The Bear Grounds – A Travel Writer’s View of Seal River Lodge

Polar Bear with Seal River Lodge in Background - Fiona Harper Photo

Polar bear's view of Seal River Heritage Lodge

Guest Post by Fiona Harper

Note: This article originally appeared in International Traveller Magazine and is reprinted here courtesy of author, travel writer and photographer Fiona Harper, who was a recent visitor to Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge. You can read more about Fiona at her Web site, view all of her travel photos here and see the full polar bear photo gallery from her trip here. Thanks Fiona!

It takes four exhausting days, across six tiresome flights on ever-smaller aircraft, culminating in a six-seater de Havilland Beaver floatplane, before I stand within metres of a splendid polar bear. It’s worth every weary, jet-lagged minute. I’m within a whisper of Canada’s Arctic Circle, closer still to the bear, listening to her breathe, gazing into her ­unblinking eyes. The only thing preventing me from being lunch is the wire fence delineating the “backyard” of the Seal River Lodge behind me. I’m tempted to walk closer, maybe press my nose against the fence, but I recall enough of lead guide Terry Elliot’s safety briefing to resist.

Polar Bear Outside Fence - Fiona Harper Photo

The other side of the fence

To be precise, Terry’s exact words were, “You’ll be ripped through the wire like spaghetti through a pasta machine.” The lodge’s location – on a remote headland in the far northeast of Manitoba – makes it a popular point for bears to congregate, “so you won’t be using the front door you just came in, either,” Terry had said. “For your own safety, we’ll be using the back door out to the fenced compound.” With half-tonne males capable of charging at 50km/h, that seems a good plan. I make a mental note to forgo my usual morning jog.

Even standing a few careful metres back from the four-metre-high electric fence, I can still see the polar bear’s nostrils quiver and ­teeny ears twitch before she stretches out ­contentedly on her belly, hind legs splayed, ­eyelids folding over inky-black eyes. I feel like doing the same, but there are great sloths of Nanuk – as the Inuit call polar bears – roaming the tundra and I’m keen to pull on my hiking boots and get amongst them.

Lobbing into Seal River Lodge mid-autumn on a Churchill Wild Arctic Safari, I’m here to get up close and personal with the world’s ­largest land carnivore. Despite their fearsome reputation, we’ll be tracking them just as Inuit have done for centuries: on foot. At this time of year, bears are virtually sleepwalking – roving around in a form of ambling hibernation. In mid-summer, once the ice melts, they lose ­access to seal hunting grounds, forcing them ashore.

Hiking in polar bear country with Churchill Wild - Fiona Harper Photo

Hiking in polar bear country

Walking the same path, following their paw prints at ground level, seems to conflict with everything I’ve read about Ursus maritimus. Their undisputed position at the top of the ­local food chain commands respect.

Indeed, the Parks Canada pamphlet I picked up at Churchill Airport makes for sobering reading: “The great white bear can exhibit violent ­aggression toward people, but a curious bear can also be dangerous. ANY [their emphasis] encounter with a polar bear could result in ­serious injury or death for the person involved.” It’s a solemn message that I’m reminded of constantly throughout the next week.

“Right then, put your boots on and let’s go find us some bears,” laughs Terry wickedly, slinging a rifle over his shoulder. And so, with some apprehension, our small group of wildlife enthusiasts leaves behind the safety of the lodge to “go find bears”.

Walking single file across spongy tundra blossoming with miniature scarlet blooms, we’ve barely time to find our stride before we get the hand signal from Terry to stop. A bear is basking in the longish grass on the foreshore ahead. No doubt she heard and smelt us long before we saw her, despite the tracking skills of our two heavily armed guides.

Photographing Polar Bear at Seal River Lodge - Fiona Harper Photo

On the tundra with polar bears

The bear watches us. We watch the bear. Soon, she rises, advancing in a cautious sideways pattern. Bears will approach prey in this zigzag manner rather than making a direct approach. “That’s far enough,” Terry commands harshly once the bear is about 40m from our huddled group.

Blood rushes to my head as she continues her lumbering advance. A couple of tidal pools dotted with suitcase-sized boulders are all that stand between us. She pauses ­momentarily, nostrils twitching, our camera shutters hammering rapidly, hearts even faster.

