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Posts Tagged ‘Seal River’

Polar bears prove “fridge photographer” wrong at Seal River

Big polar bear near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge, Hudson Bay, Manitoba.

One. Big. Polar Bear. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

Carol Moffatt describes herself as a “fridge photographer”.

Churchill Wild begs to differ.

The 47-year-old Reeve at the Municipality of Algonguin Highlands downplayed the fact that she took some fabulous shots of polar bears, landscapes and northern lights while attending our Polar Bear Photo Safari last October at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“I don’t take photographs to sell them,” said Moffatt. “I’m a self-taught amateur photographer with a background in journalism. If someone wanted to offer me money for a photograph I might sell one, but really, if I have a nice photo, I put it on the fridge for a month.”

Moffatt has taken more than a few marvelous photos during adventures that have taken her from backpacking in the Australian outback, to Africa, to visiting the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland as well as Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska,  Yukon and the Southwestern United States. You can view a selection of her photos on her Web site at http://cmoff.smugmug.com/

“The Yukon was magical,” said Moffatt, “but the Churchill Wild trip was the most interesting of all in terms of remoteness.  Part of the adventure was just in getting there. The whole trip was very well organized and I’d never flown in a Twin Otter before.”

Moffatt was part of group of 14 photographers and spouses involved in a trip led by professional photographer Mike Beedell.

Photographers walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild.

Walking with polar bears. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“There were photographers of every talent level in our group,” said Moffatt. “Everyone was very  helpful. We were all united in a shared cause and it just worked.”

“We went on hikes across the tundra and saw polar bears every day, but breakfast was always a special experience. You just never knew what might be on the other side when the (polar bear protective) shutters were opened up in the morning. The bears come right up to the lodge. And an arctic fox appeared several times!”

“The food was phenomenal,” said Moffatt, impressed by being able to see desserts for later in the day being made fresh every morning in the new kitchen while they were enjoying breakfast. “And the Reimer family made fabulous hosts – ever present but never in your face.”

But what about the walking with the polar bears?

“Our guides, Andy and Tara, would scout out the polar bears in the area ahead of time and walk us out into a position where we could photograph them,” said Moffatt. “They were quite attuned to our needs as photographers. And you could definitely tell they knew the bears, the landscapes – and photographers in general. They would move us to the left and right, back and forth and they could sense when we needed something different. And it wasn’t all polar bears, there was always something different to photograph while we were wandering along — interesting landscapes, lingonberries and other plants, the shifting ice and how the sun reflected on it…”

Two items related to polar bears stood out on the trip for Moffatt. On one occasion when a polar bear got particularly close to an employee hauling water with the ATV, and another when a large male bear chased a female and her cub away from the fenced compound at the Lodge.

Polar bear bites fence at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

These teeth are real. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“It was on the final day of our trip,” said Moffatt. “A mother and her cub were just outside the compound when she sensed the presence of the big male and took off at high speed out on to the (Hudson) Bay to protect her cub. You can tell when they’re bigger than usual, and this was very large male. We also got some good close shots of the bears through the fence, but we were always very careful to keep everything out of their reach — cameras, scarves, loose clothing.”

“I’m told that Polar bears are the deadliest land animals on the planet. One of the guides said these bears can pull an 800-pound seal out of the water in one swoop. We’re the zoo animals up there with us on the inside of the compound and the animals on the outside looking at us. But I wanted a real adventure and I sure got one. The tundra buggies just wouldn’t have worked for me. The whole trip was a delight.”

She has a fridge full of photographs to prove it.

World’s largest land carnivore gets right of way as fall polar bear season begins

Big Churchill polar bear at Seal River on Hudson Bay

World's largest land carnivore has right of way here

by Andy MacPherson

The start of a new fall polar bear season!

The Turbo Beaver being busy down south, our first group of guests arrived in style in a helicopter, landing right at our front door. After settling into their rooms and taking in a brief safety orientation, we had them out viewing polar bears Churchill Wild style before lunch.

There were three bears in the immediate vicinity and all were accommodating. We were able to get close and view all three without disturbing them from their day beds. At this time of year the polar bears are focused on conserving as much energy as possible in anticipation of freeze up and the availability of their favourite meal, ringed seals, which will help them replenish their waning fat reserves.

On our way back to the lodge for lunch we discovered that the first bear we’d stopped to view earlier had ambled into the bay north of us. He was now comfortably bedded down in a bed of kelp lying on his back; stretching and playing with a piece of kelp, pulling it gently threw his teeth as if he were flossing.

After lunch we hiked out towards the west, to Swan Lake and back. We were met by a subadult bear on our way back, walking towards us up the path. He stopped when we asked him to, looking a little confused as to why we were blocking ‘His’ way.  We moved off to one side, giving him the right of way – a smart thing to do when questioned by a polar bear. He passed by at a safe distance as our hearts pounded, pausing to get a good scent of us and posing for a few great photos along the way.

