Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Polar Bear Alley on the Hudson Bay

On our final day in Churchill, we enjoyed a tour of the town's history and natural areas with interpretive guide, Paul Retson.  
It was impossible to miss the rifle over the windshield.  Polar Bears present a variety of challenges for the locals, sometimes coming into town, breaking into homes, taking a resident's storage of winter meat or causing general destruction and havoc.  On the other hand, Polar Bears are one of the main attractions that bring tourist dollars to the Churchill economy.
The Polar Bear Holding Facility is more frequently called the "bear jail".  After many years of trying to manage bears for the safety of bears and people, the holding facility has become the solution to problem bears.  
Traps are baited and placed in the area where the problem bear frequents.  Once the bear is captured, it is temporarily sedated and placed in the holding facility. Manitoba's Polar Bear Protection Act regulates conditions under which a live polar bear may be considered for placement in a captive situation.
Bears are not fed while in the facility.  Polar Bears are mostly fasting this time of year.  The females fast while nursing their cubs except for chewing a bit of vegetation. The males are partially fasting and will feed on whatever food source they find.  Officials learned many years ago, that if they feed the bears while they are in the facility, the bears remember the food and return, creating a worse problem.
While we were visiting, there were eleven bears being held in the facility.  The bears are held for a pre-set number of days and then lifted out by helicopter and taken to a wilderness area and released. 
The Hudson Bay shore area along Polar Bear Alley on the outskirts of Churchill.

Churchill, Kaskatamagan and Kaskatamagan Sipi are three Wildlife Management Areas dedicated to protecting land habitat for polar bears in Manitoba.  Together they encompass 14,000 sq km or 5405 square miles.  Wapusk National Park, located 28 miles south of Churchill, protects 11,470 square km of land (4430 sq miles) and is one of the world's largest Polar Bear maternity denning areas in the world.
Our guide, Paul Retson, discusses the natural history of the area and bear trapping.

Wapusk is the native Cree word for polar bear. In order to protect the habitat and wildlife, the Park is accessible only by special permit and by helicopter or tundra buggy.  Wapusk is the area where scientists first documented Grizzly Bears crossing over into Polar Bear habitat.  Seven Grizzly Bears were documented in the Wapusk park between 2003 to 2008.
Above, Billie Cantwell pauses with her camera.  Misty rain/snow and wind were common conditions, requiring protective covers for camera gear.
The dirt road that skirts the edge of town is frequented by Polar Bears and has become known as Polar Bear Alley.  Fresh Polar Bear tracks were spotted on the road as we arrived.
Located a good distance away from the road, a female Polar Bear and her cub were making their way along the Hudson Bay shore.  Though difficult to see in the gray light in the image below, the Hudson Bay is just beyond the dark rocky area.




In the wee hours of the morning, we said 'Goodbye' to Churchill and boarded our train for the return trip to Winnepeg.  One of our stops the next day was the town of The Pas.
On the roof of the depot, I found a cooperative Black-billed Magpie.  These members of the jay family were seen in many areas, but seldom stayed still long enough for me to capture a good image!

Located near the depot, a mural created by Mike O'Toole depicts Manitoba's changing habitat and wildlife heritage.



Billie Cantwell and Colin Leonard board the train as we head for our final destination, Winnepeg.
Sunset viewed from the window as we near the end of our travels with Via Rail.
This is the fourteenth and final post in the series on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  Click the journey to Churchill link to see all the posts.  The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older post" to continue with the series.

Click here for Part 1--Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay and Part 2
Visit my sketchbook page on Polar Bears
Blue Sky Expeditions in Churchill
Blue Sky Expeditions on Facebook
Link to my Polar Bear video
Hudson Bay Buggies and Bears with Rail Travel Tours
Learn about Polar Bears
Hudson Bay
Eskimo Museum
History of Churchill from Churchill Science
Churchill History
the impact of sea ice decline

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Dog Sled Experience in Churchill with BlueSky Expeditions

On my second day in Churchill, Oct 11th, we had beautiful, quiet piles of snow, the kind that make you feel kid-like excitement.  I finished my coffee and was out the door by 7:30 to go for a quiet walk in the magic before daylight.  
The polar bear statue and distant grain storage facility across the inlet viewed from the end of the main street of Churchill.
The inukshuk located in the same area.

Perfect weather for my morning destination--Bluesky Expeditions, for a dog-sled experience.  On the way to the facility I was lucky to ride in the front passenger seat of a truck with a beautiful, retired female sled dog as my companion.  She was polite, focused and excited about where we were headed.
I don't know how she knew, but she clearly knew we were going to Bluesky.  Above, one of Bluesky's active sled dogs.
Gerald Azure, owner and operator of Bluesky Expeditions, was born and raised in the northern Metis community of Commorant, Manitoba. His parents made their living with commercial trapping and fishing and dog sleds were their chief transportation until the 1970's.  Dog sledding and the aboriginal culture remain a strong tradition in the Azure family with Bluesky's 75 dogs trained primarily for the tourist industry.
Along with offering dog sled experiences, Bluesky operates the Bluesky Bed and Sled, a bed and breakfast for visitors to Churchill.
I am wearing multiple layers under my coat, plus a Bluesky coat on top of mine and a water resistant blanket over my legs.  It worked.  I was comfortable and dry in the wind and blowing snow!