With her head bobbing down between massive shoulders, she quite deliberately lifts a paw the size of a dinner plate and resumes her approach. At around the 30m mark, Terry lobs a small rock in front of her. It’s all that’s required to discourage her as she wheels around and retreats a few paces. Known affectionately as Blue Moon – due to her blue-stained rear from sitting in a berry patch – she throws one more petulant glance at us over her shoulder before sauntering away.

“Go on, off you go,” Terry calls to her retreating backside, just to reinforce who’s the boss. Elated at this first of many close encounters, we grin foolishly at each other. Watching ­Nanuk amble away, my heartbeat gradually ­returns to normal.

Polar bear on the rocks near Seal River Lodge - Fiona Harper photo

On the rocks...

Over twice-daily hikes we see so many bears that eventually they become just one component of this fascinating land. Through the dining room windows we watch them lumbering across the landscape, swimming in the sea, sunning themselves on the beach.

As we’re sipping wine beside the fire, an inquisitive young bear ventures close to the lodge, standing up on all fours to peer inside. Though we also spot caribou, sic-sic squirrels, arctic hare, fox and great flocks of birds, the bears steal the show.

We return to the tiny town of Churchill, ­reluctantly, where an itinerant white bear ­contrasts against reddish foliage. I recall an Inuit legend about this great Arctic traveller, who will ride an ice floe until the bitter end when he is forced to swim.

Pihoqahiak, they called him – “the ever-wandering one”. ­Energised from a safari expedition into a land few humans ever see, let alone inhabit, it ­occurs to me that polar bears might just be on to something. Could travelling far and wide ­beyond our comfort zone be the answer to that wretched travellers curse, jetlag?

 

Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from the air.

Getting ready to land at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Dennis Fast is hosting our first ever Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. This one week departure takes place August 26-September 1, 2012 on the coast of Hudson Bay in the Cape Tatnum Wildlife Management area.

Dennis’ work can be seen all over our website and promotional materials. He has been working with Churchill Wild since the beginning and is our resident photo expert (as well as an incredible guide).

Below he answers some questions many photographers have asked in recent weeks.

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Everyone who comes to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge wants to know what lenses to bring, and that is an important question.

Most pros would bring at least one lens that can reach out to 500mm or even 600mm. We all know, however, that those lenses are both costly and heavy. So a compromise may be in order for both reasons.

On my trip to Nanuk, I used my 500mm least of all. It’s true that the coast is vast, and bears often are spotted at a distance. The temptation is to get as big a lens as possible on the camera and start shooting. In the end, a little patience delivers a curious bear right into easy range for a 100-400mm zoom or something in that range.

Northern Lights over Hudson Bay - Dennis Fast photo

I have taken a lot of photos of bears using just my 70-200mm with a variety of multipliers, including 1.4x. 1.7x, and 2.0x. When mothers and cubs show up at the lodge, and they frequently do, they will be at close range and you will quickly be abandoning your long lenses. Remember also that the multiplier effect of most digital cameras, unless they are “full frame” increases the power of all your lenses by a factor of 1.3x to 1.6x depending on the camera you are using. I have a very compact 28-300mm lens which I plan to use a lot in the North this year. It’s light weight and size makes it easy to hand-hold and keep at the ready at all times. With a C-size sensor it quickly becomes about a 40-450mm lens – great for almost anything.

Nanuk, however, is not just about the bears. The scenery is spectacular along the coast with sandy beaches and shallow inshore lagoons great for birds and reflections – there goes my 28-300mm again!

The sun spot activity is also increasing at a steady rate as we approach the zenith of its 11-13 year cycle. That means the northern lights could be awesome this year all over the arctic. For that you will definitely want a reasonably fast wide-angle lens. I use my 14-24mm lens a lot for the aurora, but my 24mm-70mm seems to be a great lens for that too. Any wide-angle will allow you to get some of the landscape included in the shots of the sweeping aurora to add a sense of scale. Without that you don’t get the feel of how vast the aurora-filled sky really is!

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge.
Curious polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk

In short, bring what you can comfortably carry without jeopardizing your weight restrictions. And don’t over-do it: a few zooms should cover almost everything for you. Unless you are a pro, you can probably leave your biggest lens at home.

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For more information you can call our office at 204-377-5090 or toll free at 1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453)

You can also email Doreen at info@churchillwild.com

 

Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge New for 2012! Limited availability Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.

King Polar Bear at Nanuk.

King Polar Bear at Nanuk

Churchill Wild will host the world’s first ever Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2012, offering photographers rare on-the-ground polar bear access and exceptional photo opportunities unavailable anywhere else on the planet.