We are often approached by polar bears while we are out on hikes and away from the safety and comfort of the lodge. These are always exciting moments, and important times to be very observant of bear behaviour. Every bear that approaches us acts differently based on life experiences past and present. Negative or positive, these experiences will influence the way a bear reacts to us. This initial communication will determine our response to each approaching bear. While polar bears aren’t usually vocal, they do communicate very well through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) body language and behaviour.

We watched the bear as he moved away from us and continued down the path towards Swan Lake, our excitement at his approach subsiding slightly as we moved back on to the path. Some of the guests asked where the bear was going and what he was thinking; how old he was and how much he weighed. Others marveled at what had just happened.

The largest land carnivore on the planet, a Churchill polar bear, had just walked by us and gone about his business, whatever that might be. It just wasn’t us…

at the moment.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge season begins!

King polar bear surveys his domain.

King polar bear surveys his domain at Nanuk.

Churchill Wild has been the premier eco-outfitter in Northern Manitoba for over 40 years, but we’re always excited when polar bear watching season begins at our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, the only tourist camp along a 100-mile stretch of Hudson Bay coastline in Northern Manitoba, Canada.

One of the most pristine wilderness areas left in the world, it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. And we promise that you won’t find a better place, anywhere in the world, for close encounters with polar bears.

Read Reviews of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge at TripAdvisor.com

When the ice breaks up in June, the polar bears move ashore. During the summer months they socialize and prowl the shoreline, restlessly waiting for the ice to return. Many of these bears spend their summers within a few miles of our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. During an average season up to 400 bears pass by the Lodge.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge arrival day!

A gorgeous day at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge!

What makes this population of polar bears so unique is the high concentration of mother bears and cubs. At Nanuk, our guests will encounter polar bears, and often these will be mothers with their offspring. Many of these bears have never seen a person before, and they have the calm demeanor of bears that have not learned to fear people.

Guests who visit Nanuk count themselves among a small group of lucky individuals who have seen these majestic animals up close, undisturbed. These are not habituated “Park bears” or hunted bears that run at the sight of humans.

“We have already been in many nature places in this world. We have seen the lions in Africa; the tigers in India; the grizzlies in Alaska; orangutans in Borneo; the penguins in the Antarctic; but one of the most beautiful places is Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge with their many polar bears. We were overwhelmed to experience so many, so close. We thank the entire staff who made these special days a wonderful experience.” – Marlies & Hartmut Thierfelder and Marlies & Siegfried Neubüser, Hamburg, Germany

Polar bears everywhere! Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bears everywhere!

These are pure, wild polar bears living the way they have lived since time began.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about this year’s trip to Nanuk. If you would like more information about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge please call us at: 1.204.377.5090 or Toll Free at:1.866.846.9453. You can also e-mail us at: info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you and…

Wish you were here!

3D Polar Bear Movie filmed at Seal River Lodge

by Andrew McPherson, Polar Bear Guide

Polar bear poses for the 3D movie crew

Polar bear poses for the 3D movie crew

Working with Adam Ravetch and his film crew for the last few weeks of the season at Seal River Lodge was a fabulous experience. Every day brought new amazing wildlife encounters and guiding demands. Adam had all kinds of great ideas and new directions he wanted to take the film in, and he imaged them into existence with the help of his two crew members Indy and Stewart and their 3D cameras.

We got off to a good start when we found three bears bedded down out on a small frozen lake beyond the runway. One bear was on a small esker watching our approach. The other two were laying a short distance apart on the edge of the lake.

The closest bear lifted its head, watching us as we watched him. This resulted in a game of red-light green-light. Every time he lifted his head we stopped…. until he put his head down and closed his eyes, then we started moving again, slowly approaching.

Polar bears gather to discuss movie on Hudson Bay

Polar bears gather to discuss movie

We moved like this until we found a suitable spot to set up Adam’s camera. Then the bear decided to move downwind to catch our scent and get a better idea of just who and what we were all about. Bears trust their noses far more then they trust their eyes.

Once this bear got our scent figured out and decided we weren’t a threat, he made himself comfy – laying down and stretching out on the ice, cooling himself off, rolling over on his back – generally making a ham of himself for our camera. Great comedic footage!

Setting up the 3D cameras with remote access

Remotely operating the 3D cameras on the ice

At the same time, Mike and Stewart showed up with the remote camera, to go after the always-elusive bear-sniffing-camera-lens-in-3D shot he’d been attempting to get for the last week – maybe this time. They set up their camera near the second bear sleeping in the bush just off the ice. The camera had a 25 foot cable attached to it so the operator could move around and still focus the camera on a moving subject as it approaches. It was mounted at a height approximating a polar bear’s point of view, or POV in tech talk.

The sleeping bear got up and approached the camera, but he was very hesitant. Clearly troubled by the unfamiliar device, he came closer, backed away, then approached again with head lowered – we had a very serious bear staring into the camera. He didn’t like it, but he gave us an amazing eye-level sequence of how two bears might approach each other.

Polar bear takes a bite out of the deck at sunset

Polar bear takes a bite out of the deck at sunrise Photo Credit: Nicole D. Boucher

The bear never did get right up to the camera, but when he lost interest in that he became more interested in us, slowly approaching and giving us a great 3D shot for the film. Imagine a polar bear’s head poking out of your TV screen, full frame, from the shoulders to the tip of its nose.

