Polar Bear Blog – Autumn in the North

Animals start moving in the fall. While Churchill has already had its share of bears this summer – including another Polar Bear Alert callout last night, bears are starting to stir in the southern part of their habitat. With cooling temperatures, the bears will gradually head north, congregating in places like Thompson Point, Cape Churchill and Broad River. Usually there is a small wave early in the season and then a bit of a pause as most bears will wait for the many creeks and ponds to freeze before actually venturing east to Churchill and Buggyland.

On the other hand, caribou have already started (or maybe never stopped) moving around the north. The porcupine caribou herd moving en masse across the northern Yukon and caribou hunting is well underway throughout the entire north and arctic.

Canada and Snow geese are beginning to depart their arctic nesting grounds, should be a few waves moving through Churchill and maybe some stragglers come bear season.

Young foxes and wolves are generally heading away from their denning areas and even out on their own. A couple of young wolves encountered a tour group at Nanuk Lodge this spring, down by the Nelson River… pretty amazing to encounter wolves and polar bears together. Hopefully, this means a strong population of wolves this year and maybe one or two sightings along Churchill’s treeline.

Many of the smaller birds have already left but usually a few stragglers stay for early bear season. Golden plovers, semi-palmated plovers, jaegers, scoters, eiders and tundra swans are all seen during the first half of the season. Falcons and hawks hang around much of the season – peregrine, gryfalcon, rough-legged, etc. Snowy owls show up pretty much every year, usually appearing as a white blip on the rocks at Halfway Point or Gordon Point.

The foliage turns beautiful reds, oranges and yellows with dwarf birch, bearberry and willows really highlighting the landscape. Most of the berry picking is over but cranberries taste best after a frost and, well, there always seems to be crowberries around.

The whales will start leaving soon. From all accounts, it has been a fantastic summer for belugas in Hudson Bay and some nice clear water at the mouth of the Churchill River. No word on the usual orca cruise-by or sign of a bowhead whale though. Either way, the belugas will now head out of the estuary and pretty much cycle around Hudson Bay until they make their way to Hudson Strait for the winter.

Fall is probably most welcomed by Churchill sled dogs. After a summer season of bugs and, at times, very intense sun, they are pretty excited to chill out in the fall and get some training time in behind the carts. Hudson Bay Quest is only a few months away…!

As for Churchillians, well, Port season is just hitting stride and the long hours of overtime will last until the end of October (in most years). Summer tourist season is over – and it is pretty quiet in the summers… – so folks begin preparing for bear season. This year, Tundra Buggy is starting tours on October 2nd and still trying to extend the season but for the most part, tourists arrive en masse around October 25th and peak season last until about the 18th. Churchill is definitely not as busy as it used to be so don’t be afraid to make a few calls and check for availabliity – its a fun place.

To the south, Nanuk Lodge is in full-swing with polar bear viewing while the three lodges north of Churchill are preparing for their own more secluded bear seasons.  I would think it should be pretty good viewing at the lodges this year given how spread out the bears are but, well, one way to find out…

And finally, this year seems to be shaping up as the ‘solar maximum’ that everyone has been waiting three years or more for.  Northern lights in Churchill (and the Yukon!) have been really good this spring and even summer and predictions are that the strongest shows have yet to arrive.  Last bear season already had some amazing aurora and this year should be just a little bit better…!

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