A black fox on the tundra near Churchill.

Black foxes, uncommon near Churchill, were plentiful on the tundra this year. But we didn't spot a single polar bear--highly unusual for early October.

© Madison Stevens/Polar Bears International

1/9/2017 1:31:28 AM

A Different Start to Polar Bear Season

By Alysa McCall, Director of Conservation Outreach & Staff Scientist

Last week marked the start of my seventh fall on the Manitoba tundra and my third time helping to host the Polar Bears International Climate Alliance training session in Churchill. This year's participants included a wonderful group of people from various backgrounds including incredible communicators, passionate social media gurus, and high-tech whizzes. I felt fortunate to work with them all on how to communicate about climate, get a sneak peek into what their jobs entail, and help them get a taste of what it’s like on the tundra—in theory, anyway!

It ended up being an unusual week for many reasons, the main reason being that we did not see a single polar bear! This was the first ever Climate Alliance group to get blanked by the bears, even after hours and days of roaming the tundra. While disappointed, everyone completely understood that there’s no way to control the whims of wildlife, and so we set our focus on the amazing things we did see.

This year seems to be a great year for foxes, especially black ones. Black foxes are simply a color morph of the red fox (kind of like a brunette red fox), but they are not usually common near Churchill. These foxes are startlingly black against the tawny tundra and absolutely gorgeous; we got to see several of them throughout the week, including a couple playing with each other behind our Tundra Buggy®. Along with the black foxes, we saw a couple of red foxes, at least one cross fox (a red-and-silver color morph of a red fox), and an Arctic fox. We saw dozens of ptarmigan, several big white hares, and more birds than we could count. In particular, we witnessed a gorgeous peregrine falcon eating a (still alive!) gull right beside our buggy. Gruesome but pretty special, nonetheless. On our last morning at the Tundra Buggy Lodge, we even had an unusual sighting of a moose galloping along the tidal flats—a strange sight this far north but fun to watch.

To add to the wildlife, this Climate Alliance group did see the best northern lights that any of our groups have ever seen. The greens and pinks in the sky awed everyone, even seasoned aurora-viewers, and reminded everyone that even if we don’t see polar bears, we are assuredly in the north and very lucky for it!

The PBI staff is looking forward to the coming weeks when the polar bears will inevitably come out. We know they are around because moms with cubs were spotted before this group trip and many single bears have been spotted since. We will have to wait and see what the rest of the season brings and whether things continue to be out of the ordinary or if we get back to normal—if there is such a thing on the tundra!

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