Trip Report: 2019 Polar Bear Expedition

Polar Bear

Trip Report

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

mother bear and cubs

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This year there was more snow on the ground, but the weather was nice enough to get out each day.   Our last day the weather conditions were worse, but the polar bears loved it and they were still easy to find. The ice has started to form, but is not solid enough yet for the bears to move out.  The bears were gathered and very much anticipating the next few weeks when the ice will be fully formed for their trip out to seal hunting territory.

In my Camera Bag:

I keep my photography kit streamlined for easy travel and utility in the field

Canon 5D MK IV

Canon 5D MK III

Canon 100 – 400 F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Canon 400mm F4 +1.4x teleconverter

24 – 105mm lens for murals etc around town.

Tripod for when we get out of the vehicle

polar bear walks toward van

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Our first two days out were in a private van with a local guide which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. When out with our wildlife guide we are able to get out of the vehicle (when safe) and use our tripods to photograph the bears or arctic wildlife.

bear jail churchill
The building which houses the “bear jail” for nuisance bears around town

We had several opportunities to see bears up close and were able to place the van in such a way to get great images from outside the vehicle.

Our last day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area – a nature preserve.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.

Female Polar Bear

After a full day in the Wildlife Management Area we returned to the Centre for a final dinner then headed to the airport for our return to Winnipeg.

photograph outside the vehicle on our polar bear trip
Tundra Buggy for polar Bears

These vehicles are the only way to get into the Park area as the terrain is too rough for standard vehicles.

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

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