be able to get out, and the new group might not get in. In a show of a first rate operation, Mike and Jeanne from Seal River Lodge sent a message on the radio that “Guys you are getting a helicopter safari”.

Polar bear and Iain at the Seal River Lodge fence.My last image of this spectacular place was taking off from their front door in a helicopter, rising right over their roof, before shooting off towards Churchill flying low over the tundra.

An exhilarating experience, landing in Churchill just on dusk, heading for a wonderful meal with our group in the local restaurant before flying back to Winnipeg that night. Would I go back?

In a heartbeat.

Need more information about this trip and/or future trips with Iain Campbell?

Web: www.TropicalBirding.com
Phone: 1 (409) 515-0514
E-mail: info@tropicalbirding.com

Greenhouse on the edge of the Arctic

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Fresh tomatoes grown at Seal River!

Guests on our Arctic Safari will enjoy fresh tomatoes grown at Seal River!

Churchill Wild, in its quest to be as ecologically responsible as possible, has long been a proponent of country foods and the 100 mile diet. Our kitchens harvest and prepare a variety of wild berries, game dishes and wild caught fish much to the delight of discerning palates from around the globe.

El “Presidente”, better known as Jeanne Webber-Reimer, has inherited all the looks and intelligence of her mother Helen and the stick-to-it-ness of her father Doug. For years Doug has been successfully growing a variety herbs and vegetables at North Knife Lake Fishing Lodge.

Jeanne has always been convinced we could grow vegetables at Seal River, enabling us to serve fresh picked produce on site, which not only tastes a hundred times better than anything picked green in Mexico and shipped thousands of kilometers to our doorstep, but that is also much more environmentally friendly.

Guide Terry Elliot provided the building prowess while Mike collected and mixed local soils, seaweed and compost. As a result, Seal River Heritage Lodge is now blessed with the most northern green house (ok green hutch for now!) in Manitoba on the shores of the Hudson Bay.

Guests this week at our Arctic Safari will be the first to enjoy fresh tomatoes grown on the Arctic shores of Hudson Bay!

The Ultimate Polar Bear Booter at Hubbard Point

Xie Jianguo of Birds Eye Media taking polar bear photos at Hubbard Point.

Xie says hi from the icy waters of Hudson Bay at Hubbard Point!

Remember when you were a kid and you always had to test the depth of the ice water in the spring? And how that always seemed to result freezing cold wet feet?

Fast forward to adulthood and you’re up to your knees in icy ocean water as the tide rises ever higher, trying to get that perfect shot of a polar bear.

The contents of this post were initiated by a Zodiac excursion north to Hubbard Point, one of our favourite polar bear viewing areas. We had spent several hours with the fine folks from Beijing of Birds Eye Media, enjoying endless gigabytes of polar bears in various settings and light conditions.

The photo gods must have been smiling on as we lucked into a mother with two cubs (Coys, cubs-of-the-year) about to settle down on a rocky spit for supper. All things were in our favour. Sunset on its way with perfect light, rising tide, breeze in our faces and no other pesky male bears to disturb the snuggle fest about to happen.

Walking the Zodiacs in closer to the polar bears at Hubbard Point.

Walking the Zodiacs in closer to the polar bears at Hubbard Point.

Master guides Quent and Mike, (okay maybe Quent) gently poled the boats into shore and walked them into camera range on the rising tide and it wasn’t long before that magic sound of clicking and whirring motor drives filled the air.

Xie Jianguo elected to exit the boat and set up his tripod on the gravel beach for a little more stable support, and once the action started all focus was on the nursing cubs. But as we like to say at Seal River, the “tide waits for no man or woman.”

We shortly realized that those were not gasps of excitement from Xie as the frigid sea water began to seep over the tops of his boots. An hour later, as the chill water crept past his knees, our brave and dedicated photographer finally struggled gamely back into the Zodiac, but frozen feet seemed to be a small price to pay for the award winning photos taken by all.

A gorgeous sunset escorted a very tired and happy crew back to Seal River Lodge, where another gourmet dinner awaited us. There were more true tall tales to tell.

From Beijing, China, to Seal River, Manitoba, for polar bear photos

Xie Jianguo and his hardy group of photographers from Birds Eye Media traveled all the way from Beijing, China this week to pursue our great white bears with their cameras.

Fireweed!

Fireweed!

From all aspects the trip was a “smashing” success, sorry Li, no pun intended after dropping that new 600 & D1 on the rocks! Hope it is repairable. And Xie hopes that his feet will one day thaw and feel warm again.

Lazy day in the grass.

Lazy day in the grass.

The weather, tides, bugs (lack thereof), and wildlife all conspired to give us an exceptional experience. Mike was fortunate to be able to get out with cousin Quent and help guide for a change of pace from regular lodge operations and it was a blast.

As the photos indicate, there were some very special photo opportunities to be had and the group will have many exhausting hours of editing ahead of them.

Love is in the air.

Love is in the air.

Oceans North Canada headed back to Seal River Lodge this summer for Beluga Whale research and tagging

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, is in the second year of a three-year beluga whale research project to gather data on the Western Hudson Bay population. Last year brought great success, with six whales tagged with satellite transmitters, so they’re headed back to Seal River Lodge to tag more beluga whales this summer!

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world, converges on southwest Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. This population was studied in the 1980s and early 2000s using aerial surveys and satellite tracking. That research revealed the close relationship between belugas and the Manitoba estuaries where they spend their summers, but many questions remain about this species and its habitat.

More scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn to the estuaries in this region and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected.

Watch the Beluga Tagging Videos at Discovery Channel Canada!

This summer the project aims to tag 10 beluga whales in the Seal River area. To date, three belugas tagged in the Seal River this past July are still transmitting and providing good quality geographic locations and dive information. More information, including maps showing the weekly movements of the whales can be found at www.ArcticWhaleStudy.ca