Tag Archive: Ice

2015 was another great polar bear season up in Churchill, Manitoba with Bill Lamberton and Les Stegenga from Classic Canadian Tours! The bears were plentiful, playful and best of all, there were lots of mothers with cubs. Almost all of the bears were in good to great condition, including one massive male that dwarfed the others. Scroll down to see and read just a few of the highlights.

A large male bear comes in close for an amazing, up-close experience. It’s no wonder why they have the title, “Lords of the Arctic.” Their huge roman noses give them a very distinguished look, but more importantly it’s used to detect seals 30km away and through several meters of snow.

Polar Bear Head BW WM

A mother and her 10 month old cub walk along the frozen shore of the Hudson Bay. Cubs are typically born in January and will stay with their mothers for 2-3 years, gaining weight and learning the ropes of surviving in such a harsh environment.   In an average day we typically saw 3-4 mothers with 1-2 cubs each; a sign that the past few years have been good for the bears.

PB mom and cub walking WM

When the ice on the Hudson Bay melts in July, the bears are forced onto shore and will go 3-4 months without a substantial meal. On average a polar bear will lose 2lbs of fat every day it’s on land and not eating. Couple that with the fact they they use 13 times more energy when they are moving and you can understand why they spend the majority of their summer and fall resting.

Chilling in Churchill WM

As winter nears they start strolling the shores for any snacks that wash up with the large tides.Polar Bear Warrior WM

When the tours start in late October and early November, the weather is getting colder and the snow starts flying. The bears know it’s only a few more weeks until they can get back out onto the ice. It’s also cold enough that they don’t overheat as quickly so they spend more time playing and sparring with each other. This particular male is the largest bear we saw this year and probably weighed around 1200lbs!

Pouncing polar bear C WM

With the return of the cold, northerly winds, winter starts to take hold. This mother and cub huddled together to stay warm during one of the early winter storms.

Polar Snuggle WM

Fresh water coming from the neighbouring rivers, coupled with the NW winds and counter-clockwise ocean current means that ice forms quickly here and gets pushed up against the shores around Churchill before other areas of the bay. The bears have learned this and migrate long distances to get to Churchill in time for the early freeze-up, hence why Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world. This large male was strolling along the recently formed ice, sniffing for seals.

Polar bear ice hudson bay WM

Only over a very short, 4 week period do we get such a great opportunity to see so many of these magnificent animals. This week, large sheets of ice have formed around Churchill and the bears are heading out to sea. Here’s hoping it’s another good year for them out on the ice.

Is seeing polar bears roaming the tundra on your bucket list? If so and you’re near Calgary, Edmonton or Saskatoon next October or November, check out the polar bear safaris offered through Classic Canadian Tours. Guests consistently rate these trips as excellent and it really is an experience of a lifetime. But don’t just take my word for it…click here to read their reviews.

With that, I’ll leave you with one last photo to cap off the season.

PB sitting BW WM


On Sunday I had the privileged of being a guest naturalist with Classic Canadian Tours on a one day Polar Bear Safari out of Edmonton. We had a wonderful day with over 20 bears spotted, including several mothers with cubs.

If you can only spare a day away from home over a weekend in October or November, I highly recommend these tours. The chartered flight from either Calgary, Edmonton or Saskatoon will take you directly to Churchill and have you out on the tundra viewing polar bears by mid-morning until dusk!  All meals are covered and there is even enough time to head into the town of Churchill to pick up a few souvenirs before heading home.

Below are just a few photos (click on each one for a larger view) from our trip on November 9th as well as more details about the bears and the trip itself. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments.

Polar bear play fighting B&W WMPolar bear sparring is a cold weather event. Only when temperatures get to around -10 degrees Celsius do the bears get frisky. Any warmer than that and they are too hot to play. Yes, you read that right! Polar bears are so well insulated against the cold that they only get active when the temperature dips to levels that would easily kill many other mammals. The above photo is of a mother (left) and her two year old cub that took a break from napping to spar during a winter snowstorm in Churchill, Manitoba.

