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Walking to Polar Bears - Nanuk Lodge, Northern Manitoba


pomkiwi

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michael-ibk

Really stunning Polar Bear pictures!

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We were 300m out on the ice freezing on the edge of Hudson Bay when the male bear turned and walked towards us. At that point it is hard not to be aware that we can hardly move on the ice without

Background - and why Nanuk?   In July 2018 I went to Lake Clark in Alaska photographing Brown Bears.  On the way home I flew over the Canadian tundra and started wondering about the po

Our First Full Day - and Our First Bear   The weather forecast for Sunday was very poor (and at this point for the next couple of days as well) with very strong winds (50km/h gusting to 80km

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wilddog

I have to say that you are good at building the tension @pomkiwi...

 

May be Captain Cantankerous overstepped the mark.................. time will tell.

 

All very exciting and so different from the Tundra Buggy experience I have read about.

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pomkiwi

A Relaxed Evening Encounter

 

After lunch we went out on a short drive but with no luck. The guides got a call that there was a bear quite close to the lodge (but did not look like our old friend). We drove back to the lodge and walked out through the willows towards the ice.

A head popped up from the undergrowth:

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We worked our way over the smaller streams and alongside the bigger ones:

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A gyrfalcon flew past in the distance:

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We worked our way along one bank of a frozen stream until we were opposite a young bear (I was at the back of a long line of people and not as opposite as some intially - it all came right later though :))

 

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This bear was female and just under 3 years of age having been pushed away from her mother a few months earlier. She was clearly doing well on her own:

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She obviously knew we were there but really did not seem bothered, paying us no attention in contrast to our more frequently encountered bear. She settled to a good back rub and roll around:

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She then sat up and walked down the stream right along the line of observers coming past me at the end:

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She walked into the sunset and away down the coast:

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We headed back to the lodge as more snow came in with big smiles on our faces after a great day.

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Edited by pomkiwi
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wilddog

what a beautiful young lady....................and superb shots of her.... and that sky.

 

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pomkiwi

@wilddog Thank-you. We had two more meetings with Captain Canankerous. The first was that evening when he came back to the lodge for a few minutes.The light was poor with falling snow and hence no photos. We learnt after we had departed that the guides had found evidence of him trying to dig under the fence in four separate places. This would not be easy for the first meter or snow because of the permafrost. Undeneath however is unfrozen peat and he would have had no trouble. This added to the concern of the guides but I'm pleased they didn't share this with us at the time.....

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wilddog

well he did look peckish...................... I hope he managed to find some food elsewhere in time. Tough Life.

 

The young female... how far away from her where you in 'real life'?

 

Lovely shots but presumably with a decent lens!

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pomkiwi

@wilddog At the closest she was probably around 30m away. Most encounters outside of the lodge were significantly further.

Most photos were with a 200-500mm lens at its longest on a full frame body.

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wilddog

30 meters is quite close.... 

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Superb photos of the bears and the landscapes 

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pomkiwi

@TonyQ Thank-you. The photography opportunities for the bears were much as I had hoped (I might have dreamt of some closer shots) but the landscape opportunities exceeded my expectations.

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pomkiwi

Farewell to Nanuk (and Captain Cantankerous)

 

It was another very cold and clear morning (no hope of being snowed in for an extra day or two more was the pity).

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After breakfast a small group (those of us on the later flight back to Churchill) went for a short walk down to the river. 

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We had hoped to see moose but instead had to be content with some more ptarmigan.

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We saw some fresh bear tracks which looked to be female

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The guides heard on the radio that the bear we knew well was close by so we crept down for a look:

 

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As this photo shows the bears often move with eyes closed - they rely so much on their sense of smell that they don't really need to see much and I wonder if closing their eyes allows them to concentrate on mapping the environment by smell without distraction. For much of their time on the ice in the winter of course it is permanently dark.

 

Today he didn't hang around and headed off with a single backward glance:

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We had time for a quick coffee back at the lodge and then flew to Churchill where we had the afternoon free to wander around the town. Fortunately it was sunny as there isn't a lot to do their really although the view over the bay was scenic:

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In the evening we flew back down to Winnipeg for the night.

