Posts from the ‘tundra’ Category

25 Years Ago—Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay: Part 2

Tyler Nelson and the shipwreck M/V Ithaca in Bird Cove.


Nicknamed “Miss Piggy,” this C46 cargo plane crashed on the outskirts of town in November of 1979. Two of the three crew members were seriously hurt but all survived. She got her name from the planes porky shape and the rumor that she once hauled pigs. But like most junk in Churchill, it is left where it lies…No place to dispose of it.


Long-tailed Duck pair. Back then, they were called Oldsquaw, named after their chattering calls, but this name was deemed politically incorrect and changed. They do occur in spring and fall on Lake Superior but they do not show this breeding plumage. Also remember, this was during the “film days,” and the longest lens I had was a very cheap and slow 200mm lens. I would dearly love to go back with the equipment I have now and shoot the Arctic bird life including the mating displays of the shorebirds.

Maybe it’s hard to tell, but this is a Beluga Whale feeding in the Churchill River. Pods of family groups show up in the river in early summer to feed on the abundant Capelin fish and Lake Cisco. We saw 43 of these 12-foot-long whales in one evening.

Churchill is probably most famous for its Polar Bear tours in late fall/early winter. This is one of the “tundra buggies” that allow tourists a safe but close view of the magnificent bears.


Sled dog puppies were a common sight in the village back in 1987.

Fort Prince of Wales is a massive fortress that was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company to “protect their interests” in the area. Begun in 1717, it’s 16-foot-thick walls weren’t completed until 40 years later. Forty canons we’re supposed to protect the impenetrable fort but it was taken by 3 French warships without a shot in 1782 …The untrained HBC men didn’t even know how to fire the canons!

25 Years Ago—Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay: Part 1


Sparky and Tyler (right) on Hudson’s Bay

Hard to believe but 25 years ago this week, my college/volleyball buddy Tyler Nelson and I jumped on a Via Rail train in Winnipeg and settled in for a 36 hour train ride to the far north outpost of Churchill, Manitoba.
Via Rail train

These Cree Indian girls were fascinated by our hairy legs…A very non-native American trait!

The soggy tundra and permafrost requires tripods to support the power lines.


It was snowing pretty good when we rolled into Churchill on June 18, 1987… And the Bay had just broken up so there were mini-icebergs everywhere. On the way up, I had told Tyler (a non-birder) that we were on the lookout for a small and very rare gull called the Ross’s Gull. I showed him the illustration in my Peterson’s Field Guide highlighting its black neck collar and pink belly.

And here is the hero bird! The Ross’s Gull. At the time, Churchill was the only known nesting area in North America as it was really more of a Russian/Siberian species. They nested right on the edge of town in the “granary ponds.” Unfortunately, they no longer nest in Churchill and birders don’t go there as often.

Shorebird in a tree? This was the first time I’d witnessed such a thing. This is a Hudsonian Godwit perched in a stunted “flag” spruce. Many species of shorebird nest in the Churchill area..and some even nest in trees!

The tundra around Churchill was not as treeless nor as dry as I expected. It was very wet and with many stunted Black Spruce. This is the most typical tundra we saw.

Of course we couldn’t afford to rent a car so the owner of the Kelsey Motor Lodge said we could use his pickup to get around. The only caveat was that we needed to drop him off and pick him up at work every day. So we did. The funny thing was that his work was only a couple hundred yards from the “Lodge.” He said nobody walks in Churchill because of the Polar Bears.

I think we were a bit ignorant or just foolhardy because we hiked many places where Polar Bears could be lurking. Normally far to the NW by now, a couple had been seen near town. Thankfully (?) we never saw one.

Sparky juggling snowballs…in mid June!

Stay tuned for part 2 coming in the next few days!