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thit_cho Nov 2nd, 2005 10:13 AM

Polar Bears -- Trip Report and Photos

On Friday, October 21, I flew from JFK to Winnipeg (via Minneapolis) and caught the 2:00 Calm Air flight from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the Canadian port on Hudson Bay. As the Bay melts in the Spring, the polar bears come ashore and hibernate, mate, etc. until the Bay re-freezes, usually in November. Many bears congregate at Cape Churchill, which juts into the Bay, to await the freeze, and its the area around Cape Churchill that is visited in October and November.

I arrived in Churchill on Friday night, the day before my group arrived, mostly because I wanted to spend the night in Churchill instead of Winnipeg. On Saturday morning, I met my group at the airport, and we departed by bus to the Tundra Buggy launch site, about 10 miles or so from the airport. We spend the day driving around the area and encountered many polar bears, a few arctic hare, ptarmigan (beautiful white bird) and a couple of caribou. We arrived at the launch site around 10:30 on Saturday morning and spent around six hours watching the bears. We returned to Churchill for dinner (I had musk ox).

Sunday, we departed early and left the launch site around 8:30, spent around eight hours watching the bears, and returned to a gift shop in town for a brief visit before catching our 7:00 charter flight from Churchill to Winnipeg.

The bears are easy to find -- in fact, my guide told me they have a 100% success rate during the October/November season.

My only disappointment with the visit was the weather, which was too warm for there to be much snow and ice and the bears looked a bit out of place wandering naked tundra.


cmcfong Nov 2nd, 2005 11:14 AM

Fantastic photos, Thit. Thanks for taking the time to post.

Borealis Nov 2nd, 2005 11:52 AM

Nice job with the photos!!! I especially liked the one of the "resting bear".

Interesting comment about the "naked tundra". Was wondering - did you expect that it would be snowy and white for the time that you planned your trip?

thit_cho Nov 2nd, 2005 12:25 PM

Yes, I had expected it to be more wintery (snowy, icy and white) because that's the background I have seen in most other photos of Churchill. This October, and last October, have been atypically warm, so the freeze has come much later. I just checked and the area seems to be getting more snow and ice.


klam_chowder Nov 2nd, 2005 02:55 PM

thit_cho, thx for the report.

Churchill and the polar bears is one trip I always dream of taking. How did you choose your outfitter, and do you mind saying who you chose and why?

Was two days enough for bear watching? Was there enough other activities at the time you went to warrant a couple of extra days?

Thx for any extra insight you can provide.


Judy_in_Calgary Nov 2nd, 2005 03:57 PM

Thanks for the pics, Michael. They are delightful. I especially like the one of the bear that is sprawled out. The ones of the bears socializing with each other are cute too. In the close up shot of a bear's face, he/she looks so sweet, like a pet dog or something. Of course I know he/she is an extraordinarily powerful, wild hunter, and the resemblance to a domesticated animal is deceptive.

When our kids were little we used to take them to the Calgary Zoo quite regularly. Time after time we saw the polar bears lumbering around on land, where their movements appeared quite clumsy. Then, on one visit, we saw a polar bear swimming. (Their enclosure was designed in such a way that you had a good view of them whether they were on land or in the water.) The bear was so fast and graceful in the water. He/she moved through the water like a seal. When he/she was in the water, we could see how aerodynamic the shape of his/her body was. It was one of the most beautiful and yet sobering sights I've ever seen -- sobering because I knew that if I was on the other side of the glass that separated us it would be all over for me in two seconds.

It must have been a great thrill to see them in the wild.

thit_cho Nov 2nd, 2005 07:15 PM

Outfitter -- there are only two companies that operate buggies, Tundra Buggies (which is operated by Frontiers North) and Great White North (or something like that). I booked with Frontiers North since they were the only company I was able to find on the internet at the time of my research, and I liked their site and found their representatives very informative.

Two days was enough for me. I have been on many African safaris, sometimes for two weeks and I never get tired of safari, but to me, two days was appropriate for the polar bears, but I did meet some who were there for longer periods of time.

There are other activities, including dog-sledding, and I'm sure you could keep busy for a few more days. I found out there are night tours on the buggies to see the bears and the northern lights, but I hadn't booked that.

Its an amazing trip. And they do seem very placid, but they sell a video in Churchill about deaths caused by bears, and there are many. The buggies, though, are perfectly safe.


klam_chowder Nov 3rd, 2005 01:55 PM

Thx for the post-back thit_cho. I've saved this for future reference!