The new Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari represents an expansion on the success of Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Photo Safari and Arctic Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“Last year was our first time running a full program at Nanuk”, said Rick Kemp, Director of Marketing and Communications at Churchill Wild. “We finally had a chance to see everything the area had to offer. Guests were treated to Churchill Wild’s trademark one-of-a-kind polar bear experience with on-the-ground polar bear viewing, but we also discovered wolves, black bears, moose, skunk, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and thousands of migratory snow geese.”

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from the air.

Getting ready to land at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Located in one of the most historically significant areas of Canada on the southern coast of Hudson Bay within the Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Area, the Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk will have very limited space availability from August 26 to September 1, 2012, and will be led by Churchill Wild in-house professional wildlife photographer and author Dennis Fast. Space will be very limited at a price of $6,395. For more information please call Churchill Wild at 1 ( 204) 377-5090 or e-mail info@churchillwild.com.

“People are starting to want something wilder and less traditional,” said Fast. “You’re on the polar bears’ home turf up here. You’re on the ground with the polar bears. It doesn’t get any wilder than that. When you’re eye-to-eye with the polar bears it elevates their status. You really get a sense of how big and powerful they really are, and it shows in your photographs.”

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

The most compelling attraction for wildlife photographers at Nanuk is the high incidence of mothers and cubs in the area, due to two newly discovered polar bear denning sites on the edge of the Boreal Forest. The Northern Lights can also be quite spectacular at Nanuk when skies are clear, and there are beautiful interior lagoons which also make a great backdrop for photographs of the mothers and cubs.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located 40 kilometers east of York Factory, a trading post that was established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the early years of the fur trade that played a major part in the exploration and development of Canada.

“We still find remnants of old ships occasionally in the mud flats,” said Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer, perhaps referring to the Battle of Hudson Bay in 1697, the largest Arctic naval battle ever fought. “From brass railings to cannons to old grave sites, you never know what you might find. And our guides are direct descendants of the Western Woods Cree, the “Home Guard Indians” who worked with the Hudson Bay Company over 300 years ago at the original settlements — guiding, hunting, interpreting and procuring wild game and furs for them.”

Polar bears walking by the polar bear viewing area at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with... polar bears walking by!

Guests at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge may very well be walking in the footsteps of some very famous explorers during their daily hikes along the sandy and grassy tidal flats in search of polar bears and adventure. But despite taking place in one of the wildest areas on the planet, the Summer Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk offers all the comforts of home with the Lodge’s newly renovated cabins that include private en-suite washrooms and showers.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner take place in the separate main dining room at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and the main living room/polar bear viewing area at the Lodge provides a gathering place to relax, share stories and photos after a wonderful day of exploring and photographing, unless of course… you’re interrupted by polar bears walking by.

When most people think of seeing polar bears they have visions of snow and ice. Nanuk offered us the spectacular backdrop of the fall colours on the tundra to contrast with the great white bears that were our constant companions. Add to that the millions of birds that stopped at Nanuk on their way south and, if you can’t get a great photo here, you won’t get one anywhere! — Kerry and Leona Orchard, Nanaimo, BC

 

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.

For the Love of Reading: Polar bear trip results in children’s books for New Jersey physician turned photographer

Polar Bear Dreams by Daniel D'Auria

Polar Bear Dreams by Daniel D'Auria

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

It’s unlikely physician Daniel D’Auria thought his photography hobby would turn him into an author, but that’s exactly what happened after his Polar Bear Photo Safari with Churchill Wild.

The 54-year-old from Tabernacle, New Jersey, has now created three children’s books about polar bears, each featuring a selection of photographs from the 17,000 he captured at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge. Images from his trip can also be seen at his LifeScapes Imaging Web site.

“I never knew where wildlife photography would take me,” said Daniel. “But I had an idea for a book for preschoolers – a whimsical, rhyming book about polar bears.

“We have four children ages 8-23, and some of my fondest memories are of reading to them to when they were growing up. I wanted to create something that would get parents reading to their children and get children interested in wildlife. Parents are interested in the beautiful photos. Children are curious about the bears. And because parents are spending quality time with their children reading the books to them, it gets the children more interested in reading.”