The dogs love to run and were full of energy and eagerness.  The history of the use of dog-pulled sleds goes back 4000 years and pre-dates the use of horses for transportation.  The first documented dog sled race began in 1850 and ran from Winnepeg, Canada, to St Paul, Minnesota, US.
Ernest Azure, Gerald's eldest brother, provided the dog team for my sled experience. Ernest competed in the Hudson Bay Quest in 2014, a 220-mile wilderness course that goes from Gilliam, MB, to Churchill, MB.
In this great image taken by Jenafor Azure, Ernest begins the race with Gerald cheering him on (behind, second from his right). Gerald assisted with the care of his dog team during the race.  Ernest was the oldest musher to compete in the race, first to cross the half-way check-in, the first Churchill musher to cross the finish line, and finished 7th in a field of thirteen with a time of 38: 30: 23.
An amazing wilderness endurance feat with competitors facing harsh conditions even though health checks for the dogs and rest are built into the course.  Mushers and their teams must travel 50-70 miles a day to complete the race.  Above, Ernest and his dog team as they cross the Churchill River.
Husband and wife team, Gerald and Jenafor Azure, operators of Bluesky Expeditions and the Bluesky Bed and Sled.

Bluesky's hospitality includes Jenafor's Wild Berry Bannock bread and cookies with hot tea. Yummm!
When I wasn't busy with the dog sled or tea, Gray Jays provided delightful entertainment out on the porch.
A special thank you to Jenafor Azure of Bluesky Expeditions for providing the images found in this blog post (excepting images 2, 3, 4, and 14, taken by the author).

This is the thirteenth post in a series on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  Click the journey to Churchill link to see all the posts.  The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older post" to continue with the series.

Next:  Polar Bear Ally

Blue Sky Expeditions
Blue Sky Expeditions on Facebook
Click here for Part 1--Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay and Part 2
Visit my sketchbook page on Polar Bears
Link to my Polar Bear video
Hudson Bay Buggies and Bears with Rail Travel Tours
Learn about Polar Bears
Hudson Bay
Eskimo Museum
History of Churchill from Churchill Science
Churchill History
the impact of sea ice decline

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay--Part 2

After a rest and a great big stretch, the mother bear decided it was time to move around a bit.  (Part 1 can be found here.)

She strolled along the shore of the wetland, investigating and foraging, activity that helps to pass the time and relieve boredom.  
Polar Bears will eat vegetation and kelp when they find it, but scientists believe that these foods hold no nutritional value and that the activity functions to relieve boredom more than anything else.

The cubs were checking things out on the ground around them, as well, and took their time about following the female. She pauses, above, while they catch up.
It is well publicized that the sea ice in the artic region is declining and that this is having an impact on the ecosystem in the circumpolar artic. Polar Bears rely heavily on the sea ice for hunting, living, resting and breeding.
A November 2014 report published in by Ecological Applications/Ecological Society of America, revealed that the Polar Bear population in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territories has declined by 40%, a reduction from 1500 to 900 bears between 2001-2010.
In this amazingly harsh environment, the sea ice provides an entire ecosystem inhabited by plankton and micro-organisms that nourish seals and other marine wildlife, that in turn, furnish the food needed by Polar Bears.  Polar Bears rely heavily on the blubber found in seals to store their own body's blubber, fat deposits under the skin that nourish them in lean times and insulate them from the cold.  


Next to the images of the mother bear with her cubs, I enjoyed seeing this adult bear's behavior as she casually foraged and chewed the grasses she pulled up.  As I considered the harsh environment she thrives in, a summer and fall of fasting, her lone responsibility for the safety and feeding of her cubs, and her eventual return to the sea ice to hunt, she seemed serene here, as if content to rest, chew and investigate.
Polar Bears have the ability to slow down their metabolism to accommodate this seasonal fasting period while access to their primary food source is unavailable.


Her two cubs were busy investigating, too.
One of them found what appeared to be the wing of a bird, possibly left over from a fox kill. The cub picked it up and carried it as he moved forward to rejoin his mother.
This is the twelfth post in a series on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  Click the journey to Churchill link to see all the posts.  The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older post" to continue with the series.

Next:  A Dog Sled Experience

Visit my sketchbook page on Polar Bears
Click here for Part 1--Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay
Link to my Polar Bear video
Ecological Society of America
Ecological Applications report of decline of Polar Bears
Hudson Bay Buggies and Bears with Rail Travel Tours
Learn about Polar Bears
Hudson Bay
Eskimo Museum
History of Churchill from Churchill Science
Churchill History
the impact of sea ice decline
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham