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.

World’s largest land carnivore gets right of way as fall polar bear season begins

November 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Polar Bear Tours

Big Churchill polar bear at Seal River on Hudson Bay

World's largest land carnivore has right of way here

by Andy MacPherson

The start of a new fall polar bear season!

The Turbo Beaver being busy down south, our first group of guests arrived in style in a helicopter, landing right at our front door. After settling into their rooms and taking in a brief safety orientation, we had them out viewing polar bears Churchill Wild style before lunch.

There were three bears in the immediate vicinity and all were accommodating. We were able to get close and view all three without disturbing them from their day beds. At this time of year the polar bears are focused on conserving as much energy as possible in anticipation of freeze up and the availability of their favourite meal, ringed seals, which will help them replenish their waning fat reserves.

On our way back to the lodge for lunch we discovered that the first bear we’d stopped to view earlier had ambled into the bay north of us. He was now comfortably bedded down in a bed of kelp lying on his back; stretching and playing with a piece of kelp, pulling it gently threw his teeth as if he were flossing.

After lunch we hiked out towards the west, to Swan Lake and back. We were met by a subadult bear on our way back, walking towards us up the path. He stopped when we asked him to, looking a little confused as to why we were blocking ‘His’ way.  We moved off to one side, giving him the right of way – a smart thing to do when questioned by a polar bear. He passed by at a safe distance as our hearts pounded, pausing to get a good scent of us and posing for a few great photos along the way.

We are often approached by polar bears while we are out on hikes and away from the safety and comfort of the lodge. These are always exciting moments, and important times to be very observant of bear behaviour. Every bear that approaches us acts differently based on life experiences past and present. Negative or positive, these experiences will influence the way a bear reacts to us. This initial communication will determine our response to each approaching bear. While polar bears aren’t usually vocal, they do communicate very well through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) body language and behaviour.

We watched the bear as he moved away from us and continued down the path towards Swan Lake, our excitement at his approach subsiding slightly as we moved back on to the path. Some of the guests asked where the bear was going and what he was thinking; how old he was and how much he weighed. Others marveled at what had just happened.

The largest land carnivore on the planet, a Churchill polar bear, had just walked by us and gone about his business, whatever that might be. It just wasn’t us…

at the moment.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge season begins!

King polar bear surveys his domain.

King polar bear surveys his domain at Nanuk.

Churchill Wild has been the premier eco-outfitter in Northern Manitoba for over 40 years, but we’re always excited when polar bear watching season begins at our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, the only tourist camp along a 100-mile stretch of Hudson Bay coastline in Northern Manitoba, Canada.

One of the most pristine wilderness areas left in the world, it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. And we promise that you won’t find a better place, anywhere in the world, for close encounters with polar bears.

Read Reviews of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge at TripAdvisor.com

When the ice breaks up in June, the polar bears move ashore. During the summer months they socialize and prowl the shoreline, restlessly waiting for the ice to return. Many of these bears spend their summers within a few miles of our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. During an average season up to 400 bears pass by the Lodge.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge arrival day!

A gorgeous day at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge!

What makes this population of polar bears so unique is the high concentration of mother bears and cubs. At Nanuk, our guests will encounter polar bears, and often these will be mothers with their offspring. Many of these bears have never seen a person before, and they have the calm demeanor of bears that have not learned to fear people.

Guests who visit Nanuk count themselves among a small group of lucky individuals who have seen these majestic animals up close, undisturbed. These are not habituated “Park bears” or hunted bears that run at the sight of humans.

“We have already been in many nature places in this world. We have seen the lions in Africa; the tigers in India; the grizzlies in Alaska; orangutans in Borneo; the penguins in the Antarctic; but one of the most beautiful places is Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge with their many polar bears. We were overwhelmed to experience so many, so close. We thank the entire staff who made these special days a wonderful experience.” — Marlies & Hartmut Thierfelder and Marlies & Siegfried Neubüser, Hamburg, Germany

Polar bears everywhere! Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bears everywhere!

These are pure, wild polar bears living the way they have lived since time began.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about this year’s trip to Nanuk. If you would like more information about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge please call us at: 1.204.377.5090 or Toll Free at:1.866.846.9453. You can also e-mail us at: info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you and…

Wish you were here!

3D Polar Bear Movie filmed at Seal River Lodge

December 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Polar Bear Tours

by Andrew McPherson, Polar Bear Guide

Polar bear poses for the 3D movie crew

Polar bear poses for the 3D movie crew

Working with Adam Ravetch and his film crew for the last few weeks of the season at Seal River Lodge was a fabulous experience. Every day brought new amazing wildlife encounters and guiding demands. Adam had all kinds of great ideas and new directions he wanted to take the film in, and he imaged them into existence with the help of his two crew members Indy and Stewart and their 3D cameras.