Polar Bears Aren't White You Know by Daniel D'Auria

Polar Bears Aren't White, You Know! by Daniel D'Auria

A noble cause to be sure, and it’s been a long journey to get to the stage of published author, but Daniel has enjoyed every bit of it. He took up photography in high school and spent the last year or so photographing weekly in New Jersey before being able to participate in some of the more elite photography adventures.

Daniel’s wife probably had something to do with ramping up the photography hobby in the family. A former dental hygienist with an interest in sports, she participated in the Sports Photography Workshop at the Summit Series of Photography Workshops. Daniel tagged along and this led to him attending the Summit Landscape and Wildlife photography workshop a few years later. Unfortunately, his medical career still didn’t leave him the time he would have liked to have spent on photography — until recently.

About two years ago, Daniel hired an associate, which allowed him to free up some time for longer trips to elite photography havens that included the Richard Clarkson Photography at the Summit Workshop in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming; the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico; the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico; and finally the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge on the West Coast of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada.

I Wish I Had a Polar Bear by Daniel D'Auria

I Wish I Had a Polar Bear! by Daniel D'Auria

“The Churchill Wild experience was the trip of a lifetime,” said Daniel. “We first heard about it from Scott Fryer and his wife Paula, who he met while at the Photography at the Summit Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We went on the trip as part of a group with Bob Smith of Elk Meadow Images, who organized a photography workshop for 14 people at Churchill Wild.

“The trip from Winnipeg to Churchill with CalmAir was wonderful. And we had a lovely flight on a small plane from Churchill to the Lodge. It was my first trip on a small plane and we had an excellent pilot. Seal River Heritage Lodge is beautifully hand constructed and extremely comfortable. The staff was unbelievably accommodating and the food was outstanding. It was just like home.

“Our guides, Andy and Terra, really made us feel like we belonged, not like we were goofy outsiders. They would scout the polar bears first to see where they were at, and then we would go on two hikes a day. The furthest we had to go was about a mile and we were able to set up for polar bears, arctic fox, ptarmigan and briefly an arctic hare.”

Being able to take on-the-ground photos of wildlife has been Daniel’s modus operandi in photography, so the daily hikes worked out perfectly for the group. This despite the fact that Daniel brought his 28 lbs. 2½ foot 600 mm lens, which it was suggested he consider leaving at home.

Polar bears playing near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge

Three is not a crowd! - Photo Credit: Daniel D'Auria

“I’m used to carrying my lenses in the wilderness,” said Daniel. “Whenever I’m photographing I have one smaller lens on my right shoulder, the heavier one on my left, and my backpack. So that wasn’t a problem.

“And we weren’t interested in going out in tundra buggies. I wanted to be on the ground with the polar bears. I like the freedom of the out of doors, the solitude of hiking the trails, and the beauty of observing nature. I don’t want to do it from inside a vehicle unless it is an absolute necessity. Whenever you’re out in the wild there will be certain element of danger involved. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I carry bear spray. In New Jersey it’s not an issue.

“Sure there is some fear of bears. But we learned there is a mutual respect between the polar bears and the people up there in Churchill. If done carefully and properly there is an acceptable risk. We never felt unsafe at any time. I think our group would uniformly say we would like to repeat our experience at Churchill Wild.”

Daniel went on to describe how much he enjoyed the spectacular landscapes, sunrises and sunsets over Hudson Bay. Flat, rugged and desolate, “it was like looking out over the surface of mars when the tide was out. You’d think you just went to another planet.

Polar bears cuddling near Seal River Heritage Lodge in Manitoba.

Cuddling on the Coast - Photo Credit: Daniel D'Auria

“But that’s the best thing about wildlife photography. You can never predict what you’ll see. Every day is a little bit of joy. And when I get back from a trip like this – my family notices the difference in me.”

Besides being a new author, Daniel also donates framed polar bear and wildlife prints to his local hospital. “I sell a few prints,” he said, “But the people at the hospital love them. They have them up on the walls and they always get nice comments from the patients and visitors.

“Wildlife photography has made me a much happier and more content person. It’s like being rich… but in different way.”


Daniel D’Auria’s polar bear books for children can be found on Amazon.com at the links below. He’s also working on two more children’s books about birds and is always interested in pursuing joint ventures that will also benefit a good cause in some way. Thank you Daniel!

 

Exceptional guides critical to success of ground-level polar bear photography workshops on Hudson Bay coast

December 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Polar Bear Photography, Polar Bear Tours

Churchill polar bear walks towards photographer at Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge.

I'm getting closer...

