A south breeze accompanied by a high tide last night pushed the ice off-shore to some degree, still there is a lot out there and the bears know it. We watched one walk out from the old dump (also known as Ratsons or the Incinerator or Dump Beach depending on who you are talking to…) to the shore ice. It is what they do at this time of year.
Right now, the shore ice is a mix of pancakes and mushrooms… swarms of individual miniature ice floes, called pancake ice, are pushed in with each tide but at the same time, ice also gathers and clings to the rocks in the tidal flats with each tide. This ice builds, topples one way or the other and leaves a field of icy ‘mushrooms’ for the bears to explore.
This bear headed out once the tide had pushed just enough ice in to allow access to the bay. He noodled his way out and then along the ice edge, maybe hoping for seals, maybe testing the thickness of the ice, maybe just killing time. He’s a bear who knows what he’s thinking.
After a while, he made a zig-zagged bee-line back to the grain piles at the old dump, seemingly satisfied with his reconnaissance mission. By this time, about three vehicles had set up to intercept him, waiting on the road for him to cross. Basically, if you can set up in a spot and anticipate the bear’s path, it ends up being a pretty good encounter.
This one was no exception. He first disappeared behind the beach ridge, only to emerge somewhat suddenly in the lyme grass. He approached the vehicles with the mix of apprehension and confidence that only a young male bear can exude, pausing here and there but still striding up to each vehicle to check them out. It was a really nice experience and in great light too – of course, I was with my flim crew so I have no pictures but, well, that’s the way it goes.
After assessing the ice and then vehicle situation, he sniffed some old fence posts, checked out the willows and headed towards Ratson’s cabin (the house at the Incinerator). We gave him a chance to walk around but once it seemed clear he was going up to the house, we drove over and honked the horn. Its kind of a northern courtesy to scare a bear away from someone’s house (especially if you have just spent the last bit taking pictures – ahem, blue parka people…).
Anyway, the honking was enough hub-bub for him and he jogged over to the grain piles. Speaking of which, the Canadian Wheat Bears are back in full force. It sounds like six or more bears were feeding on the grain piles today, all males except for one spunky little female who was hanging with guys.
She was pretty assertive, hanging and messing with the guys (especially one guy!), sometimes mouthing and nuzzling, sometimes almost playfighting. At one point, the little female and another male play fought while two males hissed and mouthed in a more serious tussle (possibly drunken) behind them, pretty neat! Mostly things were quiet though, a nice place to hang out away from the chaos of ‘bear season’.
An old skinny bear hangs out back there too, he looks well past his prime and his skin hangs from a bony frame. Things don’t look great for him but then again, we have all thought Dancer wouldn’t return in different years… especially last year. The thing is you just never know how resilient certain bears are or which bear will catch a break, you can never just write them off.
One of the things worrying folks in Churchill right now is this new idea of ‘rescuing’ orphan cubs to relocate to zoos in the south. This little female is just small enough that she would ‘qualify’ for the rescue program, yet watching her, it seems like things might work out. She is confident and the other bears generally accept her, the ice is almost here, what more can you ask for.
I mean, that’s what I hear happened at the old dump today anyway… after all, the road is blocked for public safety so no one gets attacked by a bear. Of course, I always thought that road was the emergency access road to the airport as well but I must have been wrong about that – I have some discrepancies on here occasionally… ha.
But at the same time people enjoyed this day with a little vivacious bear, there is a zoo in Winnipeg with a capacity for up to six bears that currently has none but does have a new partnership with SeaWorld. It sounds like there will be a ‘zone’ in which 18 month to 2 year old ‘orphaned’ cubs can be removed and relocated near Churchill. There has not been much publicity around Churchill or anywhere that I have seen about these plans and people are worried that healthy young bears will no longer be given a chance to survive in the wild. If a bear is truly in trouble, then sure bring it in but how can we make a balanced decision with an empty multi-million dollar facility waiting to be opened. I almost feel like I shouldn’t mention this little bear…
Walking into the Seaport coffee shop today, I ran into Daryl Hedman, one of the top guys with Manitoba Conservation, sitting having coffee with the top folks from PBI and Polar Bear researcher/tour guide, Ian Stirling. When I asked Daryl for a quick interview, he said I would have to call the Winnipeg communications department (not that he could recall the number) and get permission. Weird, since I have kind of had random interviews and discussions with that guy for the last eight years but, well, I guess I will call Winnipeg to ask if I can talk to a guy who was just in Churchill. Strange times indeed.
Aside from that, it sounds like another nice day in buggyland plus a nice day for bus tours with foxes and a bear hanging out by Miss Piggy. Second day of great light and a balmy -10C. On the other hand, a line of blue hung out over the horizon of the bay, a sure sign of another northern gust just waiting for us to drop our guard.
My Japanese left today after a hectic final day of finishing the shot list. I have to say Churchillians are pretty accommodating folks when it comes down to it and we had some pretty fun interviews… Manitoba Conservation could use a little less testosterone but what can you do, it is all a part of a day’s work. Mind you, it is a day’s work which I now don’t have to do anymore so whoo-hooo!!!