Churchill, Manitoba has developed an envious reputation, but this northern outpost has lots more to offer than just being Polar Bear Capital of the World.
White Beluga whales loaf offshore with frenzies of gulls feeding around them. A hard to see Arctic ‘tick’ this mammal is best viewed at Churchill where some animals come upstream and afford excellent observation opportunities. With hundreds offshore it was hard to miss them.
With a human population around the thousand mark it was good to hear that a very high percentage are young – nearly 300 kids in the local school. Obviously something to hold the youngsters here and perhaps lessons could be learned elsewhere. It certainly had a vibrant feel with much of the action focussed around Gypsy’s on the main street – the local bakery and diner which we did sample far too regularly! The peanut bar with marshmallow was a winner.
To the east lies the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. We timed things perfectly and got to stay in the stunning new facility that has just being finished off and officially opens August 24th. It is super eco, with composting toilets, water saving devices and a real positive vibe. Thanks to all there for a fun few days and feeding us well.
Ross’s Gull bred here for a number of years on the outskirts of town and drew in birders from across the ABA region, with access to tundra specials such as Harris Sparrows added in too, it made for a great trip. Ross’s have moved on but the birding is still top quality. Pacific Divers everywhere, three species of Scoter, are all along the coast and on inland lakes. ‘Hudson Bay’ Eider drift offshore with their bulging lobes and made for some good mollusc eating scrutinising.
We did some formal point counts to the east of the town and had some surprising finds – Eared Grebe, American Bittern and the staples of Blackpolls amid the boreal just wouldnt shut up! They are just so abundant – no wonder we get so many in Europe.
A daily highlight was a visit to the ponds near the harbour. Red-necked Phalaropes and Arctic terns bred, but the highlights were some of the leggy waders. Salmon pink Short billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sands, Hudsonian Godwits and Lesser legs cavorted among the Lesser Scaup and other wildfowl. American Wigeon were super tame, but we dipped the Eurasian, however a Gadwall was as much of a surprise.
Bonnies van was an essential as we birded the area and was carefully driven by Mr Artuso (most of the time ;-)). A final thanks to all at Parks Canada. Jill, Heather , Sheldon and Dave were great hosts and helped us out no end. I’ll miss Churchill, but am sure I will return sometime.
PS: thanks to Jill for allowing me to use her camera – it didnt quite work with the scope, but as the Dowitcher pics show it had potential once I got used to it.