The WWF Arctic Global Polar Bear specialist, Geoff York, is on a field trip in Churchill on the Hudson Bay, observing and blogging about polar bears. Below is the ninth blog from our ‘eyes and ears on the tundra’. Read more blogs by Geoff York.
By Geoff York
Our day starts early at Cape Churchill following a long day of travel and a late night getting the camp up and running. The temperature has dropped dramatically in the last few days and is now around -27 C with winds gusting up to 60 km/hr. This adds a wind chill factor of nearly -48 C (at -40, centigrade and Fahrenheit are the same). BJ Kirschhoffer, Director of Field Operations for PBI, and I still have a few things to take care of regarding the remote communications system at the Cape. If everything works as planned this morning, I have an 8 AM interview with Norwegian Public Radio. We head out in the dark on our Tundra Buggy to the Cape Tower, an old observation platform originally set up by Dr. Ian Stirling of the Canadian Wildlife Service. BJ needs to connect a new battery pack to the repeater system and we’ll also deploy a small generator for recharging the system during the week.
BJ heads up the old tower in the bitter cold and howling winds. You can imagine what a metal ladder feels like at these temperatures! In a short while, he has a pulley and rope set up and I am hauling first the generator and then a battery up to him on the platform about 18 metres off the ground. I climb up as well, just to add the light from my headlamp to the task at hand, though I am quite happy to stay on the secure ladder and off the windy platform!
Daylight gently breaks across this amazing landscape of snow, ice, rock, and eskers (glacial landforms – gravel ridges essentially – from the last major ice age). The clear starry night gives way to a beautiful, but bitterly cold and sunny Arctic day – not a common occurrence this time of year! This is exactly the weather the polar bears of Hudson Bay have been waiting for and ice is quickly forming now on the margins of Cape Churchill, a dramatic change from the survey just one week ago.
After a few trips up and down the ladder, BJ has established a high frequency radio connection back to the town of Churchill. Now we just need to erect the antennae on the Tundra Buggy Lodge and Buggy One should be a mobile broadcast studio again. Guests peer up in startled amusement as they cross between the sleeper cars and the dining cars and see two guys in large blue parkas and face masks wrestling an antenna mast on the windy rooftop. Thanks to BJ’s excellent engineering over the past several years and his experience with on the spot ‘arctic engineering’ – we are connected at 7:58 AM, just in time for my call to Norway. Here’s a view out my mobile office window:
Upon arrival last night, and while setting our designated paths for the week, John Gunter of FNA counted 13 bears in the immediate vicinity. As I talk with NRK radio, one of the first bears of the day walks by the buggy, and there will be many more to follow. We are the only people who will be all the way out to the Cape this year, so many of the local polar bears are very interested to check out their temporary new neighbours. At Cape Churchill, the humans are every bit as much the exhibit as the bears and the buggies must look like human aquariums to these intensely curious bears. The extreme cold and winds challenge the Buggies and the guests, but the day ends with a lot of smiling faces and shared stories as guests and staff share their day back on the lodge lounge car. This is truly one of the last real ground based expeditions for visitors to this amazing part of Manitoba.