Our first night out on the Churchill tundra got us feeling some sort of lucky. Within 10 minutes of driving, we spotted a mother polar bear and cubs off in the distance. Polar bears are my favorite animal, and I was in complete awe seeing them in their natural habitat.
Our Expedition Leader Rob Norton was just as ecstatic as everyone in our small group. Even though Rob spends five weeks a year out on the sub-Arctic tundra, seeing these majestic bears puts everyone in a state of pure amazement. He told us we had some good bear karma. That having a bear sighting on the Polar Rover at night isn’t the norm. We felt like we hit the jackpot.
Day two, our first full day on a Polar Rover, had us feeling a little differently. The morning started off slow. After about an hour of driving around, we saw a couple of ptarmigans. Those little birds are neat, but they’re no King of the Arctic. After some more drive time, we found a snowy owl far away. Truly an incredible bird to see, sitting so still, with its head rotating in a 270-degree motion. After that sighting, we caught wind of a polar bear hiding out in the willows. We took off to the location and prayed for the best. As we approached, there were about eight other Polar Rovers posted up, hoping to see the big guy. We waited, and waited, but no movement in the willows. At this point it was around noon, so we decided to take lunch there and see if this wild polar bear wanted to make an appearance.
I could hear whispers of frustration. People getting a little restless that we didn’t find another polar bear yet. Wildlife is wildlife, and you can’t control Mother Nature. Though we never promise a bear sighting, it’s impossible to control peoples’ expectations, wants and desires, no matter how you try. Along with Rob, I was doing my best to keep spirits high, letting everyone know, “Our day isn’t over! We’re out here searching and I think we’ll be lucky again! We just need to be patient!” Well, we had our lunch, and no polar bear came out to play. We took off again to see what we could find elsewhere.
It was now 3 p.m. We had to start making our way back to launch. We didn’t see another polar bear, but hey, we saw some other awesome Arctic wildlife, and we still had another full day ahead of us! We were approaching our launch site, and as we were coming up I could see multiple rovers. It looked like they were stopped, gazing out at some sort of movement on the tundra. To our surprise, it was momma bear and her cubs about 100 feet away from us! Our day was just about to end, but not before we were gifted a little show. These bear cubs, in the most playful manner, started sparring! I couldn’t believe it. We watched for about 20 minutes before we had to keep trucking along. We would’ve loved to stay the rest of the evening, but we had to carry on with other activities.
By this time, the sentiments of the group were up and cheery. Everyone felt extremely fortunate to get such a show. This last-minute sighting proved that anything can happen out on the Churchill tundra. Just when you least expect it, wildlife can come out of nowhere and surprise you.
And we were surprised the next day as well! We found a polar bear off in the distance that we watched for almost half an hour. The only movement was her putting her head up and down. Then after some time, she decided to get up and scratch her back against the willows and roll around. Since we had a bear in sight, and although some other rovers decided to leave, we thought we’d stay and have lunch just in case this lady wanted to come our way. And come our way she did! This female bear was a curious one, for sure. She came right up to our Polar Rover and hung around for almost 30 minutes. Everyone was in complete disbelief. What an incredible experience to see a wild polar bear up close! Pure magic.
Once again, we were taught a lesson of patience. Something no matter of age, everyone can be reminded of. You can want something so badly, but at the end of the day, it isn’t up to us how these animals show and present themselves. Out on the Canadian tundra, things can change in a matter of seconds, and our day isn’t over until we’re back at launch.
I felt extremely grateful to be a part of something so intimate and special. Seeing polar bears in the wild is a memory I’ll have for a lifetime.
This guest post was written by Nat Hab Adventure Associate Amanda Rofheart. All photos © Amanda Rofheart.