by Andy MacPherson, Head Wilderness Guide, Churchill Wild
We had a beautiful encounter with a mom and cub recently at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. We spent all day trying to get close to them after spotting them moving west along the low tide line in the drizzle.
They looked like they were going to make land at the east Opoyastin River but they veered back towards the water so we jumped ahead again to the west bank where we set up hoping they’d continue towards us the tide was coming in. The best laid plans! Mom came ashore just to the east of us and began grazing on the sedge grass with her cub.
They eventually turned towards us again but ended up finding a nice spot on a tidal sandbar just out of our reach with the incoming tide. She teased us by turning her back into the wind and nursing her cub before slumping off to the side for a nap.
We took the opportunity to go back for a lunch of our own and to let the high tide pass. We thought we might try to get a little closer once the water had receded enough to hike out to their little sandbar. It worked out perfectly. Out we went, hiking towards Mom in a cross wind with a sleeping adult female off to our right and mom and cub ahead of us.
We approached cautiously watching her every movement. She was awake and periodically looking around and scenting, neck and head stretching straight up. She decided to sit up and re-scrape her nursing seat. Great nursing again!
We were probably a good 300 meters away when we decided to just stay put and wait. It paid off. When they finished nursing they got up and continued west straight towards us. Mom was looking at us curiously and began to angle off slightly to the south to bypass us.
The cub sensed something was up and did not want to come closer. Mom made attempts to get him to follow her but he would have nothing to do with it, so she tried an approach on her own. I moved out front when she was about 100 metres away, not wanting her to get closer. She backed off, but not in a panic, taking her cub past us to a patch of grass about 150 metres away, where they started to clean themselves up and continued to graze on a small patch of grass.
We’d left guide Terry (Elliot) on the beach ridge in order to keep an eye on our Rhinos (Tundra Rhinos – our transportation). We’d also left a large male feeding on goose berries close enough to the Rhinos to cause me a little concern, which turned out to be right. The male decided to see if he could take one of our transports for a ride, so Terry had to convince him that walking was a far better alternative.
When Terry left the ridge the mother and cub took a big interest in him, standing to watch him as he hurried out of sight over the ridge. They moved up to get a better view, but in doing so showed themselves off to the big male bear, who decided they were far more interesting than our tricked-out rides. He came to pay the young family a visit but Mom and cub had other ideas and quickly hustled back out to the tidal flats and away to the west.
We headed back to the polar bear lodge with more tales to tell, and left nature to continue her own amazing story.