We got off to a good start when we found three bears bedded down out on a small frozen lake beyond the runway. One bear was on a small esker watching our approach. The other two were laying a short distance apart on the edge of the lake.

The closest bear lifted its head, watching us as we watched him. This resulted in a game of red-light green-light. Every time he lifted his head we stopped…. until he put his head down and closed his eyes, then we started moving again, slowly approaching.

Polar bears gather to discuss movie on Hudson Bay

Polar bears gather to discuss movie

We moved like this until we found a suitable spot to set up Adam’s camera. Then the bear decided to move downwind to catch our scent and get a better idea of just who and what we were all about. Bears trust their noses far more then they trust their eyes.

Once this bear got our scent figured out and decided we weren’t a threat, he made himself comfy – laying down and stretching out on the ice, cooling himself off, rolling over on his back – generally making a ham of himself for our camera. Great comedic footage!

Setting up the 3D cameras with remote access

Remotely operating the 3D cameras on the ice

At the same time, Mike and Stewart showed up with the remote camera, to go after the always-elusive bear-sniffing-camera-lens-in-3D shot he’d been attempting to get for the last week – maybe this time. They set up their camera near the second bear sleeping in the bush just off the ice. The camera had a 25 foot cable attached to it so the operator could move around and still focus the camera on a moving subject as it approaches. It was mounted at a height approximating a polar bear’s point of view, or POV in tech talk.

The sleeping bear got up and approached the camera, but he was very hesitant. Clearly troubled by the unfamiliar device, he came closer, backed away, then approached again with head lowered – we had a very serious bear staring into the camera. He didn’t like it, but he gave us an amazing eye-level sequence of how two bears might approach each other.

Polar bear takes a bite out of the deck at sunset

Polar bear takes a bite out of the deck at sunrise Photo Credit: Nicole D. Boucher

The bear never did get right up to the camera, but when he lost interest in that he became more interested in us, slowly approaching and giving us a great 3D shot for the film. Imagine a polar bear’s head poking out of your TV screen, full frame, from the shoulders to the tip of its nose.

We had to let the bear know we didn’t want to play with some stern words and aggressive behavior, and after posing and giving us a good sniff, he moved off with his buddy, who had watched all the action from his semi-reclined position in the second row.

We followed the pair and a short while later found they had been joined by two more bears on the next lake over. By the time we spotted them, they had paired off and a donnybrook was already in session. I could have sat back and watched – it was a live WWE event – but we had an opportunity to shoot more amazing footage, so off we went.

Unfortunately, when the bears caught site of us, they decided to come in for a closer look. It’s a good thing we knew that they don’t cooperatively hunt, because having four polar bears calmly walk towards you would probably otherwise be conceived as an unnerving situation.

Polar bear movie crew at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear movie crew at Seal River Lodge

But two of the bears quickly lost interest and only the smallest (600 lbs) of the other pair seemed really interested in us. His approach was somewhat aggressive, coming in fast and curious, so we let him know he wasn’t that welcome. That was enough to turn him around and send him back to his buddies for some three-way sparring action.

The smaller bear was being picked on from each side by each of the larger bears and he playfully turned to engage whichever bear was nipping. The small bear eventually began to spar with only one of the bigger bears, and when they stood up we finally realized the substantial size difference. The smaller bear was at least three feet shorter, but still game, even when he was being knocked off his feet – more great footage!

Polar bear napping between takes

Polar bear napping between takes

There wasn’t a day during the filming when we didn’t find some kind of interesting bear activity, interaction or social behavior. Adam’s movie unfolded in front of us daily, but we won’t see the final result of his efforts for awhile.

We were excited to be a part of the creative process and can only imagine what Adam will weave together with all the incredible footage he recorded. With the kind of talent that was behind (and in front of) the cameras, this is going to be a movie you don’t want to miss!

Spectacular polar bear viewing, fabulous guests and a beautiful new dining room make for wondrous summer on Hudson Bay Coast

October 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Polar Bear Tours

Polar bears were everywhere in the Summer of 2010 at Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Polar bears everywhere!

Unbelievable, wow, incredible, spectacular, best ever, life changing, beyond expectations, and the list goes on – we can never quite identify the right superlative to describe this past season at Churchill Wild!

Once again the guest book is full of great comments and wondrous praises heaped upon our hard working staff and the awesome Churchill Wild polar bear experience they provide. Thank you to all our new found friends, who traveled from all corners of the globe this year, for making the time and financial commitment to join us on the Hudson Bay coast.

It’s difficult to look back over the crazy exciting busyness of this summer season and identify the highlights – there were so many! One of the most important accomplishments was the completion of the new dining room, with its huge viewing windows looking out over the Bay, a new roof, a new tower access, new decks, and new staff quarters.