You just can’t take spectacular photos of polar bears without having excellent guides to watch your back.

That’s according to professional photographer Bob Smith of Elk Meadow Images, who organized a photography workshop for 14 people this fall at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Smith’s group were taking part in Churchill Wild’s annual Polar Bear Photo Safari and were there to snap ground-level shots of polar bears in their natural environment on the coast of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada.

“The guides are so important,” said Smith. “They’re the real key to getting great ground-level shots of polar bears while at the same time making as little impact as possible. We respect the bears and don’t want them to feel threatened. We don’t want to disturb them when they’re feeding and if they’re resting we want them to rest.”

“The guides know the bears and they can get us set up in the best position possible to use our equipment,” continued Smith. “If we have to move to get a better angle, we depend on the guides to help us do it in a safe and efficient manner. And they also make sure there are no bears approaching from behind.”

Polar bear photography Churchill Wild style. Photo Credit: Gary Potts

Smith has been organizing photography workshops for over 20 years and says he likes to search out locations that are “off the beaten path.”  The 55-year-old from Denver, Colorado has held photography workshops in Antarctica, Alaska, the high Arctic and Africa.

“We do two or three workshops a year,” said Smith. “Our locations attract an elite clientele and we make it easy for them – we do the advance planning, make the arrangements, set up the itinerary and plan the on-location daily schedules.”

Smith’s photography workshops include instruction on both photography and computer skills.

“Wildlife photography is combination of art and a science, “said Smith. “Effectively capturing wildlife in its natural environment requires knowledge of animal behavior as well as an understanding of how and where to take a photo that will best portray different elements such as strength, size, motion, behavior, interactions within the species etc. There are also different methods of using natural light to enhance photos.”

Computer skills featured in Smith’s workshops include those needed for processing and sharing images, creating photo albums and more.

Smith has three workshops planned for 2012 that include photographing grizzly bears in Alaska; large mammals in Botswana, South Africa and endangered whooping cranes in southern Texas with Popular Photography Magazine.  For more information on Smith’s upcoming photography workshops please visit his Web site at: www.ElkMeadowImages.com or e-mail him directly at: bsmith@elkmeadowimages.com

Smith is currently working on a new book of his photography that will include grizzly bears, eagles and narwhals in Alaska; walrus, bearded seals, ice and polar bears in Svalbard, Norway; and the polar bears at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

The Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge takes place in the heart of polar bear country on the rugged and wild coast of Hudson Bay. It caters to dedicated wildlife photographers who are willing to spend the hours required to get up close and personal with polar bears and other arctic wildlife. Polar bears can be photographed on the ground in their natural environment of ice and snow along the Hudson Bay shoreline amidst a background of dramatic seascapes and landscapes. More examples of the type of polar bear photos that can be taken at Seal River can be seen in Churchill Wild’s 2010 Photo Contest Gallery.

“Photographing polar bears in Churchill doesn’t give you the same experiences as the ground-level photo opportunities available at Seal River Heritage Lodge,” said Smith. “The workshop participants were enamored with the polar bears and the unique access to them. Many of them told me it was the best trip they’ve ever been on.”

Reach for the Rainbow polar bear trip draws rave reviews. Churchill Wild donates Birds, Bears and Belugas Adventure for 25th Annual Crystal Ball.

November 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, In The News, Polar Bear Photography

Polar bear surveys his icy domain on Hudson Bay

Polar bear surveys his icy domain on Hudson Bay.

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

Nicole Leaper surprised her husband Bob on his 60th birthday last year by giving him a Churchill Wild Polar Bear Photo Safari in a blog post.

Nicole had won the trip in a Reach for the Rainbow live charity auction at that organization’s annual Crystal Ball, proceeds of which go to benefit the integration of children and youth with disabilities into the mainstream of society through summer camp programs in Ontario.

The couple had a fabulous experience on their polar bear adventure and will be back again for the 25th Annual Crystal Ball on Saturday, November 19, 2011 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Polar bear cubs double take

Two...Two... Two bears in one!

Churchill Wild will also be back, both in attendance and with a donation of a Birds, Bears and Belugas summer polar bear and whale watching holiday at their Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“We’re proud to be associated with Reach for the Rainbow and the work they do for the kids,” said Rick Kemp, Director of Marketing and Communications at Churchill Wild. “It’s a wonderful cause and we’re happy to be able to contribute to making the lives of the kids and their families better.”

