Polar bear looking for Cranberry Cake. With Butter Sauce.

Polar bear looking for Cranberry Cake at Seal River Heritage Lodge. JulieThompson Photo

Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce. Just one piece. Please...

This cool polar bear photo was taken by Julie Thompson at Seal River Heritage Lodge and it was attracting all kinds of attention on the Churchill Wild Facebook Page. It was suggested that the bear smelled the Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce, a Lodge favorite from our Blueberries and Polar Bears Cookbooks. Hmm… well… it is delicious! The bear obviously knew that 🙂

Here’s what Julie had to say:

I tell people I walked amongst the polar bears just to see the looks on their faces.  Some can’t believe it’s possible.  They’ve never heard of such a thing.

“How close were you to one of the greatest predators on earth?” is usually a question which follows.

“Pretty close” I say, as they peruse our photo book with awestruck faces.

Standing outside of the lodge, we cautiously watched our resident bear approach.  He was an inquisitive one, determined to enter into our “home away from home.”

I think he enjoyed the attention and our company.  Always peeking into windows and pacing around the compound looking for a quick entry.  He was affectionately known as Snuggleputz.  The previous group staying at the lodge named him.  While there was much discussion surrounding renaming him, Snuggleputz is the only name which sticks in my mind.

This bear gave us fantastic photo opportunities throughout our stay.  With expert wildlife photographer, Dennis Fast, leading our group, we were always learning, whether it be out on a tundra trek or during one of his early evening fireside chats.  We met fantastic people from around the globe who shared in our love of photography, we ate great food and were welcomed into the lodge as if we were part of the family.

Perhaps Snuggleputz sensed this warmth, the fun and friendliness of the lodge and he just wanted a glimpse of it for himself.  If only someone would hear his knock.

Churchill Wild enhances environmental stewardship programs with installation of VBINE Vertical Access Wind Turbines at northern eco-lodges

April 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, From The Lodge, In The News

VBINE ENERGY Vertical Access Wind Turbine - VAWT

VBINE ENERGY Vertical Access Wind Turbine - VAWT

Churchill Wild has always been devoted to minimizing their environmental footprint at their remote northern eco-lodges.

Now they’re enhancing their environmental stewardship programs even further with the installation of Vertical Access Wind Turbines (VAWTs) manufactured by VBINE ENERGY in Winkler, Manitoba.

The combined power generated by the VAWTs and the solar panels currently in place at their eco-lodges will virtually eliminate the need to use fossil fuels at Seal River Heritage Lodge, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, North Knife Lake Lodge and Dymond Lake Lodge.

Generators will still be in place for backup power, but the combination of the current solar-panel system combined with VAWTs is expected to provide for almost, if not all, their power needs in the future.

“The beauty of it is that we have a battery storage system,” said Mike Reimer of Churchill Wild. “The power generated from the VAWTs and the solar panels is stored in the batteries and we draw off of them. And they’re eco-friendly and economical. There’s less noise pollution, less of a carbon footprint and we’ll be paying substantially less than the $1-$1.30 per kilowatt it costs for diesel generated power.”

The VAWTs were invented by Barry Ireland about six years ago and refined by an engineering team. Their showcase installations include the Dr. David Suzuki Public School in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, but the rugged VAWTs were also designed to work in remote northern locations.

“They were originally designed to work on smokestacks and silos,” said Ireland. “We had to build them so that the center wouldn’t rotate. We also had remote communication towers in mind when we built them. Many of those towers are powered by diesel and the VAWTs cut costs by quite a bit. That also means they will be popular with many northern lodges and outfitters.”

VBINE is currently working with Canadian Solar on a combination wind/solar solution that will work for northern communities.

“VAWTs are generating a large amount of interest because of the significant cost savings that can be realized,” said Ireland. “And the fact that the big windmills won’t work in the north. They ice up, they have too much vibration and they won’t go into the permafrost. The VAWTs are the only ones that will work up north.”