Sherry Nov 3rd, 2005 02:40 PM

Great photos! What an exhilirating experience this must be. Polar bears have always fascintated see them close up would be amazing.

kodi Nov 6th, 2005 01:59 PM

Thit, thank you so much for posting the report. Great pictures. HOw thrilling it must have been! It's one of my dreams to go to Churchill to see the polar bears, so I really enjoyed seeing your photos.

Also, I now know about Kodak gallery. SO thanks for that too!

atravelynn Nov 16th, 2005 04:35 PM


I thought I'd search for polar bears over here on Canada to see if you had posted a report.

Glad you enjoyed your stay and had success with photos. I was hoping you'd say you were freezing cold. Not for your discomfort but for the bears' well being. I'm worried about their habitat.

With the ptarmigan, arctic hares, and caribou, you had a well rounded trip.

Great photos. The flag was my first photo too, in a regular album. The similarities continue with the first bear shot at a distance, followed by bears near the water. Just like your album! I went in 2002 just a few days later in the month than you and it was very cold. I stayed a week but two days were at White Whale Lodge.

Thanks for posting.

Quite a contrast to Africa!

schlegal1 Nov 18th, 2005 11:23 AM

I know you have posted in the Africa boards and wanted to ask a few compare/contrast questions (we just did a Tanzanaia safari in August and are planning to go to Canada next year over the fall)

Was there the type of abundant wildlife you see in Africa or was there a lot of dead time looking for the bears?

How easy is it to take the photos?

Is the general rule a driver and guide or is it just one person who is both?


thit_cho Nov 19th, 2005 06:44 AM

A few answers to some of the comments:

Weather -- it was unseasonably warm, which made it more comfortable for us but not for the bears. I had packed for much colder weather, but we didn't even need to zip up our jackets. The naked ground, with very little snow, was also unexpected, and takes away from the photos. I do now check, and it does seem to be getting colder. I do intend to return, but maybe closer to November than mid-October.

Abundance of Wildlife -- once you get out near the water where the bears spend their days, they are very easy to find, but we only saw 6 or so different bears. Obviously, there are hundreds or thousands (and during the migration, millions) of animals to be seen in Africa. But we spent much more time (maybe an hour or so) with each bear, since they can be very entertaining and active.

Ease of Photography -- Couldn't be easier. The bears come quite close to the buggies, and we had a bear climb the side of our buggy and I would bet his head was within 5 or so feet of us (we were perfectly safe and too high for him to reach)

Driver/Guide -- one person, but remember, there can be 20 or 30 guests in the buggy, so there are many more spotters. On our second day, a guide joined us for an hour or so to give a presentation on the bears, and she sort of passes from buggy to buggy. There really is no need for an additional guide. On some of the more expert, longer trips, there may be an additional guide, but a weekend (two days of viewing) was ample for me.

Atravelynn -- My photos are also in a regular album. I still use a print film camera, but when I had them developed, I had them put on a CD so I could share. I still prefer film.

thit_cho Dec 20th, 2005 11:13 AM


SusanEva Dec 29th, 2005 10:31 AM


Thanks for sharing the photo site. Great shots!

tripaholic Dec 30th, 2005 07:17 PM

Great photos, thit_cho and thanks for the report too. You have encouraged us to take the trip. Thanks.

charuac Jun 17th, 2006 07:08 AM

Thanks for the informative posting. I am considering making the same trip with Frontiers North. Did you pay out of pocket for the Calm Air flight on the previous day or did Frontiers North pay for it? Are you glad that you had the extra time in Churchill? Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

thit_cho Jun 19th, 2006 08:12 AM


If I recall correctly, Frontiers North arranged my flights, including the earlier departure, and added it to the bill; I did not deal directly with Calm Air.

I definitely recommend the extra day in Churchill instead of overnighting in Winnipeg. While there's not that much to see in Churchill, its very interesting, with fun bars and restaurants, all clustered along the main street. I did spend one day in Winnipeg on my returns, and its not a city to which I am eager to return (unlike Churchill -- I would like to revisit the polar bears in a few years).


flygirl Jul 28th, 2006 02:22 AM

Michael - great report and photos! a few of them made me think the bears were thinking, hmmmmmmm, people in a can! how convenient.

Some friends of mine are going this November and I am debating going with them...

Scarlett Jul 28th, 2006 10:45 PM

Wonderful photos! I really enjoyed the report and the photos, thank you :)

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