Indeed, contributors to the live auction and the silent auction at this Charity Gala read like a virtual Who’s Who of Canada’s corporate and business sectors – for two good reasons.

“It’s for both the kids and their families,” said Nicole. “The kids go to camp for a week and the parents are afforded a respite while knowing their kids are having fun, learning and growing in an enriched, supportive environment.”

Churchill polar bear in the sun on Hudson Bay

Sun, shine, polar bears and...

Bob wholeheartedly agreed. The Director of Information Technology at Southern Graphic Systems Canada also had rave reviews for Churchill Wild. He was thrilled to learn he was going on a trip to photograph polar bears last year after being cajoled by Nicole into reading How to Gift Wrap a Polar Bear.

“Is that me?” he asked with surprise in his eyes. “Yes,” smiled Nicole. “Yeah!” he exclaimed.

A self-described serious amateur photographer, Bob was ecstatic about having a chance to photograph polar bears. He’d traveled the world over the past few years to take photographs, which he displays at RobertLeaper.com, and thought that this would be an incredible opportunity to photograph the world’s largest land carnivore.

The couple flew from Churchill, Manitoba to the remote coast of Hudson Bay last fall by helicopter, instead of via the usual aircraft used to take visitors to the Lodge. That was the beginning of a trip that Bob said was, “Very well organized from the start. We were well looked after.” But when the couple landed at the Lodge they realized something was up.

Polar bear watching Churchill Wild style

Polar bear watching Churchill Wild style.

“You’re immediately greeted by people with shotguns,” said Nicole. “That’s when you start to realize you’re the ones who are captive in this environment. The polar bears are at the top of the food chain here.”

The couple spent their time on the daily hikes with four other photographers who were, “very into nature photography” according to Bob. The days – and the polar bears – just flew by.

“Bears?” said Bob. “Oh my gosh!  All the time. There were plenty of polar bears. It wasn’t easy to eat dinner. There was always something outside. We saw so many bears we got used to them. We started to look at landscapes, plant formations and other wildlife. We snapped the arctic fox during a lunch time and that was exciting!”

Because of the time of year and the chill in the air, camera lenses were often wrapped when inside so that they wouldn’t succumb to condensation when the group ventured outside. On one day there was so much polar bear action the group decided to leave their cameras outside.

Arctic Fox on tundra at Seal River, Hudson Bay, Northern Manitoba

Calm, cool, cunning and collected...

“That was when we photographed the arctic fox,” said Bob. “We got some stunning photos that day. And we were able to get great shots even without big lenses. I have a 300 mm, but that was more than enough.”

“You don’t need a huge lens to get great shots. On the daily hikes we were able to get very close to the bears depending on their demeanor, and the guides were excellent, always chatting with us about the wildlife, the area and its history.”

Bob and Nicole were also impressed by the quality of the food at the Lodge.

“Gourmet meals,” said Bob. “Unbelievable. I wasn’t expecting that in such a remote area. Caribou, arctic char, pickerel, goose, local berries and other ingredients from the area. You couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Bob and Nicole’s polar bear trip with Churchill Wild will no doubt hold a special place in their hearts for many years to come. “I’ve traveled the world, and anyone seriously into photography would love this place,” continued Bob, who put his polar bear photos online at: http://www.robertleaper.com/polar/.

Polar bear cubs double take

Oh yeah. I'll make your heart beat. Just wait there.

“It was an absolutely fantastic adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. And it was for a great cause. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

“My heart was beating out of my chest when I bid on that trip,” said Nicole. “I’d never done that before.”

Was it was worth it?

“In so many ways…”

Polar Bear ID: Whiskerprint Analysis

October 31, 2011 by  
Filed under In The News

CSI: Churchill?

Hey, why not? The popular television franchise is shown in about 35 countries, worldwide, and has been based in Vegas, Miami & NY. We think they should make a Churchill version and we could offer up Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge for production. It has already been used for big budget videoshoots so we’re sure cast & crew would feel right at home and enjoy a big helping of Jeanne’s awesome cooking!

Here’s the perfect context: Jane Waterman’s Whiskerprint project based out of the University of Manitoba. Waterman has come up with a way to identify polar bears without tracking devices:

Thanks to a crew of citizen “research assistants” from around the world, tracking individual polar bears around Churchill is literally a snap.

“We can’t handle and mark polar bears in the tourist region because the marks would interfere with their photography,” Jane Waterman said as she transferred photos of four polar bears from one computer screen on her desk to another.