I get tired just thinking about all the work that had to be done to see that beautiful building standing there. Yvan and

New dining room, polar bear obervatory at Seal River Lodge.

New Seal River Lodge dining room completed!

crew pulled off another miracle, from planning the project last season, to ordering and shipping materials by train to Churchill in January, then spending two weeks in March dragging freight over the frozen sea to the Lodge and finally back in June with the construction crew to build like madmen so we could be ready for first guests in July. Wow! And now we start the whole process all over again – Jeanne has “assured” all of us that she is getting her new kitchen next year.

Our summer Birds, Bears, and Belugas adventure might well have been called Bears, Bears, and Bears as we enjoyed some of the finest summer polar bear action on the planet. Seal River has always been a mecca for polar bears coming off the ice in July, but this year was nothing short of incredible.

One afternoon aerial tour spotted over 100 bears within 30 kilometers of Seal River, numbers which were certainly confirmed by the daily bear action at the Lodge. And the whales continue to enthrall intrepid snorkelers with their charming attention to the strange creatures invading their watery domain. Interactive singing opportunities brought out the creative in everyone. And although it was difficult to tell which whale “whisperer” had the best tune, it was fairly obvious that our whale friends enjoy listening to a well gurgled tune.

Mike Reimer on Hudson Bay. Churchill Wild. Summer 2010.

A beautiful summer day on Hudson Bay!

This past year Churchill Wild also completed the purchase and expansion of the Canada’s newest and most exciting polar bear destination, the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge located near Cape Tatnum. Cape Tatnum is home to the greatest concentration of summer polar bears on earth and is also near the site of a recently discovered polar bear denning area, not to mention fantastic wolf viewing, countless moose, and a bird migration beyond number. This will undoubtedly become the finest wild polar bear adventure in our ever-expanding stable of great polar bear trips, on par with the great African wildlife safaris of years gone by. Please plan to join us!

Churchill Wild can now guarantee world class polar bear viewing and ground level polar bear photo opportunities at its remote ecolodges from July through to the end of the traditional November season – another world first.

A big heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful guests for making Seal River Lodge a fabulous place to be this summer!  We couldn’t have done it without you. Now it’s time for the Great Ice Bear Tour and the Polar Bear Photo Safari.

We hope you can join us again someday soon!

Mike & Jeanne Reimer & Family

Polar bears, sandhill cranes, moose, wolves and whales make first week of Birds, Bears and Belugas a hit

July 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, In The News

Polar bear swimming in front of zodiak boat on Hudson Bay

Polar bear leads the way on Hudson Bay

In our first week of Birds, Bears and Belugas we spotted not just polar bears but also sandhill cranes, lots of wolves (with cubs!) two moose and a large numbers of beluga whales.

Our first meal interruption occurred last week when a polar bear showed up just as everyone was coming into the dining room for breakfast. We’ve been getting the boats in the water on a regular basis morning and night, weather and tides permitting.

Guests had a fabulous trip by boat to Hubbard Point, 77 kilometres Northwest of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast. It was almost too foggy to see but we still saw seven polar bears at close range and had one of our best beluga whale swims ever!

Handed out the first certificates of the season on July 27 and everyone is leaving happy!

Spectacular new polar bear watching observatory/dining room on Hudson Bay Coast offers picture window polar bear viewing

July 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, In The News

Polar Bear Viewing Observatory Dining Room on Hudson Bay

New polar bear viewing observatory/dining room on Hudson Bay Coast near Seal River and Churchill

Churchill Wild has a spectacular new dining observatory at their Seal River Polar Bear Eco-Lodge on the Hudson Bay coast.

The new dining room has become so popular with guests viewing polar bears from its 12 huge picture windows that the staff has had to shoo them out just so they can have a moment to clean up after dinner! Polar bear watching from this gorgeous timber frame structure – the first of its kind in Arctic Canada – has had the kudos flying and the cameras snapbuzzing.

The dining observatory project was in the planning/discussing/daydreaming stage for a couple of years before material was finally ordered in the spring of 2009. The huge white pine beams were all cut from second-growth sustainable forest in Northern Ontario, the closest source we could find to minimize our transportation impact. The bulk of the materials were purchased from a local supplier in Churchill, continuing Churchill Wild’s commitment to supporting the northern communities in which we live and operate from.

In January 2010 the project materials, tools and supplies were collected and shipped via train to Churchill. In March a team of intrepid explorer types headed into Seal River to get the Cat Train going, which in itself is quite an undertaking in -30 to -40 degrees Celsius!

