Tag Archives: fox

Churchill Day 2: Fox, Polar Bears, Alarm Clocks

November 10, 2010

Polar bear chat

“Was that beeping noise meant to let us know it’s time to get ready?” Mickey, one of my Churchill roommates inquired at 7:08am.

“That beeping noise was my alarm, which means it’s the last possible time we can wake up to get ready,” I responded.

“Oh good. So all I need to focus on right now is getting dressed!” Mickey said, relieved.

Mickey is one of my favorite people on this trip. She’s a kind, funny 77-year old woman, who lives in Montana, loves to go dancing, and plays along with our silly games. She’s known about this trip for a long time and felt this was the year she had to do it, “because I’m not getting any younger and neither is Chuck,” she explained the day we first met.

We got dressed quickly and made our way to the kitchen (kitchen by day; “bar” by night) for breakfast and coffee. There’s a strategy to the morning coffee consumption in Churchill: you want to drink enough coffee to wake you up and keep you going for several hours, but not so much that you need to go to the restroom every 20 minutes after we head out to look for bears. It’s a delicate balance and after 3 years, I still don’t quite have it mastered.

Black phase red fox

Black phase red fox

After ample nourishment and caffeine, we bundled up and headed out for some bear viewing. It was very overcast today, with weather reports threatening rain. “The problem with rain, “Chuck explained, ”is that then it gets cold and the ground could freeze. A layer of ice forms above the ground and foxes and other Arctic animals can’t get to their food source – voles, lemmings, and other little critters.”

Fox sense of humor

Thankfully, we didn’t have rain today and we were lucky enough to see a red fox and a black-phase red fox. Fox are fun to observe because they appear playful, curious, and somewhat mischievous. The black-phase red fox approached us rapidly. Then, he eliminated in front of us, causing everyone to change their coos from “Awww, how cute! He’s coming over to see us!” to “Oh wow – he’s taking a. . .”

Bear on land without snow

Bear on land without snow

We also saw several beautiful bears today. You may have noticed in yesterday’s blog, there were a couple instances when I said I’d “fill you in later.” I’m going to do this again today and here’s why: I’ve been blogging about my adventures in Churchill for 3 years now and it has come to my attention that a hunting blog is republishing information about where the bears are, on what dates, and using these details to inform their polar bear hunting plans. So, I will give you as much information as I can now, without giving away so many details that I somehow help people whose intention is to kill the bears.

Two things I can tell you now:

  • We’re seeing a lot fewer bears than we saw last year and
  • We’re quite late in the season and there’s hardly any snow on the ground.

As we got back on the bus to head “home” for dinner, Mickey pulled me aside. “The people in the back of the bus always seem to be having a lot more fun than the rest of us,” she said. “You guys are always laughing and having a great time.”

I wholeheartedly encouraged Mickey to join us in the back of the bus. “Well, I would love to, but I don’t want to breathe in those fumes and the carbon monoxide.” Yes, it’s true – the bus has its challenges, but as Jeremy likes to say, “I guess it makes it more adventurous having this bus. . . you never know if you’re going to make it.”

“When I go out dancing,” Mickey continued, “there’s always one table of people who are laughing harder and more than most – that’s always my table!”

“I hope I ‘grow up’ like you,” I said. The laughter and adventures should never end.

Here are some pictures I took during our adventures today (click thumbnails for larger pics):

Polar Bear

The first bear I saw today

Walking in the willows along the horizon


Meeting of the minds

Nose to nose

Wanna dance?

Did you step in something?

I'm gonna getcha



Hug It Out

Until tomorrow. . .

Bears, Bears, Bears!!

(note: you can see full-size images, by clicking the thumbnails below)

Once again, the best stuff seems to happen when most people have gone to sleep.  Last night a group of us gathered in the dining room for some late-night story telling and creative inspiration (aka whisky).  We sat with Rupert Pilkington, another bear researcher at the Center, and he told us some bear stories and personal adventures.  

After 4 hours sleep, we woke up at 5:30 this morning to go on an early morning bear watch with Chuck.  We were looking for polar bear tracks so which would help determine our afternoon bear-watching route with the larger group (only 8 of us went out this morning).  We did see some tracks, but they were quickly buried by the falling snow.  Chuck speculated that we may not see many bears today, with the possibility of a white out.  Before we headed back to the Center for breakfast we saw 2 Arctic foxes (cute white fox that always look happy) running across the snow.

Polar bears crossing the Tundra, on their way to play with sled dogs

Polar bears crossing the Tundra

Thankfully, the weather cleared up and we saw bears today.  This was our first “official” bear outing and it was amazing. As long as I’ve dreamed of this trip (literally) I never could have imagined the feeling that overcame me when I saw the first bears.  They are absolutely phenomenal.  They’re playful, smart, curious, and strong.  It’s still hard to believe we shared the ice with them today.  We watched a mom and cub traverse across the tundra for a while and then jumped back in our bus and headed in the direction they were heading.  



Polar bear looking at right at me

Polar bear looking at right at me

When we arrived at our second stop, we immediately saw 2 bears resting under trees.  One of them looked at right at me.  Another got up, checked us out, turned around, and went back to his nap.  Then, at a distance, we saw the original 2 bears heading our way.  We now had our eyes on 4 bears – 2 napping and 2 moving swiftly in our direction. 

The other thing I should mention is that there are a bunch of sled dogs tied up in the area. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the photo of the polar bear playing with a dog that circulated a while back, but I witnessed it today! Initially the dogs howled when they saw the bears.  The larger bear (Chuck thinks it was the mom) literally pounced on and pinned one of the dogs to the ground.  And then, she let him up – unharmed. They chased each other in circles, stood side-by-side, and played for about 10 minutes.  If they wanted to, the bears could have easily killed the dogs.  But after they were finished playing, the bears continued on their way.  

More tomorrow… there are some people waiting for me in the dining hall 😉 

Resting Bear

Resting Bear









Polar bears playing with dogs

Polar bears with dogs









Good friends. Polar bears and dog at play

Polar bears and dog









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