CAPE CHURCHILL MANITOBA NOVEMBER 2013
Cape Churchill Manitoba November 2013
November 17 blog:
Awaiting the arrival of others on the tour. We will be getting together for a welcoming dinner tonight. Unfortunately the lead photographer - John Marriott - will not be coming. John's dad was admitted to hospital in Salmon Arm with a life threatening septic infection. I am sure there will be other experienced photographers to learn from, but I will miss meeting and working with John Marriott.
See John's web site:
We will forge ahead though, keeping John and his Dad in our thoughts.
We are going to photograph the Polar Bears!!! And the list decided at dinner tonight by Roberta ( and agreed to by all) also includes gyr falcon, arctic fox, ptarmigan and caribou! In the non wildlife area, we hope to shoot the northern lights. It will be an adventure what ever happens.
Over the next 11 days, we will work at getting some great shots during our time in the arctic. Tomorrow morning we fly to Churchill and have a town tour and experience life in the northern community. We will stay overnight in Churchill, then the next day, slowly make our way out to Cape Churchill. We apparently will be heading to where the lodge is now located, then it will be disassembled and moved to the Cape, where we will "park our parkas" for the week. Speaking of parkas, they have provided parkas for us. Lovely goose-down parkas! No doubt we will keep warm! 😁 Maybe not such a big problem for me.😄 and to-boot they are blue!( my favourite colour)
Got the Sorrell boots out ready for the morning and all the other arctic-wear required to prevent frostbite, or worse yet, losing all feeling and becoming "stiff and inflexible"! Not a good thing on an adventure expedition. We really must remain flexible! 😜
So will travel in a convoy out to the cape. I could take 6-8 hours. Hopefully lots of wildlife on the way. Mind you, tomorrow there are a few of us that are, weather permitting, and a guaranteed window seat, may also take a helicopter out for some aerial photography! This is a big thing for me. I Looooovvvvve helicopters! And it is one of those thing that I like to do when I can see something spectacular. While I have spent some time in the Arctic over the years, this will probably be a unique experience. We'll see how it all turns out.
Hopefully this new way of communicating to you about my adventures will work better than the emails. Once you have the link, you should be able to follow along (if I am doing it right? All new to me as well).
Please feel free to share the blog address if you like. I will try to add some photos when I can.
But of course there is the possibility that we won't always have access to the internet -if at all. If that is the case, I will send them out when I get home one day at a time.
Hello from Churchill Manitoba!
Wanted to let you know we made it to Churchill safe and sound. A couple photos from earlier...Pretty much all iPhone pics).
What do you think this is?
Hayley our guide has been awesome!! A transplanted Kiwi, who has done incredible outdoor adventures, and guided many places, and has even written a book! Great personality and very efficient!
And now for the rest of the story.....
While they were working on the plane, they brought in a bus and took us to the Winnipeg Zoo for lunch! Nothing fancy, but they had also arranged for tour guides and the took us on tour through some of the areas to visit the animals. And yes, we saw our first live polar bear - "Hudson"! You can read Hudson's story here...
As we wondered around - in our very warm, but very bulky parkas, we looked like a herd? Flock?....whatever.... of penguins shuffling along in the snow! And hey who ever thought we would see snow leopards on this trip? A adult pair with two young. What an incredibly beautiful animal!
And I think it was also the first time a "herd of parkas" wondered into the South American exhibit! It was a little warm for all. After a short while wandering with two great zoo guides, we boarded our bus again to return to the hanger. The plane mechanics had given it their best to make the necessary repairs, but the tour company ended up chartering another plane from "Calm Air" to take us to Churchill. We left Winnipeg about 4:30 and arrived here about 7:30 pm.
There are about thirty people in all. Our small group has 9 photographers. California, Florida, Kelowna, Vancouver, Lively Ontario, Canmore Alberta, Mosley Ont, one more I can't remember, and London Ont...Me! In the other groups, there is a gentleman from India, the UK and numerous US states.
They had dinner dinner options sent to us on the plane. We made our choices and relayed back to Churchill. (My dinner was Arctic char, with wild rice risotto, and it was delicious! )
The tour company team Frontier North, and Polar Bears International (PBI), did a fabulous job making the most of a day full of conundrums! Get this....because we were not able to pick up supplies in Churchill as a result of our late arrival, they even took a liquor store order! Where else but in the north would this happen!
Check out their links!