“But, in order to study the behaviour of bears, we need to identify individuals.”

The solution was the University of Manitoba’s Whiskerprint Project, a database of polar bear photos — most of which have been taken by tourists around the rocky shores of Hudson Bay near Churchill, 1,465 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

“The library uses photographs of the polar bear’s facial profile (left or right side) to distinguish among individuals based on whisker-spot patterns and scars,” Waterman said.

You can go have a look at the Polar Bear Photo-Identification Library at http://polarbearlibrary.org/

Guess Who? The whiskers tell the tale!

Sun sets on a polar bear at Nanuk

Polar bear at sunset Nanuk Polar bear Lodge

Sun sets on a polar bear...

by Andy MacPherson

After changing the batteries and cards on the Go Pro cameras we were using to see who had been feeding on a two-week old bear carcass, we continued heading east through the grassy coastal flats of  Hudson Bay at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

The “We” I’m referring to is Adam Ravetch of Arctic Bear Productions and his film crew, who came to Nanuk to film some fall polar bear activity for his upcoming film to be released in 2012. The Go Pro camera has been filming a variety of critters large and small, all coming to feed on the remains of an unfortunate bear that passed along we think due to injuries and infection, possibly due to the usual, battling for females earlier this past spring. We should know the full details of his demise soon, as Conservation officers flew in this past week and checked him out. We’re hoping they’ll pass along their findings.

We were hoping to find a few bears going about their daily business of sleeping, wandering or being led by their nose to anything deserving of their interest. We spotted our third bear of the day lounging contentedly out on the tidal flats, disappointingly just a little out of our reach.

Ground level polar bear photography at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bear photography up close and personal

We tried to get closer, but the Hudson Bay mud was a little too intimidating, causing us to leave an empty boot behind with every step forward. The bear was 150 meters away – secure as gold in Fort Knox – lazily watching our failed attempts to reach him over his left shoulder. Adam reluctantly admitted defeat to the mud and we made our way back to the chariot. But that turned out to be a good thing.

As soon as we reached the chariot we spotted another bear moving towards us from the east. At the same time we also noticed fellow guide Gordy and his buggy full of guests paralleling the bear at a distance. We moved a little closer, set up our camera gear and waited. We weren’t disappointed this time.

A beautiful four or five year old female polar bear moved towards us in the glow of late afternoon light. She hopped numerous small streams and slid effortlessly through the grass, providing us with some amazing footage. She stopped to the sound of my voice when she was about 30 meters away, then casually moved around us to the seaward side, giving us the over the shoulder looks as she passed by.

We quickly packed and played leap frog with the bear all the way back to the Misatkoken River, where she sniffed out our poor unfortunate friend. That was where we left her at twilight, outlined in golden light, standing on the crest of the beach ridge.  All caught on the cameras of Adam Ravetch and…

soon to be a star on the big screen.

Incredible Northern Lights at Seal River Heritage Lodge for Churchill Wild’s Arctic Safari

World renowned professional photographer Charles Glatzer is at Seal River Heritage Lodge right now sampling Churchill Wild’s first ever Arctic Safari. Charles circulated this picture to some friends, as well as Churchill Wild staff & guests:

Charles Glatzer's Northern Lights at Seal River Heritage Lodge (click to enlarge)

You can see more of Charles’ incredible work on his website and blog.

The Arctic Safari is Churchill Wild’s most ambitious adventure. When it was announced last May it immediately sold out!

Fashioned after a traditional African safari, Churchill Wild owner Mike Reimer saw an opportunity to offer Churchill Wild’s own version of “The Big Five” in the arctic. Set against the visually stunning fall colors of early September, the Arctic Safari promises to be an all encompassing encounter with endless photo opportunities and arctic wildlife experiences.

A small window in early September provides the perfect apex to see the widest variety of wildlife and brilliant displays of Aurora Borealis. The Arctic Safari takes you over 20,000 square kilometers of the wildest regions in the Arctic; providing the potential of seeing wolves, caribou, moose, three species of bears (polar, black and grizzly), beluga whales, arctic and colored fox, wolverine, beaver, pine marten and arctic birds.

To find out more about the Arctic Safari or other polar bear watching tours offered by Churchill Wild check out the website. Every adventure offered by Churchill Wild includes the one-of-a-kind access of walking with polar bears, on the ground, up close & personal (and safe).

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