More from our Vice-President of Conservation, Peter Riger, who is leading a trip to Churchill!
We are on a fairly set schedule the next few days. Simple goal: Get out to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and Natural Habitat Adventures Tundra Rovers, head close to the shoreline of Hudson Bay and find a few polar bears to watch. The short 20 minute drive from the center of Churchill gets us there and out on the tundra by 8am.
The area is vast and the polar bears are not just hanging out waiting for a visit so you spend a little time driving in these massive vehicles on a limited number of trails set for them but it is only a matter of 30-45 minutes before a polar bear sauntered by on his way to somewhere. Given our great viewing the night before, we joked we would find the group a snowy owl and red or arctic fox along the way as well. Snowys are difficult to find this time a year and we are closer to arctic fox than red fox habitat but both can be seen at certain times of the year in different areas.
The first ground bird we came across were willow ptarmigan (a type of grouse, pronounced Tar-mi-gan) who prefer the safety of low growing willows, followed up by rock ptarmigan about 30 minutes later. These apparently like to stand on rocks. Along the way there were a polar bear or two in the distance before we stumbled upon promise #1: snowy owls, not just one but two. This is quite a find so late in the season as they typically head south to more comfortable climates. I may have mentioned yesterday it us about 5-10f warmer than normal this week in Churchill so things are hanging around. Our guides caught a glimpse of a beluga whale on Monday as well, something very rare for this area in October.
The snowy owl was followed by lunch “on the tundra” which was followed by me trying to get everyone’s attention to look to the left at the red fox trotting by us but confusing our guests three seconds later by telling them to look straight ahead at the arctic fox coming right at us.
The smaller arctic fox was not happy about seeing a red fox only 20 feet away and then realizing there was a massive vehicle in front with 15 pairs of human eyes staring at both him and the red fox. They both went their separate ways but the chances of encountering both species in the same place at the same time is just ridiculous.
There is much more out here than the Kings (and Queens) of the Arctic.