Thursday, November 6, 2008

Final Posting

My arctic polar bear vacation ends today as I return home to Milwaukee this afternoon. The biggest adventure yesterday was making it from town to the airport as the snow had not let up and the roads on the way out of town had become a sheet of ice. Our guide Steve did an admirable job driving the school bus and getting us safely from the motel to Gypsy's and out to the airport.

When we arrived, the Churchill Airport was relatively peaceful and quiet. We were able to take care of our check-in requirements, walk around and look at the old historical photos of Ft. Churchill and perhaps even take in some last minute jewelry shopping inside the "terminal".

The peaceful atmosphere of the airport soon turned into pandemonium . . . no wait wrong bear! Wouldn't that be polarmonium?? HA - sorry just my warped sense of humor coming out! Clearly Wednesdays are a busy transition day with the new influx of tourists coming to experience Churchill, her hospitality and bears.

With our good-byes to our new friend Steve, it was time to head south to Winnipeg.

Last night we had our farewell finale dinner at the Winnipeg Hilton. What a difference a few days makes. Our group of families, friends and individual travelers had bonded and become come together through a shared experience of a lifetime. Perhaps friendships were established that will continue to grow from our time spent together in Churchill. For me, it started months before leaving Milwaukee as I began my research and planning at the beginning of 2008.

To Cindy, Celeste and Susan thank you for welcoming me into your travel circle. I hope that we are able to do it again some day!
P.S. I will be writing a more detailed travel journal that will include reviews of all of the sights, activities and experiences from this trip on www.igougo.com. You may want to bookmark my "guide" page there and look for more writings and photos later this month: http://www.igougo.com/profile/profile.aspx?MemberID=347099 . My pen name there is MilwVon.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Short Video From Tuesday

Here is a video taken yesterday of "our bear" as he rolled around in the snow. I took it with a Canon SD600 point n shoot digital camera (zoomed all the way in), so you can see how close we were able to get in our tundra buggy. You can also hear the wind as it blew against our vehicle.

It runs just over a minute.


video

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blizzard Hits Churchill

Today was remarkable in spite of, or maybe because of the snow blizzard we're STILL having! Weather is a funny thing because the bears like it cold, the colder the better and the snow really doesn't affect them much. They don't care for the high winds however, so we had a few things working against us for the bear viewing day out on the tundra:

1. The air temp was around 30F which is warmer than bears like it, making them a bit lethargic in general.
2. With the whiteout conditions, it's difficult to even see polar bears if they are up and around . . . or more likely bunkered in the willows that block the wind.
3. Our tour group in general was a bit apathetic and less than optimistic about seeing bears. Believe me when I say the weather conditions (especially the high winds) were brutal!

Folks were napping, reading books, and doing a lot of things not conducive to finding the bears! Around 10:00am our buggy driver and our group tour guide decided to break away from the other two early morning buggies. They felt that in knowing bear behavior, there was a good chance to find a bear or two in a small land area covered with willow between a couple of frozen over ponds.

Their hunch paid off and we were treated to one bear who immediately scampered off out of sight. Shortly after, however, something was seen that was not visible as we entered this area. It was a sub adult male nearly covered in snow. At first he was a bit boring to watch, raising his head every few minutes as to check to see if we were still watching. Later in the morning, he seemed a bit restless especially as a couple of other buggies "found us" and zeroed in on OUR bear!


The bear did get up, stretch, pose, slide in the snow and then walk around our buggy. He even reached up onto the front of the vehicle as though he was trying to look into the front windshield. He then proceeded around the other side of the buggy, walked across the frozen lake, looking for a new place to make his day bed. Not comfy with what he found over there, he waltzed back nearly retracing his foot steps to his earlier resting point.

By this time, there were several buggies creating a small amplitheater around him. We had the best vantage point less than 50 feet away. This was where we had our tundra picnic lunch and stayed for over two hours. The show we were treated to by this single bear was gladly worth the price of the day's tour!