VAWTs mount easily on existing buildings; they’re only two meters in width; they’re quiet and they’re suitable for grid tie-in or battery storage. And because of the vertical design, VAWTs can take wind from any direction. They start generating power at wind speeds of 1.2 meters per second and run 24/7 generating 5 kilowatts of power with a 25 mph wind. They have a permanent magnet generator with two long-life bearings, no drive shaft and no slips springs or brushes. The lifespan of the VAWTs is estimated at 30 years with very little maintenance. Their sleek design also minimizes interference with wildlife.

Hudson Bay CAT Train in Blizzard

CAT Train in a pending Hudson Bay blizzard

The first of the Churchill Wild VAWTs were hauled up to Seal River Heritage Lodge last week via CAT train (caterpillar pulling a freight sled) across the Hudson Bay sea ice, which is still about six feet thick.

Hauling tons of freight across the Hudson Bay ice in -20 degree weather is actually better than doing it at 0 degrees. The ice can get sticky and wet in warm weather, making for dangerous conditions. While there is generally no immediate danger from polar bears, which are still further out on the ice filling up on seals before the ice melts, the weather can still cause problems.

“The wind chills can get to as low as -40,” said Reimer. “And there’s always the possibility of blizzards, flooding sea ice and slush holes. CATS have actually gone through the ice on a couple of occasions.”

The trip takes about 15 hours from Dymond Lake Lodge to Seal River Heritage Lodge and Churchill Wild utilizes one of their two CAT track-type tractors, 1956 and 1972 models built by Caterpillar.  But how fast does that CAT really go?

“About two miles an hour downhill with a tailwind,”  said Reimer.

To learn more about how VBINE ENERGY VAWTs can benefit your operations and goals for a greener future, please visit http://www.VBINE.com, call their head office at (204) 325-0228 or e-mail info@vbine.com

A Seal River Beluga (and Polar Bear) Experience

The following account was originally published on Ebushpilot.com back in 2006. The original story and pictures, written by John S. Goulet, can be found here.

The Seal River Heritage Lodge Pancake Breakfast

Arial view of beluga whales at Churchill Wild.

Belugas from the air!

Klaus and I have finally made it.

We are greeted to the Lodge by hosts Mike and Jennie Reimer. August is the prime of their season and they are busy guiding the guests to the various sites. The lodge is perfectly placed on a spit of sub-arctic tundra surrounded on three sides by the Arctic waters of the Hudson Bay.

As we sat down in the dining room we could view the ocean waters from any of the three large picture windows. Mike has spotting scopes and binoculars handy to help spot the numerous water and shore birds of the area, and to scout for the whales off shore as they break the surface to spout.

The main attraction is the beluga whales which you can see by the thousands as they swim in and out of the North and South mouths of the fabulous Seal River. They come in with the rising tide and leave with the ebbing tide. Mostly they congregate in the mouth of the river where you can visit them in the clear waters using the rubber rafts and small outboard motors. Like shooting fish in a barrel – except you do the shooting with a camera. Mike arranges the rubber rafts for us to leave on a guided tour early the next morning.

At day break I stand on the watch tower over the lodge scanning the bay for water spouts. The rising sun saturates the backdrop sky a gumdrop orange.

As the whales blow the saltwater, back-lit by the sun, into a sparkling diamond spray we set off across the open water. Within 20 minutes we spot whales. These are large with huge black backs and a fan spray blow as they surface. We try to get near them, but they continue to swim off. They are definitely not beluga whales. My best guess is that they are the huge majestic bow whales. Bow whales were hunted commercially until only about 20 years ago and are still considered a rare sighting in this part of the Hudson Bay. We consider ourselves very lucky to have spotted them. We quit the chase and head to the mouth of the Seal River.

Long before we ever reach the Seal River, however, we can see the blow from a distance. With a sea-spray that reaches up to 90 cm the blow is very visible. We are already in the midst of belugas.

They are heading in the same direction and swimming with a purpose. We are sailing with a purpose. They are after the shallow river protein such as worms, crustaceans, shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, and small fish. Fish such as capelin, char, sand lance, smelt, flounder, herring, and cod, are usually taken in deeper water but can be caught much easier in the restricted river mouth. The total take of 25 kgs per day is not much by whale standards, but still a lot of lunch that eventually adds up to 1500 kg of adult male whale.

