My 4×4 van – the Unicorn – got in today and after a hiccup or two, I made it out on the road to check out the trails and such between town and Buggyland. We’re kind of in that snow yet no snow zone where it seems to snow everyday but there’s still no real snow on the ground. Fall skies are taking hold, with deep blue clouds and yellows of the low-arcing sun, its a pretty special time of year.
Stopped at Brian’s dogs this afternoon, a kind of gathering place for a few big bears every year. This year Dancer ended up there and I got a pretty good look at him today. Dancer is about as close to a bear celebrity as Churchill has seen. He was kind of the main feature of the polar bear cam and before that one of the last ‘cape’ bears of the early years. Now, he has moved out of buggyland and is staying along the coast, outside of town and polar bear alert.
He must be around twenty, showing his age a bit but again in great shape. You can see the sharper edges in his shoulders and hips of age, his back is a bit more swayed and his neck is a little skinnier (though still massive) giving him an almost gaunt look – if an 800-900 lb bear can be classified as gaunt…
There are three other bears hanging out there – two more massive brutes and one smaller but still large bear. One of the big ones has a big black mark on his back, a sign that he has been handled (darted and tagged) by Canadian Wildlife Service. Bears are marked aas such not just so they are not darted from helicopter again but also because the meat should not be ingested by Inuit hunters for up to a year after a bear has been drugged. Naturally, he is pretty skittish (again as skittish as a say 900-1000 lb bear can be) but he definitely looks like one of the large males out east last year.
Another notable appearance this year and one that I have not mentioned yet is the arrival of barren ground grizzlies in Churchill. Several years ago, there was an anomalous sighting of a grizzly in Wapusk National park and a few stories since. This year, there are four confirmed sightings this summer (likely two or three different bears) and a few more unconfirmed as well. Chalk one up for climate change – grizzlies have come back to Manitoba. The closest sighting to Churchill was along polar bear alley (the real polar bear alley) this summer. A grizzly poked his head up out of the lyme grass and dashed across the road. More were seen out east near the Snow Goose research station at La perouse Bay in Wapusk National park.
Of course, the grizzlies have headed inland to den for the winter but chances are they will be around next summer too. A few locals feel that they may be feeding on seals as well as berries et al, simply due to their sheer girth this summer.
It also sounds like we may have a couple skunk bears around too. Okay, so skunk bear was the old name for wolverine but pretty exciting to think that I might see a wolverine this year. There have been sightings at L5 garbage dump and at Camp Nanuq. Wolverines are renowned as trapline raiders and generally being ‘nuts’. A few years back, I found wolverine tracks following a mother and her cubs in the spring. Here’s hoping that one hasn’t decided to make a home underneath my cabin this year.