Happy New Year!
Another polar bear season has come to an end and we can’t wait for the next to start! It was an adventurous year at Churchill Wild, with nature unleashing its fury on more than one occasion, but once again we had hundreds of happy guests who were able to meet polar bears at ground level and capture some incredible photos!
Many of our guest photos appeared on Instagram, where we finally cracked the 10,000-follower mark on the @churchillwildsafaris account! Thank you very much to all the guests, photojournalists, writers and staff who helped us get there, and to all who shared their own personalized versions of the Churchill Wild story in over 35 different publications, photo albums and blogs around the world.
The highlight of the media coverage in 2019 was our participation in National Geographic’s Wildlife: The Big Freeze by filmmaker Bertie Gregory, which included polar bears and wolves at Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Churchill Wild guide Steve Schellenberg helped Bertie capture some rare footage in the series, which takes viewers on a blizzard-filled adventure to the edge of the Canadian Arctic. You can watch Steve in action behind the scenes with the polar bears and the film crew here.
We started out the year attending the Northern Perspectives Conference at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) with friends from Churchill and Nunavut, and the event showcased the incredible talent, imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of the north. Next up was the Minister’s Dinner at the historic Manitoba Club. Churchill Wild supports numerous charitable causes, but this event has always been one of our favourites, and we donated a Hudson Bay Odyssey trip for two to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge to help raise funds for the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre.
The Honourable Rochelle Squires, Minister of Sustainable Development at the time, was the patron for the always-sold-out annual fundraiser, which celebrated its 23rd year with 228 of Manitoba’s corporate elite and raised over $200,000.
Before we get to the overview of the polar bear safaris in 2019, we have to congratulate 2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Anthony Lau, who won a Polar Bear Photo Safari for two at Seal River Heritage Lodge as part of his grand prize. Anthony parlayed his big win into another first place finish at the 2018 Fine Art Photography Awards in the Amateur Photographer Wildlife/Animals category, for a series of Arctic fox images taken at Seal River.
Professional photographer and Churchill Wild photo leader Robert Postma also became a bit more of a celebrity outside his home territory of Yukon when Canada Post included one of his grizzly bear images in a collectors’ series of stamps featuring iconic Canadian bears. “I get recognized a lot more now,” said Robert. “Now I’m ‘the guy with the stamp.’”
Congratulations also go out to Print Studio One & Three-Six North Marketing, who won the award for Best Consumer Publication Design at the recent 2019 Signature Awards for their design of our anniversary book: Churchill Wild – 25 Years of Adventure on the Hudson Bay Coast!
Our first safari of the year was the Den Emergence Quest at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and guests were treated to some very emotional encounters with wolves according to National Geographic photographer and Churchill Wild photo leader Jad Davenport. Jad also wrote about meeting the alpha wolf at very close range and interviewed guest Sue Chadwick about photographing wolves with an iPhone. Jad went on to describe his wolf and polar bear encounters to Faunographic founder Rachelle Mackintosh on her WILD LIVES Podcast here, and that’s definitely something you don’t want to miss!
Before the summer polar bear safaris began, Riley Friesen, son-in-law of Churchill Wild co-founders and owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer, began a massive Arctic Organics project designed to supply our polar bear lodges with more fresh produce in the coming years.
We also started to delve a little more into our history on the polar bear blog with features that included: Walking with Polar Bears: Five decades of experience and an exceptional safety record; Road to a Bestseller: The Blueberries & Polar Bear Cookbook Legacy; and Dymond Lake Ecolodge: Where it all began, followed by our 2018 Guest Photo Contest Winners. Our guests do capture some fabulous photos every year, but there also many who have enjoyed meeting our polar bears without a camera.
We had excellent weather for boating along the Hudson Bay coastline on our first Birds, Bears and Belugas safari of the year at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Calm winds and beautiful days allowed us to take advantage of the polar bear activity along the coast, in particular the area around the mouth of the Seal River. We had some amazing luck during a full day out on what we call the “low tide run” and witnessed numerous polar bears feeding on a beluga whale carcass.
Guests, staff and media were all kept busy during Birds, Bears and Belugas, and on July 17 we welcomed an amazing group on assignment for Matador Network. Quin Schrock, accompanied by a talented crew and his partner Jess Dales, spent five days with us, capturing the beauty and the magic of the Hudson Bay coastline, which included waking up to a polar bear outside their window. Guest were also treated to a magical moment with a beluga whale calf at Seal River.
