Tag Archive: Snow


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

 

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Rocky Mountain Moose

It’s relatively rare to see moose in the Rockies. I see more wolves and bears than I see moose, but late fall and early winter always seem to be good times to run into them. You would think it wouldn’t be hard to  find them when they weigh around 500kg and stand about 2.5 meters tall at the shoulder, but this bull was only given away by his prominent set of antlers while he bedded down during a snow storm.

Moose antlers snow fall WM

Two other similarly camouflaged bulls were resting nearby, but when they got up and started moving towards the larger bull it didn’t take him long to get their attention. He stood up, flattened his ears and strutted over to them.

3 male moose standing WM

Bull moose will posture before ever sparring and the smaller bulls quickly realized they had no chance, put their heads down and got out of his way.

Moose retreat WM

Satisfied with his work, the big bull turned and had a look at me. I had placed myself next to a large tree just in case I needed to make a quick escape, but I guess he didn’t feel I was even worth trying to scare off since he just turned around and went back to feeding on willows. I was just fine with that!

Bull Moose Antlers 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.

 

Wolf black, snow muzzle wm Powerful, intense, resilient and beautiful. To me the wolf symbolizes nature and wilderness as it’s meant to be.

I took this photo on one of my recent trips into the Canadian Rockies!

Feel free to share and/or comment  and as always, please click on the image for the full size!

Cheers,

Owen

Pine marten hunting grass WMI knew after I took this photo that it was going to be my favourite of him, but initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. The marten was moving behind a small hill out of site and I thought he might just disappear into the bushes. But I got lucky and he came up from behind a snow bank, cocked his head back and forth and intently listened for rodents scurrying under the snow.  I quickly fired off a few frames and smiled to myself knowing that I had the photo I wanted.

Which of the two marten photos do you like best?

(Please click on the image for the full size)

Pine marten looking back WMWhile pine martens are relatively common in coniferous forests in western Canada, they aren’t often seen since they’re primarily arboreal and when they do come down to the ground, they rarely stay in one spot for long.  These weasels are out all year-long, but are generally not as active in winter. They hunt pretty much anything they can sink their teeth into including ground squirrels, snowshoe hare, fish and birds.

This little guy was out bounding through the deep snow looking for breakfast. He stopped a few times to watch and listen for any prey, which gave me just enough time to get a few photographs of him before he disappeared back into the forest.

Grizzly snow WMAn adult male grizzly bear plows through 10 centimeters of snow in minus 10-15 degree Celsius temperatures. While the females and young cubs are already tucked away in their dens, these big males are still out looking for food to pack on the pounds so they can compete against the biggest males for breeding opportunities in the spring.

For the past several years I have tried in vain to get a good photo of a grizzly bear in snow. I have run into them as late as December, always either really early in the morning or late at night. All of that changed when this bear lumbered out of the forest in the middle of the day. He wander back and forth following the tracks of a pack of wolves that had been in the area earlier in the morning. Most likely he was trying to determine if the wolves had made a kill. Being the biggest predators in the Rockies, they will follow wolves and steal away their kills through brute force but on this day the bear came up empty handed. With his nose covered in snow, he plodded along weaving a route back and forth through the forest before giving up and moving on.

Aspen tree yellow leaves snow WM

An aspen tree appears to take a stand against winter in Sheep River Provincial Park.

 

Serpentine red mountains, snow watermark

One of my favourite winter mountain shots. I love the light, the shape of the mountains and the iron rock jutting out from under the snow. This would be an extreme skiers paradise, but I’m fine with enjoying the view from a distance.

Bull elk snow fall meadow watermark

A group of  bull elk, having just gone through the rut, gather together in a meadow during a snow storm in Banff National Park. With the long, harsh winter just starting these bulls will have to use their hooves to dig down through the deep snow to find what little food remains for them. Any that become weakened will be tested by wolves and undoubtedly a few won’t make it to spring. Natural selection will favour the strong and the adaptable.

Aspen snow sun

On one of the recent cold snaps in Calgary, a light dusting of snow covered the branches of the aspen trees in my backyard, creating a beautiful winter wonderland. I’m sure in a few months I will be longing for a tropical retreat, but for now I’m enjoying winter!

Red Poll

Male red poll watermark

A male red poll (males have crimson breast feathers in addition to the red cap) sits on snow covered fir tree in Banff National Park