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Posts Tagged ‘Terry Elliot’

Polar bears abound in final week of 2014 Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure!

Mom and Cubs on final day of Birds, Bears and Belugas. David Walker photo

Mom and cubs on final day of Birds, Bears and Belugas. David Walker photo

by Terry Elliot, Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guide

We had a great time on the Birds. Bears & Belugas Adventure this year thanks to fabulous guests and co-operative wildlife, but the final week was a real treat!

After getting everyone orientated, we set out on a hike to view a young female polar bear on a point just north of the Lodge. We watched her sleeping peacefully and decided to carry on a little further north.

We then got a call on the radio that a mother and her two cubs were approaching the Lodge from the south. We made our way back and had a great view of her as she passed by.

Back to the lodge for appetizers, and another mother with a second year cub emerged from the water and circled around us. Then another mother with two cubs rolled in from the south and sauntered right up to the windows!

We found her more interesting than she found us, so she went down to the beach, dug a day bed and nursed her cubs in full view and beautiful light!

Young polar bears sparring. What a treat! Fred Walker photo.

Young polar bears sparring. What a treat! Fred Walker photo.

We also saw a beautiful black wolf on the flats hunting and watched him for about 30 minutes before hiking out to find the bear that had passed by the dining room windows. Low and behold there were two more bears sparring! And just to top everything off, our beluga swim was incredible!

It was a wonderful ending to a great season of  Birds. Bears & Belugas.

A sincere thank you to all our wonderful guests this year, we really enjoyed your company!

Black wolf says goodbye after a great season!  Fred Walker photo.

Black wolf says goodbye after a great season! Fred Walker photo.

How fast can a moose run? Scarbrow knows.

by Terry Elliot, Churchill Wild Guide

Yesterday was a great day on the Great Ice Bear Adventure!

Beautiful sunny skies at sunrise, and we could hear a moose calling on the other side of the lake, so we gathered everyone up and walked across the ice.

Moose are hard to find, so my expectations were low, but when we approached the far shore we spotted a cow and calf and then a bull! We managed to catch them slicing through the trees in the video above, but they were quick!

We came back and found two arctic foxes on the bay and then spent the afternoon on the ice with our resident bear “Scarbrow”. The photographers were in heaven. The light was beautiful and Scarbrow circled around to give us every angle! We finished the day with a spectacular display of northern lights!

Don’t know how we will top that today, but it isn’t even breakfast time yet and Scarbrow is already performing at the fence for us.

We get the feeling he already knows how fast a moose can run.

Scarbrow knows how fast a moose runs.

Scarbrow knows how fast a moose can run.

Churchill Wild polar bears to appear on CBC’s The Nature of Things in Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey

Polar bear being filmed at Seal River

Filming polar bears at Seal River. Photo Credit: Nick Garbutt

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to visit the polar bears at Seal River Heritage Lodge or Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, you’ll want to make sure to watch the world premiere of Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey on Sunday, April 8 at 7 p.m. on CBC TV’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. You’ll see some of our Churchill Wild polar bears!

The wildlife documentary, much of which was filmed over a 12-month period in the vicinity of Churchill Wild’s polar bear lodges, tells the story of a young male polar bear who must survive his first summer alone on land without his mother, after the ice breaks up early on Western Hudson Bay and prevents him from hunting seals. The youngster’s struggle to survive is back-grounded and influenced by one of the most important environmental stories in history: climate change.

Directed by Adam Ravetch of Arctic Bear Productions and produced by Arcadia Content in association with CBC’s Science and Natural History Documentary Unit, Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey features stunning images shot with eight different types of cameras including: a polar bear collar-cam; a remote control truck-cam; a mini heli-cam and several underwater cameras.

“Filming in 3D was much more work,” said Ravetch. “But we wanted immersive images so the audience could experience what it’s really like to be up close at ground level with polar bears. It required multiple cameras operating at the same time to produce the special 3D effects and three of us including Stereographer Indy Saini and Camera Engineering Specialist Stewart Meyer to get the distances between the objects and between the lenses just right. Stewart also developed a smaller mobile camera system that could produce some very rare images.”

Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer and polar bear guides Terry Elliot and Andy MacPherson were also essential in getting the ultimate polar bear shots.

“It’s a huge challenge to film in 3D in the arctic,” said Ravetch. “The guides have to have experience specifically with polar bears. They concentrate on safety so we can focus on camera angles and getting the shots we need. Being up close with the bears is quite spectacular for a filmmaker, but safety is paramount. The last thing we want is for a person or a bear to get hurt. You’re not in a cage or a vehicle, you’re at ground level with the polar bears. I’ve always worked at ground level, but there are very few places where you can photograph polar bears like this. Seal River and Nanuk are among the best places on the planet for this type of wildlife photography.”

Polar bear sees reflection on Hudson Bay.

Reflection of a polar bear. Hudson Bay.

Ravetch is no stranger the arctic. He and Sarah Robertson co-directed Arctic Tale for National Geographic. Ravetch also directed some amazing in-field sequences swimming with polar bears and walruses for the IMAX production To The Arctic and was cinematographer for one of the segments on the BBC series Frozen Planet, to name just a few of his many illustrious wildlife and nature film credits.

Ravetch sometimes camps out for 4-6 weeks at a time while making his films in the arctic, which makes for a very serious and sometimes dangerous adventure (see full interview here), but Churchill Wild was lucky to have him and his crew as guests at Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge during various segments of the filming process in 2010 and 2011.

“I woke up to Jeanne’s (Reimer) omelettes every morning,” said Ravetch. “Churchill Wild offers people the very unique experience of getting up close on the ground with the polar bears. Within a day of a arriving at the Lodge people can see polar bears on the tundra. But they still have a warm safe bed at the Lodge to come back to, and of course the delicious food.”

Thanks Adam! And just to clarify for future guests, Churchill Wild doesn’t actually “own” any polar bears.

They simply get close to them.

Polar bear at sunset near Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Nature at its finest.

Arctic fox steals the show on sunny day at Seal River

Arctic fox with guide Terry Elliot at Churchill Wild

Taming the Hunter: The Perfect Pose

by Churchill Wild Guide Terry Elliot

People come to Seal River Heritage Lodge to see the polar bears, but on this occasion the arctic fox obviously stole the show!

Vulpes Lagopus has cyclical population numbers. More prey equals more foxes, and we were seeing lots of lemmings all summer so this was obviously good for the kits (baby foxes). We counted as many as 14 at one time this year, probably a family group with lots of infighting for position in the pecking order.

The arctic foxes have always been bold and inquisitive creatures, but especially so in this photo. Typically they will follow a polar bear out on to the ice and scavenge for the winter. During the summer their coat turns brown, they breed and eat lemmings, eggs, birds, hares, even insects and frogs.

In a prosperous year the females can have as many as 16 kits. Their dense fur enables them to withstand extreme cold temperatures and leave their red-haired cousins behind at the tree line. When sleeping, they will curl into a tight ball with their bushy tail over their nose.

My wife calls this picture “Taming the Hunter”. Unfortunately the photo I was taking here did not turn out as well as the photo of me taking it. It’s a terrible thing when the wildlife is so close to your camera that you can’t get focused. But you have to take the wonderful with the almost-wonderful.

And I did get a decent shot of his ear :)

Polar Bears – A Walk to Remember

Polar bears standing and sparring near Seal River on Hudson Bay

No! No! No! Hold my right paw softer! Where did you learn to dance anyways?

by Andy MacPherson with notes from Terry Elliot – Seal River Lodge Polar Bear Guides

 with photos by Paul McAteer

I’m sure everyone woke up a sometime during the night to the sounds of the howling wind. I know I did. And we weren’t disappointed in the morning. High winds and blowing snow were busy creating a new landscape for those of us brave enough to explore it.

