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Posts Tagged ‘York Factory’

Birding at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

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

Common Redpoll Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Common Redpoll

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located on the Hudson Bay coast east of York Factory. While the main attractions are polar bears and black bears, there is also a fascinating mix of Arctic, Sub-arctic and southern bird species around the Lodge.

It’s an easy to walk out to the coastal flats or inland into the boreal ridges and wetlands from the Lodge, and in addition to the wildlife and bird watching, this is a great area to appreciate the big picture landscape of Hudson Bay, the northern lights, and spectacular Arctic sunsets.

This area surrounding Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is rich in bird life. Through our work with the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas, we recorded 175 species in the area. The Hudson Bay coast teams with waterfowl and shorebirds and there is always the possibility of a rarity, so it is worth bringing a scope to scan flocks that may include American Black Duck, Mallard, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Whimbrel, Black Scoters and more.

Fox Sparrow Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Fox Sparrow

Hudsonian Godwits (over 1200 birds) can be found near a high-tide roost at the mouth of the Mistikokan River, and the coastal shorebirding at small bodies of water in the coastal zone and along the mud flats is superb. There is a steady parade of raptors on show, Ospreys nest not far from the Lodge and there is a good array of northern songbirds in their breeding plumage. This is also an excellent place to photograph birds like the Common Redpoll, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Shrike, Fox Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird and Northern Harrier.

One of the fascinating things about the Nanuk area is the ridge and swale landscape, with ridges clad in coniferous trees interspersed with wet meadows. The walking is quite easy along the ridges, which often have well-worn caribou trails. Most of the intervening wetlands are not too difficult to cross, many being wet meadows with very shallow water and lots of Yellow Rails and other wet meadow associated species. Sandhill Cranes are just one of many species that breed in these meadows.

Nelson's Sparrow Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Nelson’s Sparrow

If you’re a birder who enjoys chasing the elusive flat-headed sparrows, the wetland swales are well worth a visit. The Hudson Bay subspecies of Nelson’s Sparrow breeds here and is quite common. Surprisingly perhaps, because range maps don’t show them occurring this far north, Le Conte’s Sparrows breed here in the same meadows as the Nelson’s Sparrows. You will also find other southern species here that you might not expect, such as the Black-capped Chickadee, although in this location the Boreal Chickadee is much more common.

In addition to bird watching, Nanuk offers superb wildlife viewing opportunities. Polar bears and black bears occur in close proximity (the former on the coastal flats, the latter away from the coast) and are both fairly easy to observe. I also had no less than three sightings of timber wolves which included observing a black wolf hunting goslings.

Timber Wolf at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Black wolf on the prowl near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

About the Author: Christian Artuso is the coordinator of the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas (www.birdatlas.mb.ca). He traveled to both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge to document birds in the area in 2012 and 2013. Despite having photographed wildlife from around the world, he has a special fondness for northern Manitoba, where all the photos in both this post and his Birdwatching at Seal River Heritage Lodge post were taken during the summer and fall. For more from Christian please visit his blog at http://artusobirds.blogspot.com and his Web site at http://artusophotos.com.

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma to lead Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma will lead the 2013 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in early September, and he’s excited about getting back on the tundra at ground-level with the world’s largest land carnivore.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Postma speaking from his home in Whitehorse, Yukon. “I’ve never been to Nanuk, but have wanted to go ever since I started visiting the Churchill Wild Lodges, especially to head a photo safari. I’m looking forward to helping the other photographers get some great shots, give tips and advice, answer any questions they might have.”

The 41-year-old Postma has worked as professional photographer since 2003. His photos have appeared in numerous magazines including National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Up Here, Our Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Astronomy, as well as in brochures, annual reports and calendars. On April 2, 2012 his photo of a great horned owl bursting from an abandoned toolshed in Saskatchewan appeared as the Photo of the Day on the National Geographic Web site. Examples of Postma’s work can also be seen on the gallery section of his website at at www.DistantHorizons.ca and also on his Robert Postma Photography Facebook Page.

