A picture may be worth a thousand words, but spending the day with a good friend – priceless! Last Sunday I joined one of my best friends, Lee Charleson, on a one-day trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears. After having to leave home for the Edmonton International Airport at 4:45 a.m. and a couple of hour flight to Churchill we were finally on the Tundra Buggy around 10:30. We were given a mixed bag of weather, a lot of cloud, some sunshine, some snow and a strong constant wind blowing. With the temperature at -10 C and the wind chill around -25, we didn’t linger very long when we went out to the rear deck of the Tundra Buggy.
Tundra Buggies are not the most stable of vehicles; they are actually very rocky and bumpy when they are in motion. Hence you are to remain seated while they drive and are only allowed to move around and go outside on the rear deck when the buggy is stopped and the motor is turned off. The tires on the Tundra Buggies are the same as what they use on farm combines, but with less air in the tire making it softer and spongier on the roads.
It was at least an hour after getting on the Tundra Buggy that we came across our first polar bear. There he was, creamy white, laying down resting at the edge of the shoreline of one of the many lakes and ponds. Everyone quietly watched in hopes of any movement from the bear, and there were big oohs and aahs every time the bear would move, we would joke that the bears probably tally the oohs and aahs that they caused and brag to the other bears how many they each get in a day.
It was Lee that spotted the first Ptarmigan, at first thinking it was a piece of garbage till it moved and she saw the distinct shape. Then she spotted another one hidden further into the dense willow shrubs. Against the shrubs they stand out but when they are on the patches of snow it is tougher to spot them. After spending quite awhile with this bear, the driver finally concluded that it was only going to sleep away the day and we moved on in search of other bears.
I found the geography of the area very interesting, as it is a transition zone where the Boreal forest (Taiga) meets the Tundra. The Tundra Buggies are limited in where they can travel, having to stay in a certain area that has a network of roadways. As they travel around the area they are constantly weaving around numerous lakes and ponds and along the Hudson Bay coastline.
Most of the lakes and ponds were frozen but the ice was still thin and a few still had some open water. Hudson Bay was ice free with just a hint of ice forming at the edges. Later in the afternoon while working our way back we passed the first bear, still lying about. We came across more Ptarmigan this time about 10 hunkered down staying out of the wind. Finally, around 3:00 we saw a second bear. This one was farther away than the first, but like the other it was just laying down not doing anything. So for the second time in the day we played the waiting game but to no avail as it just laid there, probably just conserving its energy waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze so that they can head out onto the sea ice to hunt seals.
We were a little disappointed that we only saw two polar bears, especially since when Mark and I went in November 2009 we saw around 25 polar bears. However, it was still a great time, especially since I was able to spend it with Lee. I am sure that there were more bears around, just unfortunately not where we went that day. – Leslie