10/26/2012 3:50:07 PM
I arrived in Churchill at 11:00 a.m. today. What a fascinating place with its unique character and history! The story of Churchill goes well back beyond that of Canada itself, with human existence in the area dating back some 4,000 years. The locals, and thousands of visitors to Churchill, share the area with polar bears each fall when the bears move from their summer habitat on the tundra to wait for the pack ice to form on Hudson Bay.
I unloaded my bags at the PBI house and headed south for the bogs. Lots of colorful moss and lichen! Churchill is such a great place. Late that night we heard shotgun cracker shells, followed by a truck honking its horn into the distance—a Manitoba Conservation officer assisting a polar bear out of town as part of the Polar Bear Alert Program. A reminder of just how close we live to the polar bears.
I ran two miles along the bay in the morning with a can of pepper spray and a phone, following the main trail without a polar bear sighting. Two polar bear researchers, Brandon LaForest and Alysa McCall, and Lance Rougeux educational specialist, are fellow panelists for Tundra Connections® broadcasts. We worked hard preparing for our videoconferences and webcasts coming up this week. That afternoon, on our way to the Frontiers North Tundra Buggy® Lodge we spotted a polar bear napping in the weeds just outside of town. We circled the Launch to make sure no polar bears were hiding nearby so we could safely exit the PBI truck and unload our equipment. We spotted quite a few ptarmigans, some snow buntings, and a polar bear on our way to the Tundra Buggy Lodge.
It's foggy, partly cloudy mixed with sunlight and blue portions of the sky with no wind. It's 3 degrees centigrade today, and I am surprised it's not that cold. There was a lazy-looking bear this morning, barely moving all day, a master at conserving energy. Later we saw another polar bear walking north along the bay. Farther down the trail, two older cubs were playing and wrestling while a dirty mom watched. White ptarmigan, not well camouflaged on the brown tundra, and snowy buntings were sighted.
At 4:00 a.m. I looked out my bunkbed window: the sky was clear, there was no wind, and the stars still brightly filled the sky. As the rising sun lifted slowly above the barren landscape of willows, dirt, and rocks, a tint of crimson backlit the scattered layer of white and gray clouds.
After taking in the gorgeous view of the new morning, I noticed a rather dirty juvenile polar bear, maybe four years old, walking by the Frontiers North Lodge and laying down near the bay's edge. A short time later, after our Buggy left the Tundra Lodge, we came across the same bear we saw yesterday. The bear hadn't moved in a few days, we assumed to conserve energy, while waiting patiently for the ice to form on the bay. Due to the changes in climate experienced at this latitude, the ice continues to forms on the bay later than it had only a decade ago. It also breaks up earlier in the spring, giving the bears less time to hunt for seals.
In the afternoon, we spotted a mom and a pair of almost two-year-old cubs in the willows resting. The kids we videoconference with from Vermont were well-prepared with very thoughtful questions. It was rewarding and motivating for me to experience the students' enthusiasm and energy during our talk about polar bears and the Arctic. Returning to the Frontiers North's Tundra Lodge following the presentation, we had the unexpected pleasure of observing a bear playing with a piece of cardboard, not unlike how our bears at SeaWorld interact with their enrichment toys, demonstrating amazing dexterity and postcard cuteness.
The day ends as beautifully as it started. Just after dinner the aurora borealis dances across the night sky like I have never seen before. The lights filled the sky with an amazing changing design in green, white and a hint of blue. The only thing missing is my family.
At 9 a.m. there's a light wind out and the bay has dark clouds above the water. Maybe snow is coming our way (I hope). It would be nice to finally see snow-covered ground and icy ponds! It was getting windy as we moved into the videoconference and webcast. I truly enjoy the students, 4th graders were impressive. We saw four polar bears, with two juvenile bears wrestling and quite entertaining
Last night it was snowing hard and the snow was flying horizontally so this morning we shoveled snow from the Tundra Buggy® deck. A polar bear rolling and rubbing in the snowy willows, entertaining to all. And two other bears did the same, excellent viewing all close to the Tundra Buggy Lodge. My daughter's school in San Diego very much enjoyed our webcast, a huge hit with the students and teachers. So nice my daughter teared up when she saw me, she misses her Dad and I miss my family. It appears it will be another windy nigh
I will miss Churchill, the people, the polar bears and this unique environment. I would also like to thank Polar Bears International for all they do, SeaWorld for giving me this time, the students for inspiring me, and everyone who tries to make the world just a little better place live.