Churchill Stories and Tips

Day Three Tundra Buggy 11/4/08

More Buggies Arrive Photo, Churchill, Manitoba

It was a remarkable day in spite of, or maybe because of the snow blizzard! A storm came in from Alberta, and the forecast was for upwards of a foot of snow and winds exceeding 50mph. 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. (Probably why we saw so many laying around yesterday and rather limited in their general activities . . . and NO sparring.)
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. Just getting into this area was quite treacherous as we were going to venture off the trail and onto the frozen ponds. In some areas, there was more slushy marsh than solid ice, making the ride a bit of an added adventure. We observed one of the other company's buggies coming in behind us. It was amazing to see it navigate through the two foot deep mud and snow.

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 amphitheater 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. Perhaps my favorite photo of the hundreds I shot was the one of the bear walking across the frozen pond in the blizzard's harsh wind driven snow.

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

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