 

Edited by pomkiwi
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pomkiwi

Final Thoughts

 

A memorable trip and certainly an opportunity to do something that few others do in walking out on the ice to meet polar bears.  It was well organised and the standard of guiding was exceptional. It was probably the first experience I have had of being close to animals who are not habituated to human presence as on safari in Africa vehicles are largely ignored and most of  my contact with brown bears has been with populations who are used to being observed.  As such we did not see the bears quite as close as I would have hoped and I was pleased I took a long lens - this is completely up to the animals though.

 

The weather was obviously not in our gift to manage but I felt lucky that we saw it change so swiftly from very wet and unpleasant to providing us with real cold accompanied by ice and snow.

 

Perhaps my only gripe might be that the group was large for a photographic trip (as we often approached bears in single file if were at the back you were and extra 20-30m from the animal) but I understand the economics of this.

 

Would I go back? Possibly, although I have my eyes set on their den emergence trip in February/March 2021which has only 8 guests although it is a step up in terms of coping with extreme conditions and it is quite possible that bears will not be seen as the sole objective is to find mothers and new cubs emerging.

 

Until then I have some special memories (and may never forget one particular bear)......

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Edited by pomkiwi
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Thanks for the report. I have looked into this trip for awhile now. Would love to see polar bears on foot but the cost is high.

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Excellent, thank you

Interesting to see the bear walking with eyes closed. I am sure you are right about the sense of smell. I wonder if closing the eyes also saves a bit of heat loss, being the few bits of bear not covered in blubber and fur?

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pomkiwi

@TonyQ Thanks. You might be correct about heat loss in the winter. Even when we were there the bears seemed to be more concerned with avoiding overheating.

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pomkiwi

@Wildship It is certainly not a cheap trip (nothing in Churchill is) and i guess that the logistics of any trip to see polar bears is challenging and expensive. That being said I thought that the trip was fairly priced when one factored in the amount of travel and the very high staff to client ratio. They also have a pretty short season to generate income for the year.

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Awesome report with great pictures.  I still have this on my list but was thinking about going in the summer time when it isn't as cold and there are wildflowers around.  I am on their email list and some of the "polar bear in wildflowers" photos are amazing.  But, I bet there are less bears at that time too.  

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Alexander33

Thanks for a great report, @pomkiwi. The spring excursion to see the sows and cubs emerge from their dens has caught my attention as well, given its relative uniqueness. However, this trip certainly stands on its own as a productive and insightful experience. Thanks again for sharing it with us. 

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Zubbie15

Great report @pomkiwi, it has me looking forward to my trip to Svalbard next year. You got some really special pictures too. This definitely seems like an interesting alternative to consider sometime, as well. 

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SafariChick

Really enjoyed this - on my bucket list to see polar bears one day and this seems like it would be a fantastic trip!

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Atravelynn

"I have my eyes set on their den emergence trip in February/March 2021which has only 8 guests although it is a step up in terms of coping with extreme conditions and it is quite possible that bears will not be seen as the sole objective is to find mothers and new cubs emerging. "

 

Our eyes are peering in the same direction.  Care to share more on the specifics of what you  are looking into?

 

You saw the bears in a very intrepid manner with tremendous success!

 

  I recall being told that the bears views the tundra buggies as "canned humans" and they are always trying to figure out a way to open the can.  You are right that the behavior of most African wildlife in safari areas and the Alaskan brown bears is very different from this.

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pomkiwi

@Atravelynn At the moment I’m waiting for dates from Churchill Wild. A Google search throws up very few alternatives and it would be good to go with a company I know and hopefully meet a few of the same people again.

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Atravelynn
On 12/4/2019 at 4:04 PM, pomkiwi said:

@Atravelynn At the moment I’m waiting for dates from Churchill Wild. A Google search throws up very few alternatives and it would be good to go with a company I know and hopefully meet a few of the same people again.

Bear people tend to travel in small circles, whether polar bears, black bears, or Alaskan Brown Bears.  I have met the same people, sometimes more than once at a bear location.  So it would not surprise me if you bumped into the same people.

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Sangeeta

What a wonderful report @pomkiwi and you can count me in as another fan of Capt C :D 

I am looking at Canadian Arctic trips too, and who knows, you may be surrounded by STers on that cub trip in 2022!

Beautiful photos and lovely stories too. 

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