One of my oft-repeated lines to people who have not yet travelled to Churchill is ‘There’s more than just bears in Churchill’. Invariably, I get a sidelong glance and a smile which says I’m a little crazy. And that’s fair enough, when you travel halfway round the world to see a polar bear then those Ursus Maritimus sightings really are the most important. But I haven’t had a trip yet which has been lacking some amazing other wildlife encounters, and this one is no exception.
Today we positioned ourselves in the middle of a long spit (actually a glacial esker) that protrudes out from the rugged coastline into Hudson Bay. It’s a hotspot for bear activity, and we knew there were at least three bears in the willows nearby. However when polar bears sleep in the willows the most incredible thing is how effective a bunch of flimsy twigs are at completely hiding a 1000lb mammal…
Waiting for the bears to awaken and be more interesting, we looked around for other things. It wasn’t long before an Arctic fox came into sight, hurrying along at their normal breakneck pace, casting back and forth as it worked to pick up the signs of small prey.
Foxes often hunt in winter by listening for movement of rodents beneath the snow surface, then plunging headfirst into the snow in a comical full-commitment dive, often directly on top of the unsuspecting vole or mouse. Sure enough, that’s what his fox was doing. Often it can be nigh on impossible to photograph these little foxes as they move so quickly, but this chap was right next to our machine and stopping frequently to cock his quizzical head on one side, thickly-furred ears flexing as he listened to indiscernible scratchings beneath his feet.
Entranced, we watched and photographed, waiting with baited breath for the culminating leap. Wham! Jumping high and arcing beautifully the tiny white fox ended up ignominiously wiggling in the snow with just his tail showing. Ignoring our involuntary chuckles at his un-glamorous rear-end, he pulled himself out of the snow and proudly took his small prize to a willow bush just off the corner of our machine.
An amazing and unique Arctic fox sighting that had us talking enthusiastically all afternoon, and proved that there really is more than ‘just’ polar bears in Churchill!