Wednesday 28 September 2022 – The mood, as we got into the bus to go to the buggy to spend another day searching for polar bears, was a little muted; everyone was, I think, disappointed that the previous day’s searching, whilst it had shown us some wildlife, had been unsuccessful in its main objective. Joe took us along a road where there was a possibility of seeing bears – indeed, there was a bear guard in evidence.
We passed the graveyard, which is really quite extensive (and the norm is three feet down rather than six feet, due to the permafrost)
and a site where there is extensive quarrying for stone to support the improvements being implemented to the railway leading to Churchill.
(The railway is one of only two ways to reach Churchill, the other being by air. It currently takes 18 hours to reach the town by rail from where the road ends, at Thompson, 400k to the south, and the target is to halve that time, which requires a lot of current improvement and then maintenance work on the tracks. The quarries in Churchill will be active for a while yet.)
All we got, though, was the by now customary opportunity for the more emotional among us to shriek with excitement at seeing some passing Belugas.
As we got to the buggy dock, one of our group, Theo, suggested that we exit the bus facing backwards, to leave the previous day’s bad luck on the bus. For some strange reason, we all did this.
The buggy route, which of course is constrained by the network of available trails, was pretty much exactly as the day before – 26 miles in total.
I had got my gimbal working, so was able to record some better footage to give an idea of just how not smooth progress is.
However, the day perked up a bit when, just after 10am, one of the eagle-eyed people on the bus spotted a bear!
As you can see, it was quite a way away – my eyesight is not very good (it took Jane a few minutes of patient explanation to enable me to actually locate the bear in the surrounding landscape) and I am utterly impressed that Bob and Jason and Mark are quite so expert at seeing wildlife. Zooming in, this is what I got out of the above.
Well, it’s identifiably a polar bear, at least. It was doing what polar bears in the West Hudson Bay bear population do at this time of year, which is, well, not much, really. The good times for them start when the ice freezes in Hudson Bay and they can get out on to it to catch and eat seals. Unlike Grizzlies, which can subsist on berries and other such foods, polar bears really need the skin and blubber of seals to fatten up; they convert over 80% of such fat to their own adipose tissue. Until the seals can be hunted, the bears are basically fasting. Of course they’ll gorge on anything they can find, such as a Beluga carcass on the beach or some such, but basically they’re just waiting around for the freeze – and being careful not to expend too much energy. So this bear did really not very much for quite a while. On the other side of the buggy, we could just about make out a bald eagle, perched on a rock,
and there were some shore birds (Lesser Yellowlegs it seems) to keep us amused
whilst we waited to see what the bear did. There was excitement when it stood up and walked a few paces
but then it lay down in the vegetation and basically disappeared from view.
We moved on, hoping to find more bears. We passed the Frontiers North Lodge, by now expanded from yesterday and almost ready to receive guests
and we noted that the Tundra Swans had got a couple of other birds trying to get in on their act.
But, apart from a distant dot on some distant rocks which Bob declared to be a sleeping bear, that was it for the rest of the day on the buggy. We got back to the dock just after 4pm having bagged just the one bear. It was a lovely sunny day and the temperature was quite high – nearly 20°C, so there was some, erm, very scenic scenery. Jane caught this nice example of fall colours in the landscape.
At the buggy dock, Joe was on hand to take us back to town, on a route which took us past the rocket base that was once such an important part of Churchill’s military role.
It’s disused now, and the ugliest building – the concrete blast bunker – has, of course, been the recipient of a mural to try to pretty it up a bit.
As he drove us on a roundabout route towards the town, Joe actually spotted more bear!
At first, we thought it was a mother and a cub, but it turned out that there were actually two cubs with their mother, who seemingly just wanted a bit of peace and quiet but had to keep rounding up her boisterous cubs.
We watched them for a while and I recorded some video.
They’re quite a way away, but at least the bear quotient was rising. Jason pointed out that visible on the other side of the bus was an arctic hare.
It’s a shame it didn’t move to give us a better look, but it was just resting in the shade – why would a sensible hare move under those circumstances?
The mother and cubs disappeared and Joe took the bus along a road which we hoped would take us a bit nearer. I’m not sure he succeeded in that; but all of a sudden we saw yet another bear, quite a bit closer than the previous encounters.
The experts on the bus eventually came to the conclusion that this was a lone male, and he, like the others, was basically just mooching about.
I got some video of him, as well.
So by the time we got back to the hotel we were a much happier band of bear seekers. We were late for our appointed dinner slot, but since we were basically the only tour in town, I don’t think we inconvenienced people too much. Had this been later in the season, with multiple tour groups going through the town, we would have had to have limited our time watching the bears, which would have been a shame.
After dinner, Jane went to a reportedly enjoyable presentation at the Parks Office (which, you’ll know because you’ve been paying attention, is housed in the Railway Station)
whilst I toiled away sorting through the vast number of substantially identical photos of bears in various places and combinations to decide what to include in this entry. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing and reading about the fruits of my labours and the group’s success in achieving the main objective of our visit to Churchill.
Our time here is almost over. We have greatly enjoyed it, despite the initial disappointment of yesterday’s fruitless quest. Things here are workmanlike rather than luxurious, but the hotel was comfortable, the food was good, hearty and well served, and the people we’ve met have been delightful. There’s a real sense of community here, which has been a pleasure to see in action.
There are a couple of excursions organised for tomorrow before we leave Churchill to get back on our eastward journey and I will, of course write about them here. Please keep in touch with these pages to see our final activities in this engaging place.