Canada: Wildlife of the Arctic
Canada's far north provides an incredible setting for caribou-watching.
Every August, Canada's Adventure Northwest leads an 8-day wilderness tundra trip to view the Bathurst caribou herd during its southward migration. From Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories (NWT), participants are carried by bushplane to a tent basecamp situated along the migration route. Seven days will be spent observing and photographing the herds at close range. You'll probably see more animals (including newborn calves) than on an Alaskan trip, as the Bathhurst herd numbers 500,000, and the migration is continuous throughout the month. Cost for the program will be about CDN$3,500, including round-trip charter flights from Edmonton, Alberta. Contact Adventure Northwest, P.O. Box 2435, Yellowknife, NWT, X1A 2P8, Canada, (403) 920-2196.
Ivvavik National Park, in the northwest corner of the Yukon Territory, is the wild and beautiful setting for two other caribou-watching adventures.
If you prefer to view the caribou from a raft, Ecosummer's July float trip on the Firth River beginning in the high alpine meadows of the British Mountains, takes you through river canyons and tundra valleys. Besides the caribou, expect to see Dall sheep, muskox, and moose along the river plus beluga whales and seals on the coast.
Another prime Canadian wildlife destination is Churchill, Manitoba, the undisputed polar bear capital of the world. Each summer, as the pack ice of Hudson Bay retreats, the bears congregate by the hundreds along the Bay's southern shore to hunt seals and fish. Just south of Churchill the bears make their maternity dens, giving visitors a chance to view mothers and their cubs. The best time for bear-watching is in October, just before the winter freeze, when seals concentrate in the few remaining open waterways, attracting large numbers of bears.
The most serious polar bear trip is run by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris. After flying into Churchill, participants board giant 4WD tundra buggies that allow bear-watchers to view the animals at close range in warmth and safety. For avid photographers who want to view the bears in the most favorable early morning and late afternoon light, Van Os also offers a tundra bunkhouse option. Cost for 1 week is $1,795, while the 9-day bunkhouse trip runs $2,995, all-inclusive from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Departures are scheduled for October and November. Contact Van Os Photo Safaris, (206) 463-5383.
If the Van Os tour is a bit beyond your means, Adventure Canada also offers 5- or 6-day polar bear expeditions to the western shores of Hudson Bay near Churchill. Trips run late-October through mid-November and cost CDN$1,795 (approx. US$1,350) for the 5-day trip; CDN$1,995 (approx. US$1,500) for 6 days. Both prices are all-inclusive except airfare. Tundra buggies will be used for transport and the guide and photo instructor is noted Arctic explorer Mike Beedel.
For those seeking the most remote arctic wildlife experience, Adventure Canada offers a Pond Inlet Spring Floe Edge trip which takes travelers to the top of Baffin Island. Highlight of the program is a journey to the edge of the pack ice by snowmobile and sled with Inuit guides. One participant wrote: "Due west in Baffin Bay, the dark sky indicates the open water of the floe edge. We saw six narwhal and a polar bear. The birds, thousands of kittiwakes and murres, darken the sky as they pass overhead."Sightings of bowhead whale, beluga, walrus, snow goose, snowy owls, arctic fox, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon and rough-legged hawk are possible, although not predictable.
Arctic Odysseys also offers a 9-day "Baffin Island Summer Wildlife and Cultural"odyssey July-August from Ottowa. This trip provides an opportunity not only for wildlife observation but also an authentic Arctic living experience in a traditional Inuit summer encampment. Travel is by boat and the cost is $3,475. Contact Arctic Odysseys, 2000 McGilvra Blvd. E., Seattle, WA 98112, (206) 325-1977; Fax: (206) 453-4734.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication