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Although weather is a factor in planning a trip to Canada, particularly with regard to The Arctic, the key issue is the type of wildlife you hope to see, combined with where you want to go. For most Canadian species, not least the bears, there is a definite season when sightings are likely, and for the same species this might vary from one destination to another. For example, the best time to see Grizzly Bears in Northern BC is Spring (May & June), while in the rest of the province it is Autumn (mid August to mid October).

Grizzly Bear: All of our Grizzly Bear destinations are in British Columbia, and the best time to see these magnificent animals is during the annual Pacific Salmon run which takes place from mid to late August to mid October, though in some locations inclement weather means the viewing season ends in late September. At this time of year the bears' whereabouts are very predictable as they gorge themselves on protein rich salmon on the numerous streams, rivers and channels where they spawn. Viewing is conducted from elevated viewing platforms or hides in Lower Mainland BC, and from small rowing boats or on foot in Central Mainland BC, Central Coast BC and Northern BC.

Spring (May & June) also produces very good sightings, particularly in Northern BC and Lower Mainland BC, as the bears emerge ravenous from their winter dens to feed close to the shoreline on esturaine sedge grasses, or forage for crustaceans at high tide. At this time of year viewing is conducted from a boat sitting just offshore in coastal inlets and estuaries of Lower Mainland BC and Northern BC. In summer (July to mid August) the bears tend to head deeper into the forest to feed on roots and berries, and are therefore far less visible. Boat based viewing does however continue in the remote coastal inlets of Lower Mainland BC where bears can still be seen foraging close to the shoreline, though sightings tend to be less frequent than in Spring or Autumn.

Black Bear: The Black Bear is are far more widely distributed than the Grizzly Bear, and can be seen in both British Columbia and Manitoba. Due to their more omnivorous diet their feeding behaviour does not tend to have as many seasonal variations, and they can be seen throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn (May through October). A cluster of islands off Central Coast BC has the highest concentration of the rare and elusive Kermode or Spirit Bear, an all white genetic variation of black bear, and these are best observed during the autumn salmon run in September and October.

Polar Bear: The feeding behaviour and activity levels of the Polar Bear have more seasonal extremes than the other bear species. During the winter they are out on the ice floes hunting for seals, and are relatively inaccessible. In October and November Churchill, Manitoba plays host to the largest gathering of polar bears anywhere in the world. Despite its southerly location, it is the first place where sea ice forms in Hudson Bay, and as a result polar bears gather here from miles around in readiness for the long awaited winter "freeze up". The minute the ice comes, usually in mid to late November, there is a mass exodus and the bears aren't seen again until the ice breaks-up agin, usually in June. Between "break up" and "freeze up" some bears remain in the area but they are widely distributed and tend to keep a low profile as they attempt to conserve energy while living off their winter far reserves, although summer sightings are quite reliable at a wilderness lodge, 20 minutes north of Churchill by floatplane.

Further north, off the coast of Baffin Island in Nunavut, the season for seeing Polar Bears is much longer, but here weather is a major factor. In July and August it is very mild, and even possitively hot at times, and this offers the chance to see Polar Bears without having to endure the extremes of Arctic winter, though against a somewhat atypical backdrop devoid of snow and ice. In September and October the temperature is below zero but still quite mild, but sea ice is relativelty sparse and it is still possible to observe Polar Bears from the comfort and safety of a boat or motorised canoe. This is perhaps the best time of year for sightings, and there is also every chance of a light snow covering which adds something to the dramatic landscape, as do the massive icebergs for which the area is famous. Between freeze up in late November, and break-up in June, the only way to see Polar Bears here is to venture out onto the ice on snow machines (skidoos), and the weather conditions are not for the feint hearted , though a truly memorable experience is guaranteed.

All 3 Bears: The respective viewing seasons for Grizzly & Polar Bear dictate the scheduling of what we would consider to be or signature tour. A tour combining British Columbia and Churchill, Manitoba would need to commence in late September or early October. An intinerary combining British Columbia and Nunavut has more flexibility due to the longer Polar Bear season on Baffin Island but the best time of year would be September, with August and October also possibilities.

Whale Watching: Whales can be seen in all 3 provinces that Bear Trails visit, but British Columbia boasts by far the most species of cetaceans. The mass migration of the Southern Gray Whale passes by the west coast of Vancouver Island in April and May, but a number of these whales habitually remain in these waters throughout Summer and Autumn, resting and feeding in the sheltered bays. Johnstone Strait off the northeast of Vancouver Island is the core habitat of the 16 resident Orca or Killer Whale pods and the best time to see the ocean's apex predator is from July through September. Humpback Whales can be seen off the coast of Northern BC in July, August and September, and off Vancouver Island sightings are most likely in September. Several smaller cetacean species including the Minke Whale, Pacific Witesided Dolphin and Dall's Porpoise can also be seen in British Columbia.

In Manitoba the Churchill River plays hosts to thousands Beluga Whales in July and August, when they come to calve in the warm, shallow freshwater, and visitors can observe this incredible natural spectacle from small boats or canoes, and even don a drysuit and get into the water with these graceful, highly social and very vocal whales. Bowhead Whales and Orcas are also sometimes sighted offshore during the same period. In Nunavut the Bowhead Whale, the only great baleen whale to spend its entire life in Arctic waters, can be seen off the coast of Baffin Island in September and October. The Narwhal, the near mythical unicorn of the sea, can also be glimpsed in the same period.

   

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Nunavut (Arctic)

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