A few of Postma’s photo contest wins include the 2010 Banff Mountain Festival Photography Competition, The Nature of Things and Planet in Focus Nature in Focus Environmental Photography Competition, the Show us your Canada photo contest in 2004 and 2008, the Up Here Fantastic Photo Contest and Canadian Geographic Photo Club’s Annual Photography Contest in 2011, for which the theme was extreme weather. He has worked on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut and traveled all over North America as well as to Iceland, Australia, Bolivia, Peru, Guyana and Lebanon.

The Nanuk Polar Bear Safari represents a perfect progression for Postma, who was part of the group that attended the 2012 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River.

“I always look forward to my trips with Churchill Wild,” he said. “I‘ve been to both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Lodge and they were phenomenal experiences — first class, great meals, gracious hosts and excellent guides. And for some reason I’m just drawn to remote landscapes.”

It doesn’t get much more remote than Nanuk. Located approximately 150 kilometers southeast of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast within the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is only a 10 minute bush plane flight from Canada’s historic York Factory, the original trading post established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

“We still find remnants of old ships occasionally in the mud flats,” said Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer in an earlier interview, perhaps referring to the Battle of Hudson Bay in 1697, the largest Arctic naval battle ever fought. “From brass railings to cannons to old grave sites, you never know what you might find. And our guides are direct descendants of the Western Woods Cree, the “Home Guard Indians” who worked with the Hudson Bay Company over 300 years ago at the original settlements — guiding, hunting, interpreting and procuring wild game and furs for them.”

And not only is the area surrounding Nanuk drenched in history, it’s right in the heart both the newly discovered polar bear denning areas and the impending solar maximum, which occurs approximately every 11 years. According to Canadian Geographic in their January/February article Sun Struck, 2013 promises to be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to experience the sun’s magnetic power at its height, which could mean northern lights displays that are even more spectacular than usual at Nanuk.

“Solar activity, — flares, sunspots, solar winds and other forms of radiation — is governed by changes in the sun’s magnetic field,” writes Peter McMahon in the article. “These activities wax and wane on a fairly predictable 11-year cycle known as the solar maximum. The peak of this cycle hits this year (predicted to be September 2013 or later), which is why skywatchers and scientists are so excited. The solar maximum should bring with it the brightest and most frequent auroral displays for more than a decade.”

“If we get clear skies during the solar max we could see some stunning aurora borealis displays,” said Postma, who has taken numerous photos of nature’s most spectacular light show.  But what he’s really looking forward to is photographing polar bears at ground level on a picture-perfect backdrop that includes the Hudson Bay coastline, fall colours and beautiful interior lagoons.

“I’ve photographed polar bears from both the tundra buggies and on the ground,” said Postma. “But it’s on the ground where you can really get the good shots. I like to try to portray emotion in my photographs. I want people to experience what I was feeling when I took the shot. I like to get down low, looking up at the bears. People don’t think about that, but when you’re on your knees at eye level with a polar bear, it’s intense, and that comes across in the photos.”

“If the bears are interested they will sometimes get as close to 30 feet from you,” continued Postma” “But I’ve never felt scared or threatened. The guides are knowledgeable; they know the bears and they always have their eye on them. All precautions are taken.”

After a hearty breakfast, Postma and his band of photographers will hike the tundra in search of polar bears and the perfect shot. They’ll do the same after lunch and sometimes even after dinner. That’s assuming they aren’t interrupted by polar bears at the Lodge fence or a spectacular Northern Lights display.

“Walking on the tundra up there is a special kind of experience,” said Postma. “I’ve done it a lot, but I’ll never get bored of the wide open spaces. It awakens a part of me that just lays dormant.”

“It’s good for the soul.”

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge New for 2012! Limited availability Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.

King Polar Bear at Nanuk.

King Polar Bear at Nanuk

Churchill Wild will host the world’s first ever Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2012, offering photographers rare on-the-ground polar bear access and exceptional photo opportunities unavailable anywhere else on the planet.

