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Churchill (Summer)

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While primarily known as an autumn Polar Bear destination, Churchill has a lot to offer the discerning wildlife enthusiast in summer. While Polar Bears are still occasionally sighted, most summer visitors come to see Beluga Whales, up to 2,000 of which invade the Churchill River annually in July and August. These graceful and highly social whales come to calf in the shallow freshwater which is up to 10 degrees centigrade warmer than Hudson Bay. It acts as a safe nursery where the calves can expend more of their energy building up much needed fat reserves rather than simply staying warm, safe from predatory Orcas waiting out to sea. Visitors can witness this spectacular annual gathering on conventional whale watching excursions and from the air, or for a more intimate encounter with these highly intelligent and inquisitive whales, they can kayak or even don a dryuit and snorkel with the them. With most boats carrying hydrophones they can can hear as well as see these "canaries of the sea", so called because they are one of the most vocal of all whale species. Orcas and Bowhead Whales are also sometimes seen just offshore in Hudson Bay, close to the river mouth, and a number of summer visitors each year are lucky enough to see Polar Bears swimming across the Churchill River while on whale watching trips.

Back on dry land the tundra comes alive in summer - an ever changing canvas of brightly coloured Arctic wildflowers, many of which flower for only a matter of days each year. Visitors can participate in a variety of guided wildlife activities including birding, observing active Red Fox dens from hides, and exploring the surrounding area by vehicle and on foot with the chance of seeing Arctic Hare, Caribou, and perhaps even a Polar Bear. With an absence of viable prey species in the area the bears tend to conserve their energy while living off their fat reserves during the summer months. Most see out the summer in a denning area to the south of Churchill, but some continue to prowl the surrounding area keeping an eye out for feeding opportunities such as whale carcasses washed up on the shoreline, and while less predictable, there are sporadic sightings throughout the summer months.You can also visit historic Prince of Wales Fort, a fortified Hudson Bay Company trading post which is a legacy of the battle for control of the lucrative fur trade between Britain and France, and explore Churchill's fascinating cultural history.

For visitors paricularly keen to see Polar Bears in summer, a stay at a first class wilderness lodge in a remote location on the shores of Hudson Bay, a 20 minute floatplane flight north of Churchill, can dramtically increase the likelihood of sightings. A team of world class naturalist guides lead a varied program of wildlife activities including zodiac whale watching excursions, guided nature hikes, and excursions by all terrain vehicle. Polar Bears can be seen in close proximity to the lodge itself, on hikes and ATV excursions, from the air during the floatplane flight to and from the lodge, and even on whale watching trips. For the past few years a number of large adult male bears have summered here, and some individuals have been observed pursuing a unique and never before seen feeding strategy at the mouth of a nearby river. The bears swim out to a semi-submerged rock where they lie in wait for unsuspecting Beluga Whales swimming by in the shallows. When appropriate they hurl themselves into the water in an attempt to pin and overpower a whale. No-one has yet seen this apparently risky feeding strategy bear fruit, but bears do not expend energy without a good chance of success from time to time, and bears have been seen feeding on a Beluga carcass nearby. Another memorable feature of a stay at the lodge is the opportunity to don a drysuit and get into the water with Beluga Whales, though obviously not when the polar bears are around!

For those with a particular interest in whales, or simply looking for a unique, very different wildlife experience in unusual and off the beaten track surroundings, a visit to Churchill in the summer will provide memories to last a lifetime.

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