Around the same time Mike Reimer, Vern Bell and Kelly Turcotte drove two SHERPS from Churchill to Seal River Heritage Lodge and on to Hubbard Point, which is about 60 air miles northwest of Churchill. They probably travelled about 150 km in the SHERPS, through rivers and lakes and over the rugged boulder-strewn Hudson Bay coast. Travel anywhere in the Arctic can be challenging, but the SHERPS proved to be up to the task while also having very little impact on the environment. The SHERPS will be used in the future for new expeditions that will help photo and film crews explore some of the more remote areas surrounding Hudson Bay.
Three polar bear families highlighted the start of our Summer Dual Lodge Safari and guests are still surprised every year by the fact that you can see polar bears without snow. Some, like An Xiao, even create beautiful online photo albums! The almost-retired analyst from the Washington D. C. area was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge with six of her friends this summer for the Arctic Discovery and she captured the wild essence of Nanuk and its polar bears in her Churchill Wild Photo Album on Flickr.
The Hudson Bay Odyssey again provided numerous opportunities to meet and photograph polar bears at ground level, and while many of the photos in our Fall Polar Bear Safari Album were taken with long lenses, there were also a number of close encounters with polar bears, black bears (Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge) and Arctic foxes (Seal River Heritage Lodge) just outside the fenced compounds that surround the lodges.
There are no guarantees in nature, but our remote locations in the heart of polar bear territory help us to see more bears than most. The reduction and satellite view features on the Google Maps locations for Seal River Heritage Lodge, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and Dymond Lake Ecolodge can give you a sense of how wild and remote these ecolodges really are.
Anjali Singh, co-founder and owner of SUJÁN luxury properties in India, enjoyed our remote locations so much she returned for her third year in a row in 2019 and took some great photos, this time on the Hudson Bay Odyssey, while Dynie Sanderson of Napa Food Gal Travels came for the food and loved it! As did guests on our Wildlife and Wellness and Wading Wild safaris at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, who were greeted by a 1000-pound polar bear just outside the compound when they arrived.
That started off a wonderful week of wellness and fishing, and guest Bob Collins caught over 40 brook trout! Writer and responsible travel specialist Sunny Fitzgerald was with us for the Wildlife and Wellness safari and has a story about her trip coming out soon in Fodor’s Travel. We also have an interview with Dynie Sanderson scheduled for next month’s newsletter.
Writer, photographer and adventurer Jenn Smith Nelson of Travel and Happiness was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for the Hudson Bay Odyssey and wrote The (Wild) Rush of the North for Just for Canadian Dentists and Just For Canadian Doctors, and travel writer, attorney and legal columnist Julie L. Kessler of Vagabond Lawyer was at Seal River Heritage Lodge for Birds, Bears and Belugas and wrote about her trip for the the San Francisco Examiner in Birds, belugas and bears, oh my. Award-winning photojournalist Suzanne Morphet, who took the beautiful photo of the red fox you see above, was also at Seal River Heritage Lodge for the Polar Bear Photo Safari and will be writing a piece for the West Australian.
Nature intervened to confuse and confound both polar bears and photographers on the late season polar bear safaris. The snows came, as did the ice, and the polar bears made their way out onto the ice only to return a week later when the weather changed, allowing the Hudson Bay coast to deliver on what it is known for, including polar bears and Arctic foxes. Polar bears are driven by their instinct to survive, and seal hunting on the ice overrides everything else in their lives when the time comes, but they weren’t the only creatures anxious for snow at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.
Guests and photographers were looking forward to the snow and ice, as it provides exceptional backdrops and lighting for photos, but you have to be dressed for it. We send a clothing and packing list to guests on all our polar bear photo safaris, but Canon Explorer of Light Charles Glatzer, who was at Seal River and Nanuk for Polar Photo Photo Safaris with his Shoot the Light clients, also sent us some excellent cold weather photography clothing suggestions that included specialized must-have heat layer photography gloves.
Professional nature photographers and guides Jenni Lisacek and Chase Teron of Artica Studios were also on the Polar Bear Photo Safari in the fall and they will be running two photography workshops at Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2020.
In summary, it was another very successful season of polar bear watching on the Hudson Bay coast, and we thank our cherished guests, staff, photographers and media for sharing their Churchill Wild experience with the world. We couldn’t do this without you and we greatly appreciate your exceptional photos, reviews, recommendations and stories. And of course, we have to thank the wildlife, especially our polar bears. Yes, polar bears have feelings too.
Wishing everyone a peaceful, prosperous and adventurous 2020! Stay Wild!
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Awesome video of the wolf pack and the polar bear. Still have great memories of my experiences back in 2017. Will definitely have to come back one of these days.