on November 8, 2008
One of the activities included in our Churchill Nature Tours (CNT) polar bear adventure package was a one hour aerial tour of Churchill, the Hudson Bay and Cape Churchill Wildlife Management Area where polar bears roam waiting for the bay to freeze. Hudson Bay Helicopters is the only helitour operation in town, providing visitors an opportunity to see the bears from an entirely different vantage point. Our pilot and guide was a friendly young man named Daryl. If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably little more than 30 years old.For our tour, there were six from our CNT group onboard with two up front with the pilot and four of us in the back. For me, the seat and safety belts (lap and shoulder harness) were comfortable in spite of being in the middle of the back. With large windows, all passengers had good visibility to the ground below. Each passenger had a headset with microphone allowing for conversation between the pilot and passengers.After our safety instructions, we were ready for liftoff. This was the first time I had taken a helicopter tour so I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I guess the first thing I noticed was how quiet it seemed as the headset provided some hearing protection from the swirling propellers overhead. It was also surprising just how quickly we were up and moving.As we headed out towards the wildlife conservation management area, Daryl provided a narration of some of the sites just outside of Churchill, including "Miss Piggy" an airplane that crashed shortly after take-off. Fortunately there was no loss of life, with the pilot and crew walking into town to enjoy a brewski until the rescue crew arrived to assess the damage. From there we hovered over the wreck site of the Ithaca, a ship that ran ashore some 25 or 30 years ago. From these two sites, it was clear to see that the landscape of Churchill is unforgiving to all who challenge her.Our fight path took us approximately 30 or 40 miles from the town of Churchill. Once out over the taiga of the sub-arctic our focus was to find bears on the move. The first wildlife we found, however, were moose in a marshy forest area. There were a couple of females along with a very large bull moose. Even though we were approximately 300 feet above the land, I was able to snap a couple of photos with my Canon SD600 point n shoot digital camera. While not very sharp when cropped to feature the animals, the photos were good enough to keep and share with others.The next animal we encountered was a large polar bear eating on a caribou carcass. The blood stained snow showed the trail from the kill site in a small patch of willows. They say that while polar bears do not typically hunt caribou during their fasting period leading up to the seal hunting season, scientists believe they are adopting to their changing food supplies and that more and more they are seeing polar bears eating other animals . . . after all, they are carnivores.We also saw a momma bear along with two large cubs, probably second year cubs. This coming hunting season will be their last time with mom before she has them move on and she mates again in the spring.During our one hour helitour, we saw seven or eight polar bears. Daryl said that was "about average" for this time of the bear season. It was an exhilarating experience that really created anticipation and excitement for the following two days out on the tundra in our buggies.For visitors who are doing a "do-it-yourself" adventure ala carte or those who are coming with a tour company that does not include the Hudson Bay Helicopters’ Helitour, you can book a tour independently, of course subject to availability. Expect to pay $495 for a one hour tour.More information about Churchill Nature Tours may be found on their web site: www.churchillnaturetours.com . Additional information on Hudson Bay Helicopters may be found on their web site: www.hudsonbayheli.com or by phone at 1-204-675-2576.
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