We had to let the bear know we didn’t want to play with some stern words and aggressive behavior, and after posing and giving us a good sniff, he moved off with his buddy, who had watched all the action from his semi-reclined position in the second row.

We followed the pair and a short while later found they had been joined by two more bears on the next lake over. By the time we spotted them, they had paired off and a donnybrook was already in session. I could have sat back and watched – it was a live WWE event – but we had an opportunity to shoot more amazing footage, so off we went.

Unfortunately, when the bears caught site of us, they decided to come in for a closer look. It’s a good thing we knew that they don’t cooperatively hunt, because having four polar bears calmly walk towards you would probably otherwise be conceived as an unnerving situation.

Polar bear movie crew at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear movie crew at Seal River Lodge

But two of the bears quickly lost interest and only the smallest (600 lbs) of the other pair seemed really interested in us. His approach was somewhat aggressive, coming in fast and curious, so we let him know he wasn’t that welcome. That was enough to turn him around and send him back to his buddies for some three-way sparring action.

The smaller bear was being picked on from each side by each of the larger bears and he playfully turned to engage whichever bear was nipping. The small bear eventually began to spar with only one of the bigger bears, and when they stood up we finally realized the substantial size difference. The smaller bear was at least three feet shorter, but still game, even when he was being knocked off his feet – more great footage!

Polar bear napping between takes

Polar bear napping between takes

There wasn’t a day during the filming when we didn’t find some kind of interesting bear activity, interaction or social behavior. Adam’s movie unfolded in front of us daily, but we won’t see the final result of his efforts for awhile.

We were excited to be a part of the creative process and can only imagine what Adam will weave together with all the incredible footage he recorded. With the kind of talent that was behind (and in front of) the cameras, this is going to be a movie you don’t want to miss!

Spectacular polar bear viewing, fabulous guests and a beautiful new dining room make for wondrous summer on Hudson Bay Coast

Polar bears were everywhere in the Summer of 2010 at Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Polar bears everywhere!

Unbelievable, wow, incredible, spectacular, best ever, life changing, beyond expectations, and the list goes on – we can never quite identify the right superlative to describe this past season at Churchill Wild!

Once again the guest book is full of great comments and wondrous praises heaped upon our hard working staff and the awesome Churchill Wild polar bear experience they provide. Thank you to all our new found friends, who traveled from all corners of the globe this year, for making the time and financial commitment to join us on the Hudson Bay coast.

It’s difficult to look back over the crazy exciting busyness of this summer season and identify the highlights – there were so many! One of the most important accomplishments was the completion of the new dining room, with its huge viewing windows looking out over the Bay, a new roof, a new tower access, new decks, and new staff quarters.

I get tired just thinking about all the work that had to be done to see that beautiful building standing there. Yvan and

New dining room, polar bear obervatory at Seal River Lodge.

New Seal River Lodge dining room completed!

crew pulled off another miracle, from planning the project last season, to ordering and shipping materials by train to Churchill in January, then spending two weeks in March dragging freight over the frozen sea to the Lodge and finally back in June with the construction crew to build like madmen so we could be ready for first guests in July. Wow! And now we start the whole process all over again – Jeanne has “assured” all of us that she is getting her new kitchen next year.

Our summer Birds, Bears, and Belugas adventure might well have been called Bears, Bears, and Bears as we enjoyed some of the finest summer polar bear action on the planet. Seal River has always been a mecca for polar bears coming off the ice in July, but this year was nothing short of incredible.

One afternoon aerial tour spotted over 100 bears within 30 kilometers of Seal River, numbers which were certainly confirmed by the daily bear action at the Lodge. And the whales continue to enthrall intrepid snorkelers with their charming attention to the strange creatures invading their watery domain. Interactive singing opportunities brought out the creative in everyone. And although it was difficult to tell which whale “whisperer” had the best tune, it was fairly obvious that our whale friends enjoy listening to a well gurgled tune.

Mike Reimer on Hudson Bay. Churchill Wild. Summer 2010.

A beautiful summer day on Hudson Bay!

This past year Churchill Wild also completed the purchase and expansion of the Canada’s newest and most exciting polar bear destination, the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge located near Cape Tatnum. Cape Tatnum is home to the greatest concentration of summer polar bears on earth and is also near the site of a recently discovered polar bear denning area, not to mention fantastic wolf viewing, countless moose, and a bird migration beyond number. This will undoubtedly become the finest wild polar bear adventure in our ever-expanding stable of great polar bear trips, on par with the great African wildlife safaris of years gone by. Please plan to join us!

Churchill Wild can now guarantee world class polar bear viewing and ground level polar bear photo opportunities at its remote ecolodges from July through to the end of the traditional November season – another world first.

A big heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful guests for making Seal River Lodge a fabulous place to be this summer!  We couldn’t have done it without you. Now it’s time for the Great Ice Bear Tour and the Polar Bear Photo Safari.

We hope you can join us again someday soon!

Mike & Jeanne Reimer & Family