The new Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari represents an expansion on the success of Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Photo Safari and Arctic Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“Last year was our first time running a full program at Nanuk”, said Rick Kemp, Director of Marketing and Communications at Churchill Wild. “We finally had a chance to see everything the area had to offer. Guests were treated to Churchill Wild’s trademark one-of-a-kind polar bear experience with on-the-ground polar bear viewing, but we also discovered wolves, black bears, moose, skunk, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and thousands of migratory snow geese.”

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from the air.

Getting ready to land at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Located in one of the most historically significant areas of Canada on the southern coast of Hudson Bay within the Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Area, the Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk will have very limited space availability from August 26 to September 1, 2012, and will be led by Churchill Wild in-house professional wildlife photographer and author Dennis Fast. Space will be very limited at a price of $6,395. For more information please call Churchill Wild at 1 ( 204) 377-5090 or e-mail info@churchillwild.com.

“People are starting to want something wilder and less traditional,” said Fast. “You’re on the polar bears’ home turf up here. You’re on the ground with the polar bears. It doesn’t get any wilder than that. When you’re eye-to-eye with the polar bears it elevates their status. You really get a sense of how big and powerful they really are, and it shows in your photographs.”

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

The most compelling attraction for wildlife photographers at Nanuk is the high incidence of mothers and cubs in the area, due to two newly discovered polar bear denning sites on the edge of the Boreal Forest. The Northern Lights can also be quite spectacular at Nanuk when skies are clear, and there are beautiful interior lagoons which also make a great backdrop for photographs of the mothers and cubs.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located 40 kilometers east of York Factory, a trading post that was established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the early years of the fur trade that played a major part in the exploration and development of Canada.

“We still find remnants of old ships occasionally in the mud flats,” said Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer, perhaps referring to the Battle of Hudson Bay in 1697, the largest Arctic naval battle ever fought. “From brass railings to cannons to old grave sites, you never know what you might find. And our guides are direct descendants of the Western Woods Cree, the “Home Guard Indians” who worked with the Hudson Bay Company over 300 years ago at the original settlements — guiding, hunting, interpreting and procuring wild game and furs for them.”

Polar bears walking by the polar bear viewing area at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with... polar bears walking by!

Guests at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge may very well be walking in the footsteps of some very famous explorers during their daily hikes along the sandy and grassy tidal flats in search of polar bears and adventure. But despite taking place in one of the wildest areas on the planet, the Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk offers all the comforts of home with the Lodge’s newly renovated cabins that include private en-suite washrooms and showers.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner take place in the separate main dining room at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and the main living room/polar bear viewing area at the Lodge provides a gathering place to relax, share stories and photos after a wonderful day of exploring and photographing, unless of course… you’re interrupted by polar bears walking by.

When most people think of seeing polar bears they have visions of snow and ice. Nanuk offered us the spectacular backdrop of the fall colours on the tundra to contrast with the great white bears that were our constant companions. Add to that the millions of birds that stopped at Nanuk on their way south and, if you can’t get a great photo here, you won’t get one anywhere! — Kerry and Leona Orchard, Nanaimo, BC

 

Polar bear tours with a rustic accent at Churchill Wild’s Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bear surveys the arctic landscape on the Hudson Bay coast at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by Rick Kemp

Most of our Churchill Wild polar bear eco-adventures take place at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Every year we’ve added an upgrade or two and our guests rant about the service, accommodations, and the unequalled on-the-ground access to polar bears. We are the only company on the planet that operates remote fly-in polar bear eco-lodges.

Last year we added a new 1400 square foot dining room with huge picture windows overlooking Hudson Bay, to provide guests with a sea-side dining experience that makes viewing any polar bears that might walk by (and decide to peak in) an exceptional experience for both humans and bears!

This year we’re adding a kitchen fit for a celebrity chef. Construction starts next week and Jeanne is particularly excited about the concept of her new workspace.

Seal River is increasingly becoming THE destination in luxury arctic adventure travel and we’re proud to host whenever we have the opportunity. Seal is home to the popular summer adventure Birds, Bears & Belugas as well as September’s Arctic Safari and the Polar Bear Photo Safari.