We did see a couple of other bears on our return trip to the buggy launch, as well as two arctic hares. Unfortunately in the wind driven snow, it was nearly impossible to see them . . . and literally impossible to photograph them.

While yesterday was outstanding from a total bear count (16) point of view, today was even better proving sometimes it is about more than quantity. I think our final bear count for today was "just" six.

More photos have been posted over at PictureTrail.com.: http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/20906049

Tuesday Morning 6:30am CST

We're having blizzard like whiteout conditions today . . . expecting a lot of snow and high winds. It may adversely affect our bear viewing today, as we've been told in weather like this, while the bears love it cold they will go into a bunkering down mode in the willows.

Hopefully it will still be a great day out in the wild.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tundra Buggy - Day One 11/3/08

OMG was it incredible! We were out of the tundra buggy launch pad by 9:00a and within a mile or so, we experienced our first bear. He was very close to the path, on a slightly elevated lakeshore.


From there, the day only got better as we had a very active morning of bear viewing . . . including a momma and two cubs. At first they were completely out of sight, but someone on the buggy noticed the movement in the willows. Out appeared the mom. As though that wasn't good enough, up popped a cub head . . . and then the second. The momma enjoyed sliding down the hill as her babies watched. One came out almost immediately, while the other seemed a bit more timid. Eventually he too came out, although he seemed to lag behind and had to run often to catch up when mom was ready to move.



This big boy was on the shore of the Hudson Bay. As you can see the ice is starting to form. From time to time he could be seen munching on some old dried up sea kelp that had washed up onto the shore.

Near the end of the day we stopped in at the Great White Bear Lodge, the tundra camp for those who want to live out with the bears during their stay in Churchill. There were a couple of bears in and around the camp, but this one seemed to only have mischief on his mind.















I wish I had more time to write and post more photos here. I have uploaded a few more on my PictureTrail account: http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/20898917 .

Hopefully I'll have more time tomorrow!



Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Day In Churchill

After a hectic day of travel yesterday, our group of 21 arrived safely in Churchill by mid morning. Thank goodness for "falling back" last night as we all needed the extra hour's sleep. We have a very eclectic group, with roughly a third from the UK, USA and Canada each. I'm amazed at the number of folks that cross "the pond" to come to the Polar Bear Capital of the World . . . Churchill, Manitoba.


Upon our arrival, our tour guide Steve provided us with a thorough tour of the town, highlighting everything of importance . . . where NOT to go due to safety issues with bears in town . . . where to go shopping for gifts and souvenirs . . . and where we'll be dining for most of our meals while in Churchill. We also got to see where bears are taken if they wander into town - Polar Bear Compound aka Polar Bear Jail.



Before lunch we paid a short visit to the train station which also serves as the home to a series of interpretive exhibits telling the story of Churchill, the polar bear and Inuit people.

With a noontime lunch date at Gypsy's, world famous I might add, we were treated to a "whatever you want off the menu board" lunch that was part of our group's tour package. Lunch was very good, as was dinner later that evening (Arctic Char). Both meals were outstanding!













Our day was jam packed with activities, which included our one-hour helicopter tour of Churchill Bay and the Wapusk National Park where the polar bears have been preparing for a feast of the own. Once the ice forms, they will venture out for months to get their fill of ring seals. In the meantime, they will eat whatever they can kill, which for one big boy, was a caribou. The flight was incredible! With six passengers in the copter, we were limited to what camera gear we could bring aboard. While my photos aren't the best (I was using a digital point n shoot), I have posted a couple here for folks to get the idea.


After some down time for shopping, a nap or both . . . we reconvened just before 6:00pm for dinner at Gypsy's. The arctic char is akin to salmon, but seemed like a lighter, flakier fish to me. It was very good and not very fishy tasting. After dinner we were treated to Churchill through her four seasons compliments of a local photographer Mike. His work is beautiful including wildlife (polar bears, beluga whales, foxes) and the aurora borealis. This was the perfect ending to a wonderful first day in Churchill.