With the temperature hovering between -5 and -11, taking into account the wind chill, our first excursion was more of an exercise hike in white out conditions. Off we went to Swan Lake to look at the ice and five-foot snow drifts piling up on the lee side of the willow, birch and alder trees on the shore of the lake.

We left fresh signs of our lakeshore visit by creating numerous snow angels in the drifts to confuse and tempt any furry four-legged carnivores that might venture this way later. We saw flocks of ptarmigan and finally spotted two polar bears sparring on Two Bear Point at the end of our brisk jaunt, but decided to take an early lunch and join them later.

Polar bears sparring near Seal River on Hudson Bay

That's better! You're starting to get the hang of it!

After a hearty meal we headed north up the coast towards the point where we’d seen the bears sparring earlier. They were nowhere to be seen as we approached and made our way down the spine of the ridge towards the tip. Finally two white heads popped out of the thick willows, one chewing on the others ear, before disappearing out of sight. The polar bears were still here and still scrapping, but we could barely see them!

We moved the group in order to get a better vantage point, but when the bears noticed us they halted their play fighting and began to take more of an interest in us than in their game. They came closer, moving out into the open and laying down together in a comfy knot on a snow drift, one burying its head in the snow like an ostrich. Again we moved and waited patiently hoping they would find the energy to spar again.

Polar bears play fighting near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge on Hudson Bay.

If we keep going like this we might make Dancing with the Stars!

Ten minutes later one of the bears had recuperated enough to start a fight – bite a foot, chew an ear – and they were at it again!  Stand up, double shove to the chest, hay maker to the side of the head; take down, head lock, roll-out and jump four feet in the air pin wheeling; rear foot kick to the head – a stylized dance that they really seemed to enjoy – or maybe a cross between Greco Roman wrestling and Brazilian Jujitsu. They didn’t stop until a huge bear that had been bedded down just to the north of us caught wind of the sparring partners and decided he wanted in on the action.

But this bear was too big. He was also sporting a jail-house tattoo from the Churchill detention centre. A big green spot, meaning he’d been a participant in the Polar Bear Alert Program Churchill – a bear with a record. The two buddies gave him a wide berth before moving in as a pair to challenge the big bear, pushing him away and over the ridge where he finally bedded down.

The original two bears checked out his trail, scenting carefully, before splitting up. One followed him over the hill and out of sight while the second walked to the edge and posed for us, front feet perched on a rock, looking first for the big bear and then back at us, silhouetted against a dark grey sky. Beautiful! We left the bears at this point, making our way back to the lodge for wine and appetizers while watching the sun set in a clearing sky.

John Grady, a previous fishing trip guest at Webber’s Lodges’ North Knife Lake Lodge, was on the walk today, accompanied by his wife and two daughters. It was their first polar bear tour at Seal River Lodge. He turned and shook guide Terry Elliot’s hand, thanking him for a rare and special walk with polar bears.

Polar bears getting ready to dance at Seal River on Hudson Bay

Hold on a second! I'm not ready!

“My whole life could be described as a series of long walks,” said Grady. “Today’s experience was and is one of the most important and memorable walks of my life. I first met this amazing family at North Knife Lake Lodge five years ago. What started out as a single fishing trip with Webber’s Lodges turned into a number of fishing trips, culminating with this exotic trip to the land of the polar bears with my whole family and some dear friends. I never thought I would see this country in the winter, when it is such a playground for these amazing bears.”

“I thought you could only see this on TV,” continued Grady.  “When I asked my family if they wanted to go on this trip, they thought I was kidding. They couldn’t imagine that you could really do this. That’s the point. The staff and owners of Churchill Wild and Webber’s Lodges make all of this an absolute reality. I hope my kids learn to never let life pass you by. Thank you.”

The wind and snow of the past few days was abating, hinting at an evening of shimmering northern lights. Could there be a better ending to a perfect day… and a walk to remember.