Conditions that kept helicopters grounded for the prior two days changed just in time for our morning flight over Wapusk National Park, adjacent to Churchill. There are no official roads in the Park, you need to fly in. There are some research buildings in one area, but otherwise, the 7,100+ square mile Park is a pristine preserve for wildlife, including the migrating Polar Bears. Appropriately, Wapusk translates to “white bear” in Cree.

For an hour we zoomed over the boreal forest, ponds, over the river, and by Hudson Bay. A herd of moose was clearly visible among the trees and watching a mother bear with her two cavorting COYs was special. On what the pilot called the “lounge” we witnessed five big males hanging around waiting for the ice to freeze.

It was fascinating and obvious from the air to see the ice chunks were starting to firm and collect along the coast. The long, hungry summer season is coming to a close for the Polar Bears of Churchill.

Fun on the Tundra in Churchill

Canada can be a quirky place. We were so fortunate to have NatHab adventure-guide extraordinaire, Katrina, let us in on some local secrets. On a Polar Rover, you can be traversing the tundra for long periods with only the random islands of wind-blown white spruce to break up the landscape. There are a few tricks Kat employed to keep us all awake, engaged, and laughing. Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite moments:

The Bear-walk. In a demo none of us will forget, Kat moved through the rover explaining the anatomy of a Polar Bear’s amble.

What exactly is Poutine? A typical Canadian dish of French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Must tastier than it sounded, I still deem the photo too unappetizing to post; better to keep it in your imagination.

Tundra bingo. We had some spirited competition marking off our newfound sightings. A suspiciously high number of the group proclaimed themselves victorious.

Miss Piggy is a wrecked plane from the ‘70s that, in typical Churchill style, is now a tourist attraction. The three men on board survived and were all found later in a local bar.

Great White Bear Polar Rover driver Val, gave us all Tundra Passports to help us follow our route (it’s hard to believe they know where the trails are) through land, water, and ice. It gave us a nice way to record what we saw when and where, a perfect aide since we saw so much wildlife.

The Polar Rover. A uniquely and locally designed vehicle, 55’ long and as wide as it is high at 14’. Tires are 5’ high and 3’ wide, to keep the 30,000-pound machine from getting stuck. Heated, well-stocked, and with a bathroom on board, it was our home-away-from-home. And Val really knows how to make good hot chocolate.

The 9 AM weather broadcast to his drivers by the owner of Great White Bears, is a kick. Like many people we met here, he obviously has a big personality. Each day he concludes the report with a crazy made-up song.

White Arctic Foxes, which we did not see have 130 hairs per inch. We did see red and silver fox which now sadly, compete in the territory.

Potato chips on the tundra. Polar Bear coloring is aptly described by the naturalists here, as like (plain) potato chips. It’s a perfect adjective and we soon learned to spot them against the white snow and rocky shoreline.

Pizza with two toppings. Code used among the rover drivers to indicate sighting of a mother Polar Bear with two cubs. We saw that combo from the air, on land we saw single cubs and mothers (mothers with single cubs are trending), like this duo. This big cub is likely a two-year-old male, explaining why he is about as large as his mom. In another few months, he’ll be on his own and she will breed again.

I finally know how to pronounce ptarmigan. And we saw lots of those cute white, furry-footed little birds.

A bear alarm siren sounds off every night at 10 PM, warning residents to either stay in, move around in groups, or be aware of any intruding Polar Bears.

Graffiti Alley along the coastal road, has dozens (if not hundreds) of names and messages illegally painted on the 2 billion-year-old Greywacke boulders.

CBD balm, anyone? The colorful manager of the helicopter service we flew with has her own concoction to help arthritis. When I heard this, my ears pricked up. I tried it and it did seem to help my hands. She doesn’t sell it because she just wants to help people, so she gives anyone interested the recipe to make their own batch . . . just not sure about the type and amount of that one key ingredient.

Nanaimo Bars are a new chocolate treat to me. Super-rich, this dessert consists of 3 layers: a wafer, nut & coconut crumb base, custard icing in the middle, topped with chocolate ganache. I saw even the healthy ones among us enjoying a taste.

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