But Seal River Heritage Lodge is not the only lodge in the Churchill Wild arsenal – we also operate Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge for our Great Ice Bear Adventure. And last year we started a new project – Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge – which is home to our Mothers & Cubs Adventure.

This converted old goose hunting camp is about as secluded as you can possibly get! Located approximately 150 kilometers southeast of Churchill, Nanuk is a 10 minute bush plane flight from the historic York Factory (and about an hour from Gillam). Nanuk has been around since the 1970s and the previous owner had often noted the massive number of polar bears in the area. As it turns out, Nanuk is situated right in the heart of newly discovered polar bear denning areas.

Last summer I went to Nanuk for the first time and it was a mind-blowing experience. The lodge can be best described as “rustic”. Individual cabins sleep two per room and at present the Nanuk operation can accommodate up to 12 people. Each cabin has its own bathroom and shower.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

The main lodge has Wi-Fi, a kitchen, dining hall and a large common room with a fireplace and a bar. It’s all very cozy but not on the level of Seal River (yet). Plans are to bring it up to par with Seal but I must admit, the atmosphere at Nanuk lends itself well to an authentic arctic wilderness setting. The polar bears were plentiful and we also saw wolves, moose, Northern Lights and many different species of birds including eagles.

A number of media types were there with me (it was a media trip) and Michele Sponagle recounted our polar bear tale better than I could for MSN Travel in Polar Express. Angela Saurine came all the way from Australia and wrote Close Encounters with Polar Bears for News.com.au and Birgit-Cathrin Duval from Germany blogged about her experience in Guess who’s coming for dinner on her visual storytelling takkiwrites.com blog. We even had a trio from Mexico who gave us salsa dancing lessons one evening. Lucas Aykroyd and I spent our downtime talking about 1980’s hair bands and Euro heavy metal. Lucas wrote 1984: The Ultimate Van Halen Trivia Book so I knew ahead of time we would have lots to talk about.

The Mothers & Cubs Adventure at Nanuk takes place on the coast of Hudson Bay within the Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Area, truly one of the most fascinating places on earth, with so much history I couldn’t get enough. I ended up reading three books about the area after my trip! Northern Manitoba is one of the most pristine wilderness areas left in the world – so remote that it has barely changed in thousands of years.

After a two hour flight from Winnipeg we arrived in Gillam and then took a bush plane to Nanuk. The breathtaking flight east from Gillam to Nanuk takes you over the Northern Taiga Forest and tracks the mighty Nelson River over the plains and tidal flats of Hudson Bay.

Following the same route the fur traders took for hundreds of years, you fly over York Factory, a trading post that was permanently established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company – the beginning of Canada’s fur trade history. Some of the Nanuk staff expedition leaders are descendants of the Cree people who originally inhabited the area when the first Europeans arrived in the early 1600s.

This coastline of Hudson Bay around Nanuk and York Factory was in turmoil between 1600-1900 as the French and English played king of the hill – both looking to control the riches provided by the fur trade.

The early expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage would have followed the coast right past Nanuk. Many ships got wintered into the Bay and numerous explorers died in search of the elusive route. That in itself could be a blog post.

The polar bear and the cannon

Polar bear meets history at Nanuk

When you’re at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge you’ll notice all sorts of artifacts. The previous owner was an avid explorer of the area and always carried his trusty metal detector with him. Within the fenced compound you’ll find remnants of old shipwrecks such as brass railings and authentic cannons from the 1800s, possibly even earlier.

Butch and Gordie, two of the Nanuk guides, have been there for almost 30 years combined. Both are proud Canadian First Nations people who know the surrounding land through a deep spiritual connection. Gordie is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and Butch was born at York Factory in the 1950s, before the residents were relocated to York Landing Cree Nation. In the off season, Butch manages the York Landing airport but he loves to return to Nanuk every year.

The trip to the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge was my first Churchill Wild Adventure. I can’t wait to go back. There’s a shipwreck that we didn’t get a chance to see.

It’s on the top of my “to do” list.