Churchill, Manitoba, is a remote town located on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, the southern most limit of where Polar Bears can survive year-around.
Polar Bears are marine mammals that spend most of their time on artic sea ice feeding on their main prey, seals. The prospect of seeing Polar Bears was my primary reason for traveling to Churchill, but the experience of getting there and the other wildlife we saw held magic, as well.
Christian Artuso and Billie Cantwell, on a very cold and windy day in Riding Mountain National Park, MB. Winds were blowing at 40 mph and the wind chill was 21 degrees F! Can you tell who lives in Manitoba?
Our first destination was Winnipeg, MB, where we met our naturalist guide, Christian Artuso, for a side trip to Riding Mountain National Park. Christian is not only an expert ornithologist, he is a wildlife photographer and the coordinator of Manitoba's Breeding Bird Atlas. He can hear and identify birds from incredible distances, even while driving a vehicle, and makes a "head turning" imitation female moose call! More about that in a later post.
A glimpse of what parts of the North American prairie looked like at one time, preserved at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP). The view directly above and below is within the bison enclosure. We also saw elk running in the distance--a too brief encounter. They were certainly more skittish than the buffalo.
Fall is rutting season for the hooved mammals and in the bison herd, females (left) and male bison were paired and associating while grazing.
A female bison and her calf.
Quaking Aspen framing the sides of the park road.
As we were driving to Wasagaming, the location of our lodging, we spotted a juvenile bald eagle as it was flying in to land in a group of aspen. Stopping for a better look, we also discovered a golden eagle perched below the juvenile. This was a spectacular sighting for us all--my first golden eagle sighting in a number of years, and Christian confirmed, a rare sighting for this area. Of course, seeing two species of eagles in one sighting is a spectacular occurrence anyway!
The habitat surrounding the clump of trees included cultivated fields with harvested crops and clumps of over-grown areas desireable to rodents and rabbits. Prime hunting for golden eagles.
The golden eagle took flight first, in a grand sweep across the fields, circling over our heads in such a way that we had great views of its plumage and field marks. In the image below you can see the golden hackles on the head and neck reflecting in the sunlight.
The characteristic white band in the tail feathers is apparent from this underneath view as the eagle turns.
The young bald eagle, above and below, perched for a longer period and we finally had to say, goodbye. To have such a lingering look at these two magnificent birds on our first visit to the park filled us with excitement.
We were the last guests for the season at Mooswa Lodge in Wasagaming and were afforded very spacious and comfortable accomodations for two nights while visiting the park. My lodging had two bedrooms with additonal loft sleeping, kitchen and living area with two sofas--plenty of room for six!
This is my first in a series of posts on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba to see Polar Bears.
Also visit my post on the Gray Jays we encountered in RMNP: Gray Jays--Smart, Bold, Resourceful!
Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
Learn about Polar Bears