Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Churchill, the other bits 'n bobs...

Trip over and I thought a quick (ha! turned out to be much longer than I planned) post to cover off a few things not mentioned in previous posts would be prudent.

Map of SW Hudson Bay
I did mention a bit about Churchill itself, a unique place where three Biomes converge, which is why it's such a rich area for wildlife. Close to town you can see where the Boreal forests end, the Tundra begins and the Sub-Arctic meets with it. The variety of birds which summer here, the mammals and the flora found in the area are difficult to find together elsewhere. Although the main purpose of the trip was to get to grips with belugas and bears, I did film and photograph everything I could including some birds and plants featured in the following short video:

Also a few images that may have made it into Tweets but didn't make it to previous posts but are worth including now...

Greater Yellowlegs: R. Harris
Chipping Sparrow: R. Harris
Green-flowered Bog Orchid
Beautiful Cinquefoil
Small Round-leaved Orchid
Sweet Vetch
Three-toothed Saxifrage
White Mountain Avens
One very large mosquito. They are plentiful in
the summer so do be prepared!
One of the 17 Tabanid species present. This one was a stonking
3/4 of an inch long. Luckily they don't bite as readily
as the mosquitoes do. See clothing note below.

A bit more about the town and how to get there...

As you may have read in my first live post, Churchill is not a big town. It is also only served by VIA Rail (40 hour journey from Winnipeg) and by air - Calm Air provide a scheduled service as well as a special charter for the Lazy Bear Lodge tours which takes two-and-a-half hours.

Calm Air - the easiest way to reach Churchill
The town has most of the facilities you might expect including a post office, small supermarket, a pub/bar etc. But as it is only designed to serve 800-900 people, don't go expecting much more than that or you'll be disappointed. It is a remote northern Canadian town, built on permafrost, so all of the buildings are made of wood too.

Lazy Bear Lodge signpost
Kelsey Blvd, the main road through town. Looking SE.
Kelsey Blvd, looking NW.
The unpolitically correctly named Eskimo Museum.
Actually a fab place to learn about the local
First Nation's Dené and Inuit peoples.
Inukshuk - ancient signpost of the Inuit people
One of the three old wooden Churches
...and a second
Old railway line near the Sea Port
'Miss Piggy' an ill-fated C-46 that crash-landed
short of the airport after developing engine
problems whilst on a cargo flight in 1979
The Sea Port (now closed) is where grain (wheat, barley, canola etc) from all over central and western Canada was brought to by rail and then shipped out all over the country and indeed the world. Because of the sub-Arctic climate the port only operated for three months of the year during peak summer. Either side of this and the Hudson Bay has too much ice for ships to reach Churchill.

The old Sea Port. 
Sea Port looking back to the SE. The long bridge on legs
is the covered grain elevators used to move grain to
the waiting ships.
I mentioned in a previous post that when a vehicle is brought up to the town (by rail), they stay for good as it is too expensive to ship old ones back out. There is a surprising mix of vehicles sitting around.

Old school buses - used by just about every tour company to
ship their clients around.
The downright strange - some sort of giant, covered
skidoo waiting for winter to come?
There are also a few of these lying around - a reminder that it's the Polar Bears that call-the-shots around here. They frequently wander into town, especially in the Autumn and when they do they are captured using a baited bear trap and brought to the 'Polar Bear Jail' for a 30 day cooling off period. During this time they aren't fed (to reinforce the idea that humans should not be associated with food), before being air lifted by helicopter up to 50 miles away and back onto the sea ice in the Hudson Bay.
Polar Bear trap
If you accidentally get caught in one you won't be
going anywhere very quickly. Potentially very
dangerous in temps of -40!
Lined-up and ready for action.
Bear proof garbage bins are a common sight.

It's worth pointing out that many of the ground operators in Churchill will only book you one of their packages. That's to say there aren't too many options for doing your own independent thing up here and to be honest that's sensible given the danger from bears. You really can't wander off on your own unless you are equipped with a firearm, satellite phone and the skill and knowledge to deal with serious situations should they arise. The weather here changes every few minutes off the back of the almost constant NW winds. In the summer it can be 21 deg and sunny one minute and raining 8 deg the next. You have to take the right gear with you - layers, a good waterproof and a down jacket, be prepared for anything and you can't go wrong. In summer you must also be prepared for biting insects with 16 species of mosquito present and 17 species of Tabanid (bulldog, moose or deer flies). The best way to avoid being eaten alive is to take a good deet repellent and wear long sleeves and trousers (recommend using Craghopper's Nosilife insect repellent clothing - superb!). Anything else and you're just asking for trouble (painful, itchy trouble).

If anyone is interested in visiting Churchill I'd be more than happy to offer advice. This was my 40th visit to Canada so I know the country better than most and I'm always glad to help point you in the right direction.

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