Sunday, 17 July 2016

Churchill, Manitoba...

Right now I'm a little outside my regular three counties area. In fact I'm currently sitting in a very comfortable and cosy lodge just on the outskirts of Churchill, Manitoba (population 923) in central Canada. Despite coming to Canada regularly over the last 25 years (this is my 40th visit), I've never been to this small outpost situated on the shores of the Hudson Bay about 600 miles north of the Provincial capital Winnipeg.

Lazy Bear Lodge on the road into Churchill: R. Harris
Churchill has been here quite some time though (in North American terms), having first appeared on the map as a permanent settlement back in 1717, when the world famous Hudson's Bay Company came to the area. The trading post was named after a descendent of Sir Winston Churchill, namely John Churchill, 1st Duke of Malborough who was the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company at that time. So why am I here?  Well, Churchill's unique position of 58°46′09″N 094°10′09″W means that it is an ideal place to see Polar Bears Ursus maritimus!  Although Polar Bears occur in many other parts of Canada, none are as accessible as Churchill. The town is served by both air and rail routes, so it is relatively easy to reach. It is often thought that you can only view Polar Bears in the late Autumn, but they can in fact be seen around the town throughout most of the summer as well as at peak times in October and early November and I'm here to try and see them and some other Arctic specialities too.

Having arrived on a special Calm Air charter from Winnipeg at lunchtime (check-in 15 minutes before the flight, no security to go through and carry whatever baggage you like!), I've already had a few sightings while walking through town including my first Belugas, loads of Arctic terns, yellow warbler, American Robin, Chipping Sparrow,  Savannah Sparrow, White Crowned Sparrow, Cliff Swallow, Lesser Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper, a couple of Northern Harriers, Bald Eagle and Sandhill Crane. With a few more days to come I'm sure I can add to that and maybe get some new birds too!

For now though a little look around town. Sometimes people come to town, see lots of old abandoned vehicles and just think it looks a bit run down but that couldn't be further from the truth. Sure it looks a bit neglected but you have to remember that there are no roads up here other than those through town and out to the airport. When anything is brought in at huge expense by rail or air, it's destined never to leave again. The result is an eclectic mix of vehicles stretching back as far as the fifties, though many are not in great shape! But more of that later.

The warnings are everywhere. Be careful out there! 
The World famous 'Polar Bear Jail', a holding
facility for rogue or nuisance bears.

Keeping a close eye out for bears.
You must never ignore these signs. To
Venture beyond to the shore of the
Hudson Bay behind me would be
foolhardy to say the least.
Sandhill Cranes along the Churchill River: R Harris
White - crowned Sparrow: R. Harris 

Right, it's time to set off on an early morning trip to see Belugas. More to follow...

PS. If you enjoyed Big Blue Live on the BBC last year, make sure you watch Arctic Live from Churchill and the shores of the Hudson Bay coming to the BBC in early November! Presenters will be Kate Humble, Gordon Buchanan and Simon Reeve.

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