In late October Leslie and her friend Lee did a whirlwind one-day trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see and hopefully photograph the polar bears that gather on the shores of Hudson Bay waiting for the sea ice to form (see our previous blog posting for details on Leslie and Lee’s experience). A number of people asked me why I didn’t go with them; was it because it was a “girls only” day out and I wasn’t welcome? No, that wasn’t the case as they did ask me to come along with them, but I decided that it might be a better idea that I go on another date so that we broaden the photographic opportunities that different days might bring. Well it appears that it was a good decision on my part and what a difference going two weeks later made. Leslie and Lee saw two polar bears on their trip and I also saw two polar bears – times ten for a total of at least 20 different individuals.
The first polar bears that I saw and photographed were a mom with two cubs near the platform where you board the Tundra Buggies. So I hadn’t even boarded the Tundra Buggy and I had already seen more polar bears than Leslie and Lee saw on their entire trip. It took over an hour on the Tundra Buggy before our group came across our next polar bears, another mom with two cubs. Throughout the rest of the day we slowly came across a number of other bears, including two more moms each with a single cub and a number of single bears. Unfortunately most of the polar bears that we encountered were either resting or just slowly wandering around, so I didn’t get to see some of the interesting behaviours, like males sparring, that Leslie and I saw in our previous trip in 2009.
The weather was quite variable and constantly changing, which is unusual for Churchill at this time of the year as it is often just cloudy. We started out with some clear skies and a bit of sun, but that was quickly replaced with cloud, then snow and finally blowing snow as the winds picked up. However, as the Tundra Buggy was heading back at the end of the day we were treated to a rare break in the clouds to the west and a brief sunset that capped off a very enjoyable visit to Churchill to see polar bears.
Both of our trips this year were tours organized by Classic Canadian Tours based in Calgary, which offered a number of one-day trips to Churchill from Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatoon. This is the second year that we have gone on one of their polar bear trips; the first was in November 2009. We have been really pleased with the tours that we have taken with them; they have been well organized, professionally carried out and also educational and informative.
When I told Leslie how many polar bears I saw, and that there were a number of moms and cubs included in that total, she said she was very happy for me, but I could also hear the disappointment in her voice that she wasn’t as lucky. She has gotten to at least partially experience my trip through viewing the photos and videos that I took, but it’s not the same as seeing the polar bears firsthand. I guess that we will just have to go again. Mark