The beluga can stay submerged for 15-20 minutes and travel up to 2-3 km under water on one dive. That is one of the reasons the river mouth is such a great place to get close and see the whales. The space is restricted and the whales surface more often to spy hop their way around the smaller areas. In the estuaries they usually only stay submerged for only about 2 minutes, and make 1 or 2 surfacings before the longer 1-2 minutes dive.

Before long we are surrounded by whale pods cruising by. These pods are mostly small family groups, but the larger pods can reach up to 10,000 individuals. We can see them clearly, but somehow they are still cautious and do not come too close. Some of the mothers are followed closely, almost as if they are lashed to their backs, by awkward gray calves. Breeding in May means our calves were 3-4 months old. Occasionally we can hear their squawk-like calls. Like other whales, the beluga use echo-location to find their way around and to find food.

After an exhilarating several hours of watching the whales, we decide to stop for our own lunch. Mike and Quentin, his friend and acting guide, tied the two rubber rafts together so we can all share our meal and our experiences.

As we drifted along in this peaceful inner sea and quietly chatted with our fellow rafters, we noticed that the whales were finally starting to show some interest in us. I felt that when the two rubber rafts rubbed together they produced a squeak that the whale’s natural curiosity could not resist.

As an experiment, I tried to make the rafts squeak more frequently, but it took a special combination that could not be duplicated easily. I tried rubbing my Gortex pants on the rubber raft but that was too soft a squeak. Finally, Mike caught on to what I was doing and rubbed his own rubber rain slicker pants on the rubber of the raft. That was the magic we needed.

The squeak he produced drove the whales crazy with curiosity and within minutes we were surrounded by over 50 whales in different pods jostling us for a closer look at what was making that peculiar noise. We pulled out our cameras and were snapping incessantly as they spy hopped closer and closer. Mike put his hand under water and the friendly beluga were swimming so close he could feel the flow of their wake.

beluga whales

The belugas come right up to the boat.

One particular mother and calf would not leave us alone. She came by time and time again with the little one close on her back. The little gray beluga seemed to love these frequent visits as he hopped up higher each time to look see. When we finally left hours later we had several pods follow us almost all the way home. They could not leave us alone. Nor did we want to leave them, but the day was coming to a close and we had to return to base.

Spending the day with these fellow creatures of curiosity was one the most incredible one on one, or animal family to human family, experiences I have ever had in the wild.

And at Seal River there is so much more nature to go one on one with.

From the Lodge you can take guided interpretive nature and culture walks where you can see caribou, bald eagles, Canada and Snow geese, ptarmigan, sik siks, and polar bears.

Along the interpretive walks you get to visit ancient Dene and Inuit camping sites, outlined by either the weathered tent poles the Dene used, or the tent circle of stones that the Inuit used to anchor their skin tents. The sites have been investigated by archeologist Virginia Petch and the walks have been mapped by GPS to make sure you can see the most with the least trouble. The walks are tough but worth it.

That evening Jeanne, Mike’s partner and wife, prepares us an incredible dinner of arctic char, garden peas, and homemade red river cereal bread. Dessert is a (locally picked) cranberry crumble and coffee.

After dinner the sun sets in a glorious blaze of orange to end a perfect day. I am to take an evening stroll on the runway’s high point of ground where the evening breeze will keep the bugs swept away. The night is perfectly clear and I can see the planets of Jupiter followed by Venus and a host of northern stars. The night air is cool and I fall asleep deep into the dead of the night.

The next morning the sky is blue blazon with the gold of sunrise and Jeanne serves us the most fantastic sight we have seen since leaving Nigeria 3 weeks ago. Canadian pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup, and as a special treat, blueberry compote made with fresh picked local blueberries. The ending to our trip could not have been any more special. We have flown over 10,000 miles to have breakfast in Canada. Perhaps next time you can join us.

