I just returned from an almost 3 week trip to Manitoba. And it was an adventure! Northern Manitoba on Hudson Bay is renowed for the congregation of polar bears in late fall. Tourists climb into tundra buggies and ride out to see these magnificent creatures as the ice forms on the Bay.
With Doug and Helen Webber, Webber's Lodges,
I was able to do one better, be on the ground with these the largest of the ursines.
The photo above is near Seal River Lodge and thanks to Mike Reimer, http://www.churchillwild.com/
my husband and I were able to spend 6 hours alone with biologist Ian Thorleifson in the company of two polar bears.
These two bears were fat! Contrary to the dire warnings printed about the demise of the polar bear, this species is quite adaptable. During the summer, bears live off the fat they have accumulated during a winter of seal feasting. They would usually be thin by September. But, Hudson Bay bears have learned to hunt beluga whales. And, they are very good at it. With 35,000 beluga whales in Hudson Bay during the summer months, bears have found a way to catch the whales which enjoy coming into as low as four feet of water.
Back to these two females. A whale had either washed up to shore or they had killed it and they were taking advantage of every morsel of whale. You know how you feel when you have eaten a second piece of cheesecake? Think how you would feel if you ate an extra 10 or 20 pounds of whale blubber. ("I knew I should have stopped at 45 pounds!")
The good news is that for these bears, the more weight they put on before they hit the ice, the healthier they are.
Like usual, Ian was a wealth of information since he has worked safely with polar bears for well over 20 years. You don't want to surprise them. You stay upwind of them. (not because they smell bad, but so they can smell you.) And as I practice, with all wild creatures you never invade their personal space or make them move or take any action because of your presence. We were fortunate to witness something Ian has never seen before. One of the bears got up to take a drink from a fresh water stream. Ian surmissed that the metabolizing of the huge amount of whale blubber was making the large female thirsty.
If this wasn't exciting enough, the next morning back at Dymond Lake lodge, my husband and I had an encounter with a large male polar bear. We had polar bear prints covering our tracks for several days with only fleeting glimpses of the bears. This guy was big, healthy, and beautiful. But that is another story.
Note: Polar bears are dangerous large animals. People are mauled or killed every year. Do not try this at home.
Some of the species we saw in Manitoba and on the drive up and back were: bobcat, black bear and cub, sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross' geese, arctic fox, Canada geese, green-winged teal, cougar, beaver, polar bears, black ducks, eiders, scoters, widgeon, a variety of shore and song birds, tundra swans, and a weasel. With over 2600 reference photos, and lots of stories, you can expect to see from paintings from this trip.... soon.
In case you think I may have made the above bear nervous, here she is a few minutes later.