Tag Archives: photographing polar bears

2018 Polar Bears of Churchill

Polar Bear

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Churchill, Manitoba

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This year’s trip featured very nice weather under partly cloudy skies and snow.  The ice has started to form, but is not solid enough yet for the bears to move out.  The bears were gathered and very much anticipating the next few weeks when the ice will be fully formed for their trip out to seal hunting territory.

Rock formations Churchill

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Tundra Buggy for polar Bears Polar Bear looks at the Tundra Buggy

Our first day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area – a nature preserve.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.

 

Polar Bear in Churchill These vehicles are the only way to get into the Park area as the terrain is too rough for standard vehicles.

We had many bear sightings  from the bear vehicle.

Our 2nd day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. When out with our wildlife guide we are able to get out of the vehicle (when safe) and use our tripods to photograph the bears or arctic wildlife.

Churchill mural Photographing polar bears Cross Fox Polar Bear

We had several opportunities to see bears up close and were able to place the van in such a way to get great images from outside the vehicle.

bear traps
Bear Traps to remove nuisance bears away from town

Eskimo museum Churchill mural

Learning about conservation in this Arctic Region is a primary goal of these visits. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

Polar Bear Female Polar Bear Polar Bear

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.

We had a chance to see a polar bear trying some hunting on a ice covered pond.

Wildlife such as  snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox were harder to find on this trip perhaps due to weather changing on our last day.

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

 

Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip

 

 

Polar Bears in Churchill – Trip Report 2016

polar bear on the ice
A bear traversing some fresh ice – looking for food

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  We headed up in late October, which is the middle of the aggregation of the bears and usually before the ice forms and they head away.

polar bear mountie
A friendly Canadian greeting at the airport

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at he Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses those conducting research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to ecofriendly facility,  learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region from the researchers.  We enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome.

Our group outside the Churchill Northern Studies Centre
Our group outside the Churchill Northern Studies Centre
polar bear walking
A polar bear crosses a stream without getting wet

Our first two outings were on “Tundra Buggies” or “Bear Buggies”; specialty build vehicles which can travel the roads and overland in the Wildlife Management Area with minimal impact to animals and environment.  I dare say we would not have been able to reach the remote areas had we not been on such an accomplished and purpose built vehicle.

tundra vehicle
Each vehicle had an outside deck for photography
tundra vehicles
The bear buggy purpose built vehicles can go where others can not and do so with minimal damage

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The back of the vehicle is an open deck from which we could photograph the bears and scenery.  It was also possible to get shots out the open window, but we spent most of our time outside.

photographing polar bears
One of our guests photographing a bear as it comes toward us

Our bear sightings started right away on our way form the airport.  Our first two days yielded some very nice encounters with a male polar bear along the water and  napping in the snow.

polar bear
A curious bear comes right to our vehicle

It snowed these first days decorating the rocks and scrub bushes.  The snow actually made spotting the bears easier as they appear yellow against a new snow.  They seemed to be getting excited and energetic feeling that ice and  seals were getting closer.

Polar Bear
Polar bear walks toward us

One curious male came to check out our vehicles one at a time.  He peered up at us in curiosity and gave the vehicle a good smell underneath.

polar bear cub
A female escorts her two cubs

We encountered a female escorting her two cubs at the edge of the Bay – perhaps checking to see if the ice was formed yet, or just looking for a meal.  The cubs were very full of energy and roaming all over not following mom.  It was difficult to get a nice family shot, but fun to see the young ones out learning how to survive on their own.

The bears were hungry as they have not had a good meal of seal since coming to shore last spring.  We spotted them  eating kelp and browsing berry bushes.

polar bear running
a polar bear gets spooked and runs
male polar bear
A polar bear at the edge of an icy pond, his face stained with berries
polar bear face
A close up of a male polar bear whose face is stained with berries

For our last day we used a different mode of transportation:  a private van tour with a local expert.  He spacious vehicle was comfortable and his knowledge allowed us to find bears but also other wildlife such as a snow owl, ptarmigans, and fox.  Though outside the Wildlife Management Area, we had excellent polar bear sightings.  A young female came toward us then thrilled us as she picked a nice patch of moss among the rocks and took a nap just meters from our vehicle.

ptarmigans
ptarmigans
female polar bear
Female bear takes a nap on a comfortable spot

We tracked a male polar bear for some time.  We were out of the van photographing  at photographing something else when the bear snuck up behind us and came toward us.  We quickly got back in the vehicle and when he arrived at the vehicle we had some very close shots of him as he checked us out.

The private van was a great way to enjoy all the wildlife and scenery.  Our guide showed us a couple of abandoned structures and other sites that illustrate life in Churchill and its history.

red fox

A fox follows a bear at a safe distance hoping to get some scraps

Though short, this was a very successful and fulfilling opportunity to photograph polar bears and their arctic landscape.  It was both exciting and educational; I feel a deeper understanding of the polar bear’s lifecycle and how the climate impacts them in very significant ways.

We are planning a return trip in October 2017  – Join our mailing list by using our contact form – Our mailing List members will have first access to the limited spaces on this trip (6 guests only)

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