::::

To experience what John wrote about above check out our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure Safari. This one of a kind summer experience takes place at the Seal River Heritage Lodge during July and August.

Polar bears prove “fridge photographer” wrong at Seal River

Big polar bear near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge, Hudson Bay, Manitoba.

One. Big. Polar Bear. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

Carol Moffatt describes herself as a “fridge photographer”.  

Churchill Wild begs to differ.

The 47-year-old Reeve at the Municipality of Algonguin Highlands downplayed the fact that she took some fabulous shots of polar bears, landscapes and northern lights while attending our Polar Bear Photo Safari last October at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“I don’t take photographs to sell them,” said Moffatt. “I’m a self-taught amateur photographer with a background in journalism. If someone wanted to offer me money for a photograph I might sell one, but really, if I have a nice photo, I put it on the fridge for a month.”

Moffatt has taken more than a few marvelous photos during adventures that have taken her from backpacking in the Australian outback, to Africa, to visiting the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland as well as Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska,  Yukon and the Southwestern United States. You can view a selection of her photos on her Web site at http://cmoff.smugmug.com/

“The Yukon was magical,” said Moffatt, “but the Churchill Wild trip was the most interesting of all in terms of remoteness.  Part of the adventure was just in getting there. The whole trip was very well organized and I’d never flown in a Twin Otter before.”

Moffatt was part of group of 14 photographers and spouses involved in a trip led by professional photographer Mike Beedell.

Photographers walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild.

Walking with polar bears. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“There were photographers of every talent level in our group,” said Moffatt. “Everyone was very  helpful. We were all united in a shared cause and it just worked.”

“We went on hikes across the tundra and saw polar bears every day, but breakfast was always a special experience. You just never knew what might be on the other side when the (polar bear protective) shutters were opened up in the morning. The bears come right up to the lodge. And an arctic fox appeared several times!”

“The food was phenomenal,” said Moffatt, impressed by being able to see desserts for later in the day being made fresh every morning in the new kitchen while they were enjoying breakfast. “And the Reimer family made fabulous hosts – ever present but never in your face.”

But what about the walking with the polar bears?

“Our guides, Andy and Tara, would scout out the polar bears in the area ahead of time and walk us out into a position where we could photograph them,” said Moffatt. “They were quite attuned to our needs as photographers. And you could definitely tell they knew the bears, the landscapes – and photographers in general. They would move us to the left and right, back and forth and they could sense when we needed something different. And it wasn’t all polar bears, there was always something different to photograph while we were wandering along — interesting landscapes, lingonberries and other plants, the shifting ice and how the sun reflected on it…”

Two items related to polar bears stood out on the trip for Moffatt. On one occasion when a polar bear got particularly close to an employee hauling water with the ATV, and another when a large male bear chased a female and her cub away from the fenced compound at the Lodge.

Polar bear bites fence at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

These teeth are real. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“It was on the final day of our trip,” said Moffatt. “A mother and her cub were just outside the compound when she sensed the presence of the big male and took off at high speed out on to the (Hudson) Bay to protect her cub. You can tell when they’re bigger than usual, and this was very large male. We also got some good close shots of the bears through the fence, but we were always very careful to keep everything out of their reach — cameras, scarves, loose clothing.”

“I’m told that Polar bears are the deadliest land animals on the planet. One of the guides said these bears can pull an 800-pound seal out of the water in one swoop. We’re the zoo animals up there with us on the inside of the compound and the animals on the outside looking at us. But I wanted a real adventure and I sure got one. The tundra buggies just wouldn’t have worked for me. The whole trip was a delight.”

She has a fridge full of photographs to prove it.

Arctic fox steals the show on sunny day at Seal River

Arctic fox with guide Terry Elliot at Churchill Wild

Taming the Hunter: The Perfect Pose

by Churchill Wild Guide Terry Elliot

People come to Seal River Heritage Lodge to see the polar bears, but on this occasion the arctic fox obviously stole the show!