Now I'm ready to sleep. Our plans have changed again. We will have the morning in Churchill and leave on tundra buggies to the Tundra Buggy Lodge at ~1:00 pm. We are going to spend the night there and break camp the next morning. Don't know about the chopper ride yet.
On a last note. On our way from the airport, we saw 2 arctic foxes. Coming out from dinner and crossing the street back to our hotel,I said out loud, "ok how about another arctic fox before bed? Where are you Buddy?" Not 20 seconds later one crossed the road not more than 30 yards away! I just have a way with animals! Actually, we were told this is a huge year for the foxes. Regardless, they were beautiful pure white with lovely big bushy tails!
And as a last last note.... The northern light were faintly flickering in the sky as we headed to our home at the Tundra Inn.
This may be the last blog till I get home. Not even cell service in Churchill!
Good night all. I will write and send when/if I can.
Diane ( the fox whisperer)
Ok now...so where did I leave off?
Right now we are moving overland, camp in tow. Now this is no easy feat on a regular day! But today happens to be a hell of a day for this.
But I am getting ahead of myself and I should bring you up to date on what has happened since arriving in Churchill.
November 18 Update:
Unfortunately John's father passed away and he will not be joining us. We have all been thinking of him and missing him, and hope he and his family are doing OK.
there is a great group and we are already having fun! We boarded the plane to Churchill at 7:30 am and headed up to Churchill. After flying half an hour, the pilot tells us a gauge isn't working and we have to return to Winnipeg. About 10 minutes my seat mate and I noticed the prop on our side was just slowly blowing in the wind! But our pilot got us back on the other engine fine and landed like we were a feather. Awesome job. Then we notice that all the fire engines were waiting to meet us! Quite a reception! So now they are working on the engine, while we relax in the pilots lounge. We hope to still get there today. The skies are starting to show blue, so I think it will be a good day! The adventure has begun!
First thing this morning we headed over to the restaurant for breakfast.haley came to a few of us that had shown an interest in a helicopter tour. We all being photographers had not wanted to pay the price if we did not have a window seat so we could photograph. The answers were back and there were window seats for Five.! Alrighty then! Roberta and I from our group and three others, Joel ( Chief Counsel for India and south-east Asia) Gary a civil engineer from somewhere, and Dorthy from Pittsburg.
It was a beautiful clear sky morning, sunrise colours lighting the eastern skies as the skis lifted from the tarmack. Off we swerved towards Hudson Bay. The ice on the bay had formed two weeks early this year. The patterns of the windswept snow and in the ice were beautiful.The small trees growing on the land before we reached the taiga, had long shadows cast by low magic morning light. Awestruck we continued, looking,of course, for the elusive, white on white, Ursus maritimus, the sea bear, most commonly known as the Polar Bear!
And there she was! A mom with a young cub sauntering along. The shutters had certainly been clicking before, but now the rapid fire of multiple cameras and the oohs and ahhhs of the photographers, clearly indicated something special was in our sights! The pilot turns the chopper on its left side and then it's right to give all an opportunity to have a good view. And then off we went to continue looking for more...a large male curled up in a bed of kelp he had dug up for himself...another mom and cub curled up behind a hillock of dirt or snow with a large male approaching - this had potential to be an event as the mother started towards the male leaving the cub behind her. All ended peacefully.
A huge dark grey cloud bank was developing over the open waters of Hudson Bay. That beautiful deep blue grey hue contrasting with the clear deepening blue sky north of the 69th, still had a hint of soft sunrise pink.
And then we have to turn around. An hour sure goes by fast. But a wonderful start to the day.
Back in Churchill with a few hours to explore before we had to head to the launch point. I dropped off one of my cameras, dressed up warm and headed out on the town! I think I forgot to tell you how cold it was. It was that cold that as soon as you step outside, the moisture on the hairs inside your nose freeze and the freezing air sends a tingling current to your cheeks, numbing them almost immediately. There was hoar frost on every thing visible. Quite beautiful! Pressing the shutter as I went I captured a few images around the town. I stopped in at the museum, which was very interesting, unfortunately not enough time to really do it justice. Ther were also wonderful carvings and artwork from northern artists.
As I left the museum, there was this sweet pup waiting for its owner. Welcoming a puppy fix, I felt it necessary to warm the poor little fellow. So we had a little lovin' which he and I both enjoyed!