A Cat Train consists of a Caterpillar Bulldozer, in this case a 1962 D6, pulling one or more sleighs loaded with building materials over the sea ice of Hudson Bay. Books could be written about winter freighting in the Canadian Arctic, and certainly this year’s adventures would have been fodder for another chapter. Stuart and Yvan and crew hauled in nearly 60,000 kilos of lumber, windows, roofing, cement etc. in 2 trips averaging 30 hours of travel per run – one way. Good thing we take the guests in by air, 20 minutes!

Polar bear in grass outside new dining room at Seal River Lodge on Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear supervising construction of dining room

June was “hit the ground running” time and the construction crew of Len, Yvan, Real, Riley, Ryan, Kyle, and George did so in a big way. Thank goodness Elaine was there working her magic in the kitchen to keep all the hard working guys fed.

Construction started on June 5 and by the end of the first day the boys had half the old dining room torn off the east end of the lodge. Many long days followed and exactly 30 days later the crew had completed the new dining room and kitchen area, put a beautiful new roof over the entire lodge, renovated a bedroom, installed new electrical and plumbing systems and replaced the bear proof fence!!

Owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer are still overwhelmed at what these guys put together in those 30 days.

Thank You Team Seal 2010!

Churchill Wild guest Claire Wilson makes semi-finals in Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition

June 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Guest Posts, Polar Bear Tours

On the Rocks - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

by Claire Wilson

We visited Seal River Heritage Lodge on Churchill Wild’s Great Ice Bear polar bear tour at the end of October 2009. I have always had a huge fascination with polar bears and was extremely excited about visiting the Seal River area in search of polar bears.  I tried not to get my expectations too high however, telling myself that we might only get a distant glimpse of a bear.

How wrong I was!

As soon as our plane touched down at Seal River, we could see several bears around us. Within an hour, there were two bears play-fighting a few feet from the front door of the lodge – amazing! I felt like I had died and gone to wildlife heaven!

We were lucky to get a mixture of conditions – the weather was dry and bright when we first arrived, but we then had plenty of snow and at one point the temperature cooled down to -27 degrees.

Polar bears wrestling near Seal River Lodge on Hudson Bay. Claire Wilson photo.

High and Mighty - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

Our whole three days at the lodge were jam-packed with photo opportunities. Terry and Andy, our friendly and knowledgeable guides, were ready to take us out for hikes at any opportunity, and we saw plenty of bears every time we ventured outside.  Everyone learned a great deal about these majestic animals and their environment, and every day we all came back with full memory cards on our cameras. My husband Pete and I took about 3000 photographs between us!

Upon returning home, I was so proud of some of my photographs that I decided to send a few into the Wildlife Photographer of The Year competition, now in its 46th year and organized by The Natural History Museum, London and BBC Wildlife Magazine. This is a huge competition which has tens of thousands of entries from all over the world every year. Last year there were over 43,000 entries, and apparently there were well in excess of this amount for 2010.

I was absolutely stunned when I recently received an e-mail advising me that three of my entries had made it into the semi finals!

One photograph entitled “High and Mighty” (Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our first full day at Seal River when we went for a long group hike. The two bears seemed to want to perform for the cameras!

Polar bear photo Clash of the Titans taken by Claire Wilson at Seal River near Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay while on Churchill Wild's Great Ice Bear Tour.

Clash of the Titans - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

I shot “On The Rocks” (Semi-Finalist for the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife) the next day, literally feet from the lodge. And the third photograph I submitted, “Clash of the Titans” (also a Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our last morning at Seal River Heritage Lodge just a few minutes before we had too, reluctantly, leave this wonderful location.

We had such a great time with Churchill Wild! I can’t wait to return for our next adventure!

Close Encounters of the Bear Kind – Churchill Wild Makes Dreams Come True

November 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Polar Bear Tours

A Polar Bear Checks out What is Going On in the Kitchen

A Polar Bear Peeks in Through The Bars

After visiting Clyde River and then Pond Inlet further north on Baffin Island back in 2005 and 2007, hoping to see Polar Bears in the wild and being disappointed in not seeing any there, we finally tried at Churchill Wild in Northern Manitoba in October of 2009.

Not knowing whether it was going to be third time lucky or not for us this time round, our trip actually turned out to be everything that we expected and more. We got to see Polar Bears at last! Lots of them, up close and personal, and on one occasion, even one large male pushing his nose through the bars across the open window of the hallway near the kitchen in the lodge.

His breath blowing into my face – which was only about two feet away from his – while I thanked my lucky stars (afterwards that is) that I had my camcorder rolling at the moment I stood in stunned silence before this ice giant. Shivers ran down my spine, tingling in excitement at this close encounter I never dreamed would happen to me.

You just cannot get better, or closer, than that! Fantastic experiences, thank you Churchill Wild for being in existence and for making my dreams finally come true.

Mike and Julie Trayhum 2009                  

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