Frozen bear hair WMWith blowing snow starting to cover this bear, it hunkered down for a snooze. Polar bears are so well insulated that any snow that falls on their coat doesn’t melt  and provides another layer of insulation against the cold. Having not eaten a meal since July, the bears spend most of their time conserving energy while they wait for the sea ice to form. The late afternoon light, the snow crusted fur and the blowing snow over the paws of this bear made for an interesting photo

Polar bear paw and stare WMUp close and personal, this bear came to investigate our tundra buggy and provides a great example of just how big their feet are! Polar bears are great swimmers with these big feet and can easily outswim Olympic athletes. The longest swim ever recorded for a polar bear was 687km over 9 days straight!  The female bear lost 22% over her body weight during that time.

Polar bear smile WMPolar bears have an amazing sense of smell which is needed to find seals under ice and scattered over large stretches of the arctic. This bear was catching our scent as it passed next to our buddy.

Polar bears and tundra landscape WMTo cap off our wonderful day, these two bears started heading out towards Hudson Bay as another storm on the horizon moved in on us. Hard to believe you can wake up and see polar bears all day long and be back home in the comfort of your own bed the same night!

If you would love to have an experience like this, check out Classic Canadian Tours website to get more details about this amazing safari and similar trips to see grizzly bears and beluga whales in other remote locations throughout Canada.

Wondering what the bears are up to right now?  Click on this link to watch live coverage from Churchill as the Tundra Buggy Cam gives you live streaming videos of the bears before they head out onto the ice to start hunting.


Ice, water tree reflextions WM

The last patches of ice and snow melt into pools of water on this Yukon lake, creating a unique reflection of the surrounding forest.

muskrat and ducks water 2 watermark

One afternoon I crouched by a small piece of shallow open water on an otherwise frozen lake trying to get some decent photos of green winged teal. Just as the ducks went bottoms up to forage for food a muskrat appeared from the bank. It immediately spotted the teals and to my surprise, swam directly towards them. The unsuspecting birds continued to dabble away at the bottom of the lake as the muskrat quickly closed the gap. Just as it was about to reach one of them, the ducks spotted him and in a burst of energy they frantically splashed and paddled away. Not to be discouraged, the muskrat picked up his pace and gained ground (or water) on them. Like a wolf separating off the weakest animal, the muskrat honed in on the slowest one. With less than a foot between them, the muskrat went into stealth mode. It dove under the water and in a burst of speed went for the underside of the duck. I’m not sure if it was successful at biting the duck or not, but the duck flew up into the air and the muskrat surfaced in its wake. Before the teal could land, the muskrat turned its attention to the others and another chase ensued.  After several close calls with the other teals the muskrat took a break. It dove down, grabbed a plant and headed back to its lodge.

Muskrat chasing ducks watermark

Seeing that the muskrat was gone the ducks resumed feeding. After no more than a few minutes the muskrat returned. This time the ducks were prepared. Seeking refuge from the marauding muskrat, some of the teals jumped out of the water and rested along the frozen shoreline.  As they preened themselves the muskrat chased after the remaining teals still in the water. They quickly decided to join the others along the shoreline, which seemed to placate the muskrat. It found some more food and returned to its lodge. Some of the teals sat down on the ice while the others kept a lookout. They were soon on high alert again as the muskrat made its way back to the feeding area. With its head above water the muskrat must have spotted the ducks. It swam back and forth directly in front of them but the ducks stood their ground.  That is until the muskrat launched itself out of the water and literally started running after the teals on the frozen lake! After a bit of frantic waddling the teals took flight and landed back in the open water. This only resulted in a brief reprieve. The muskrat dove back into the lake and resumed the cat and mouse chase. This cycle continued off and on for over an hour. By then the teals must have had enough and flew off, no doubt in search of a muskrat free patch of open water!  I made my way back to my car, chuckling to myself along the way. Just before I was out of sight, I turned for one last look and there was the muskrat eating a plant in the middle of the water with no teals to be seen!