Next stop was the grocery store to stock up on chocolate, ( I do have my priorities) the a couple galleries and then back for lunch. I quickly gobbled my lunch realizing that I hadn't yet had my passport stamped at the Post Office (nice to know they still have some business eh!), and also another forgotten priority - the liquor store! While they had taken everyone's order yesterday, it was decided since we had the morning free after all, we could shop ourselves.
That done, I headed back, grabbed my camera gear and hopped on the bus to the Tundra buggy launch.
We are finally on the road to our camp!
The tundra buggies are assigned to their groups. John Marriott's crew is on Buggy 10. Until now we had all been milled together for the flights, tours and meals. Now we had time to get to know each other, but not before all the camera gear was readied for the journey ahead!
So we we off in a little "Buggy Convoy" to our home for the next night. As we got close to our destination we finally spotted a polar bear, sleeping in the willows on the side of the road. We crowded out to back deck - not before dawning a layer or two, to see and try to capture a shot in the low light. Very hard to spot cream on white in a distance, especially in fading light of dusk. And a moment later there's an arctic fox running along side our buggy - more white on white. Getting close to camp now, we put the cameras away. We have arrived! Home for only one night but home all the same. It was a fair trek today and we were ready to stop.
So this is a big day. The camp has to be packed up, broken down, and hooked up to the tundra buggies for the move from this site, to our final destination of Cape Churchill. So it is a pretty early start. We must Ensure all your gear is stowed safely. Nothing on the shelves or loose in the bunk house. There are two bunkhouse. The have up and down bunks on both sides of the aisle. The bunkhouses will be towed by tundra buggies today, as will the kitchen car,the lounge car and all the rest. It is a long process getting everything ready. It requires many workers on the ground, which in this location is pretty dangerous. So many workers are guards with rifles as lookouts for any bears approaching, and the guests are put on the tundra buggy, doing circle rounds around the camp base area to make the camp aware of any bears in the outer areas that might head their way. Once the camp was ready, the tundra buggys backed into their loads , hooked up, and at about 11:15 am, the convoy was on the road....well not a road exactly....over the tundra and the taiga on the routes that have been used before. These are not easy roads! Boulders everywhere, the odd place the ice is not real solid. But it is only 32 km, so it shouldn't be too bad right? 😱
I don't know what speed we drove at but it was not fast. Then along the way, our buggy caught a boulder and the drive shaft broke and then punctured the oil pan. Oh yeah baby, the adventure continues! Then we passed over a soft are. Our driver, Buggy Bob, felt it starting to sink and gunned it and made it out ok. Unfortunately the buggy behind us did not. And it took a couple or three hours to pull it out. The water here is not deep at all, but it was not an easy feat to get them out of it. I have to say also that the speed they managed to repair a broken driveshaft and punctured oil pan, gives Jiffy Lube a run for their money! These guys are amazing.
So stop and go, a slow slow go, and finally about 11 pm we arrived at Cape Churchill in Wapusk National Park. Yes 32 km , and 12 hours to cover the distance. But wait there' s'more. we are here yes, but now the camp has to be set up! We were fed lunch and soup and coffee and such on the way. Now to appease the restless natives, ( who had no idea what all this involved ) they brought out the wine and cheese for a happy hour! I don't think I mentioned, but, each buggy is like a school bus, but it has a bathroom in the back and a propane stove to curl up to when it gets cold...😳. That day we were in the centre of a blizzard. No visibility, snow horizon, and colllllldddddd!
So the crew had the worst conditions to do a tear down, but for us photographers, the day lost was a day we probably would not have had much to shoot, so not as big of a loss as it could have been. But the temperature with windchill was certainly at the very most -30, but I think it was colder. The wind that day would numb the fingers so fast that pushing the shutter next to impossible.
So it took from 11 till 2:30 am to set up camp. We were captured in our tundra buggies thill they were done, but the wine helpedLasagna was served at 3 am , and finally to bed. Up again in the morning at 7 am to head out again, and the day dawned cold and foggy, with very little visibility. But it did clear up and it ended up to be not a bad shooting day. But I must save that for another email, as it is now time for dinner.
Stay tuned for some more adventures and some magical moments! Hopefully I will have time to process some photographs to show you more than iPhone shots. Hope you are well.
Thinking about you John and hoping you are doing ok.
Lots of love for now,
Ps. Today -19- with the wind chill -27
Just got in (11pm) and am trying to thaw out! I think you are right Sue, it sure felt like it was colder than -19...however you look at it, it is dang cold!