Vulpes Lagopus has cyclical population numbers. More prey equals more foxes, and we were seeing lots of lemmings all summer so this was obviously good for the kits (baby foxes). We counted as many as 14 at one time this year, probably a family group with lots of infighting for position in the pecking order.

The arctic foxes have always been bold and inquisitive creatures, but especially so in this photo. Typically they will follow a polar bear out on to the ice and scavenge for the winter. During the summer their coat turns brown, they breed and eat lemmings, eggs, birds, hares, even insects and frogs.

In a prosperous year the females can have as many as 16 kits. Their dense fur enables them to withstand extreme cold temperatures and leave their red-haired cousins behind at the tree line. When sleeping, they will curl into a tight ball with their bushy tail over their nose.

My wife calls this picture “Taming the Hunter”. Unfortunately the photo I was taking here did not turn out as well as the photo of me taking it. It’s a terrible thing when the wildlife is so close to your camera that you can’t get focused. But you have to take the wonderful with the almost-wonderful.

And I did get a decent shot of his ear 🙂

Arctic Freeze: Minus 55 in Churchill Manitoba

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under From The Lodge, In The News

Today on the drive into work the weather guy on CBC was raving about the low, low temperature we are about to endure.

Environment Canada is forecasting -37° C. Add to that the blowing wind (wind chill factor) and it is the equivalent of MINUS 55!

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Gonna be a chilly one... click to enlarge

We always say ‘Churchill Wild: Touch the Arctic!” – today you may want to make sure you have heavy gear on before touching anything in the Arctic.

Thankfully (for our guests) it does not get this cold during polar bear season. We run our adventures starting in July with Birds, Bears & Belugas and end off with the Great Ice Bear in November.

July’s average temperature is about 12° C while November averages about -12° C.

This should help you with building a mental image...

Hudson Bay helicopter ride a first for Churchill adventure travel specialist

by Doreen Booth, Adventure Travel Specialist, Churchill Wild

Hudson Bay Helicopter, Churchill, Manitoba

Julie, Jeff & Doreen. Ready. Set. Go! - Photo Credit: Terry Allen

This year I finally had the opportunity to join a group of our winter guests at Seal River Heritage Lodge. I was able to squeeze in on our last trip of the season – the Polar Bear Photo Safari!

I had a couple of guests, Julie and Jeff, looking to add something extra to their trip, and they had decided to charter a helicopter to the Lodge. When they found out I would be joining them on their departure, they very generously offered me the extra seat they had on their helicopter flight.

I have to admit, I’m a nervous flier, so I wasn’t sure what to say at first, but I didn’t know when an opportunity like this would come again. I accepted their offer with butterflies in my stomach and off I went!

November had come and gone quickly and before I knew it I was done organizing our winter season. My dinner presentations were complete and our final guests were on their way to the Lodge, so I headed up to Churchill for my “partial” holiday. When you’re part of the family, your work is never done.

I met up with Julie and Jeff in Churchill and we headed out to collect their winter gear before making our way to Hudson Bay Helicopters. I was feeling pretty good – a little nervous maybe – but totally excited! I didn’t want anyone to know how I was really feeling. Our pilot took our bags and gave us a rundown on the safety guidelines for the chopper, we buckled in, put on our headsets, and it was time to take flight!

The take off was surprisingly smooth. The winds were calm that day so we were in for a good 30-minute ride. We flew over the town of Churchill and headed up the coastline of Hudson Bay. It was amazing to see the sprawling tundra with a fresh coat of snow. I had forgotten how flat the land is up there.

Half way through the trip we flew over our Dymond Lake Lodge and noticed that some of the staff had ventured outside to wave to us. How nice! A short time later our pilot came on the headset and asked me where we should land at the polar bear lodge.

Doreen Booth, Adventure Travel Specialist, Churchill Wild

I wasn’t sure, so I told him to pick the best place he could find. He thought that would be right outside the front door of the Lodge! Needless to say, the staff didn’t have to bring out the luggage buggy to meet us. And the polar bears kept their distance!

