by Paul Scriver, Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guide
The animals along the coast of Hudson Bay are excitedly waiting for the snow to arrive and so are we after our first Fall Dual Lodge Safari! The polar bears, insulated with roughly 8 cm of blubber and kept warm by a thick coat, are much happier when the winter weather begins.
The bears welcome the snow as a good opportunity to clean their coats by rolling around in the snow. This absorbs any salt that has matted their coats over the summer months and cleans out the dirt that has stained their fur. Meticulous care of their coats is important, as the cleaner and fluffier their coats are, the warmer and more insulating they become.
The polar bears aren’t the only creatures who appreciate the coming of winter weather. There are two species of hare we see along the coast of Hudson Bay, Arctic hare and snowshoe hare. Both will change the colour of their coats to blend into the snowy blanket that generally falls sometime around the start of October.
This year, with some later than normal warm weather [relative term], the hares are sticking out like a sore thumb, having already changed into their winter coats. Arctic fox, ptarmigan, and many of the small weasel family members will also change colour but most will retain small patches of black. This strategy is designed to be a distraction for predators who are looking for a bite to eat.
The black patches will draw attention away from the eyes and nose (difficult things to disguise), and over to non-essential body parts. Of course all body parts are essential, but some more than others, especially in the harsh Arctic environment.
The smaller creatures also celebrate the arrival of snow by cleaning and preening, but they too will frolic in the new snow for no apparent reason. While the lodges further north have had a dusting of snow, here at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge the local wildlife (human and otherwise) are all on the edge of our frosty seats!