The Northern lights appeared tonight and a few of us were out on the decks photographing them. The sky is clear but the wind wicked! Tomorrow is supposed to be -40 with the wind chill factor. Anyway, i cannot get ahead of myself here. Just wanted to send a few more photos I could get from my iPhone tonight. It is the first we have had internet since we arrived.
Stay tuned for ....."The Rest of the Story!"
Chatter chatter .... shiver shiver!
PS thanks for your emails! Nice to hear from you too!
Me on the Back Deck leaning into the Wind!
The wind was wicked! Shooting out on the back deck of the buggy. We are out in our buggy from before sunrise to after sunset. (8am to 3:30 pm)Sometimes shooting off the back deck, sometimes out the window with cameras set on beanbags on the window sill to steady. As I was shooting off the back deck Thursday, my bean bag fell off. We were shooting a mom and probably a two year old cub at the time. Fortunately they didn't notice and we were able to retrieve once the two left.
FYI we are not allowed to get off the buggy at any time nor set foot on the ground. Last night a huge male was ........oh heck you'll have to wait for that story! I need to get some sleep!
November 21, 22, 23, 24
I had a few more shots than the others, but then he was even too close for my lens, so I stopped shooting to just watch. He came towards me on the back deck, stood on hind legs, paws against the side of the buggy and with only two feet maybe between us, we had eye connection. It is impossible to explain the feeling. But it was like a gift to have this moment with this bear. A moment of buggy love, and it was all mine!
The photos are not good quality here, but it looks like there might be some great shots in there somewhere. And these are actually pretty sharp in the camera. I can only hope for the same on the big screen when I get home. Hopefully you will drop by my website once I get home and am able to process and upload a few of the good ones. It will take me a week or two to get some up probably!
We have had amazing photo opps. Two days in a row of sunshine ( which I am hearing is a very unusual occurrence here) and wonderful magic hour colours. And today, while it had snowed like crazy all night, and the day dawned dark and dreary, a little light poked through at opportune moments. We would have a period of fairly nice shooting conditions, and before you could say "Wapusk" we were in the midst of a whiteout. Then the sky would open up, a little light would shine through. Then there was horizontal snow that turned into another white out, and again a little light. But then it closed in and stayed that way from one pm on. But we did end up shooting some amazing things today. We watched and photographed some amazing animal behaviour with foxes. Some photos will probably not be for everyone, and some were incredibly adorable. And a couple of polar bears as well.
Followed two arctic foxes for awhile, watching they searched for food, then digging a small impression in the snow, curling up, and having a snooze. Always with one eye peeking out to check for danger. That was the fun and adorable part. The second part of the day we observed a red fox with a kill. Some witnessed the chase and the kill, while our buggy arrived just after. The prey was one of those adorable arctic foxes we had just been watching. But it was very interesting to watch him as he buried food for later and made the most of every bit of the food he had captured.
This is certainly the arctic. Unpredictable from one moment to the next. But there are other more serious issues that need to be shared too. Remember the mom and cub I mentioned, that was so thin? It is a long time from when the cubs are born and the mom and cub come out of the den. During that time, the mom does not eat. Sometimes it can be six months until she eats. The main diet of polar bears is ring seal. They must have access to the ice to enable them to hunt the seals. But that ice has been receding steadily (global warming). Take a look at the polar bears international site at the video that shows how the ice has decreased in size over the last number of years. And as a result of this and other factors, In 2008, in the US, polar bears have been identified as threatened under the endangered species list and In Canada as a species of special concern. Check out this video on the Polar Bears International (PBI) site, showing how the polar ice has declined. Pretty shocking!
Polar bears international has a great website with invaluable information about polar bears. I think you would find it interesting. Great info for kids too.
Well breakfast is being served! I must eat and then we are off for our last day of shooting. Tomorrow we head back to Churchill to get our flight to Winnipeg. Overnight there and home on Thursday. Will take some time to absorb all that I have seen and experienced here at Cape Churchill. Today snow again this morning but maybe clearing by noon. Fingers crossed for a good day of shooting.
May not be blogging again till I get to Winnipeg or even home. I think a bit of a party tonight! But I will be I touch again when I can. Til then take care, check out the PBI site. There were some web cams too!
Ciao for now from the arctic!
Well that's it folks. It was fun sharing my adventure with you! Hopefully before too long I will manage to get some photos up on my website ( www.dewphoto.zenfolio.com ), and I hope you enjoy seeing the awesome wildlife we saw as well!
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