A few months have gone by now and I’ve had time to think about that wonderful trip and the emotions I experienced while flying in a helicopter for the first time. I have to say it was an amazing experience and I would love to do it again.

Thanks again to my friends Julie and Jeff, for helping me check another item off my life’s to do list!

 

A Glimpse of Daily Life at a Remote Northern Lodge

November 7, 2011 by  
Filed under From The Lodge

Churchill polar bears mom with cubby Elaine Friesen (Head Chef, Dymond Lake Lodge)

Everyone has different expectations when they come up for the Great Ice Bear Adventure. The guests of course, come primarily to see polar bears.

The first week we had a resident mother and cub hanging around the lodge, visible right out our window. This was very exciting for staff and guests alike, but on another day we polar bears from a distance. Every day is different.

My assistant Conny was excited when we got to see a wolverine eating a dead seal on the coast. The guests were impressed, but not at the same level – something Conny was confused by.

I reminded her that while we have seen our share of bears over the years, the guests come here to SEE THE BEARS.

Then Mary, our Inuit storyteller from Repulse Bay said, “Well, I came to see the trees.”

My bedroom is also the office/radio room, so a there is a fair bit of traffic going through. Nolan, the lodge manager, spends a fair bit of time in here on the computer or radio. But it’s a small price to pay to have my own room each night.

Today, for my break time, I am sharing my bed with a fully loaded gun belt, and someone’s – not mine – laundry – fortunately clean and folded. When I walked in, I thought – yup, I am definitely at a northern wildlife lodge!

A hissing good Halloween Churchill Wild style

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, From The Lodge

Polar bear stands at the window of Seal River Heritage Lodge.

I can seeee youuuu... Trick or Treat!

by Tara Ryan

A few good things to know:

  1. Polar bears have about 20 vocalizations – one of which is a hiss.
  2. In Churchill, Manitoba the trick or treating set are accompanied by gun-toting bear patrol enforcers.
  3. Wearing any white costumes (ghosts, brides… polar bears) is generally frowned upon (see gun toting bear patrol enforcers for rationale).
  4. Did I mention polar bears hiss when they are angry?

“Halloweening” in Churchill takes on a paramilitary edge as kids out trick or treating are shadowed by gun-wielding bear patrol officers. This is not unexpected.

Jack-O-Lantern of the North

Jack-O-Lantern of the North

Kids are used to the bear patrol presence year around but these patrols are especially heightened during the months of October and November, when the bears are starting to gather around the edges of the Bay in greater numbers awaiting the freeze up. There are other restrictions local kids must endure at this sugar-laden time of year – most importantly: “Thou shalt not dress in white; ghosts, brides and especially no polar bear costumes.”  This is polar bear central after all.

Being a polar bear guide working away from the bright lights of the ‘big city’ of Churchill (about 60 miles north)  in the remote Churchill Wild Polar Bear Lodge at Seal River, my fellow guide (Andrew MacPherson) decided to try his luck at bucking this long-standing no-white for Halloween northern tradition.

For October 31 we came as “problem bears” – me as a garbage addicted grizzly bear and Andy as a bear from the old ‘polar bear jail’ days (when they  used to dart the bears and then spray paint numbers on them to keep track of repeat offenders).  While putting the finishing touches on our costumes, we began to hear a shushing/hissing noise from outside – not unlike the air being forced out of a tire with a puncture.

Halloween-costumed hissers at Churchill Wild

Hisssssss....!

Andy was silhouetted in one of the many bedroom windows looking out over the tundra. He was stunning in his white long johns appropriately padded with pillows for a fat bottom, a white fuzzy hat with ears, and matching gloves and claws.

The fall light had dimmed the immediate surroundings outside to near black. A ghostly movement accompanied by continued agitated hissing – and a nose print on the window – finally clued us in. There was a very annoyed polar bear outside our window that was letting the ‘polar bear’ on the inside know in no uncertain terms – that his presence was not welcome.

Andy hissed back.

Only at Churchill Wild!

Polar Bears at Churchill Wild’s Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge

November 1, 2011 by  
Filed under From The Lodge

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