In unison, their gleaming bodies surface, their blowholes expressing plumes of moisture before they soundlessly dive into the inky waters of Hudson Bay. It’s all one sinuous, wild ballet against the backdrop of stormy skies and glistening black rocks.
I’m transfixed, knowing that at any instant, my increasingly insignificant-feeling kayak could be tipped – by a whale!
Happily, these gentle giants are curious but not aggressive. Occasionally, one splits from the group to swim over and playfully bump my kayak or peer at me – belugas are the only whale that can swivel their heads – before diving below once more.
Suddenly, they’re gone.
I sigh, recognizing I’ve experienced yet another “total wow moment”. It’s just one of many that I have experienced on this adventure.
From Churchill’s treeless tundra and Hudson Bay’s ocean waters to the undulating hills of Riding Mountain National Park, I am in a nature and wildlife lovers’ heaven.
Of course, everyone’s hoping to glimpse polar bears and Churchill does not disappoint even in summer. On our first boat tour we spot one, ambling amid the immense boulders along the shoreline. Later, on board the Tundra Buggy, we spy others. One is swimming: its grand white head and jet black nose pointing towards the beach. Moments later, the beast wades into the shallows, shakes itself like a dog, and then saunters onto the tundra.
The barren tundra landscape is a stark contrast to the rolling, forested hills of Riding Mountain National Park that we explored just days before. The grasslands, wildflower meadows, and boreal and eastern deciduous forests are home to the other three mega fauna – bison, black bear and moose – that comprise our Big Five Safari wildlife goals.
Driving through the parkland by bus, we spotted a herd of bison ahead of us. Stopping the vehicle, we were instantly surrounded by bulls, females and calves.
Glancing at a slight perception of movement in my peripheral vision, I jumped. Right there, on the other side of my window, was the gigantic, woolly head of a bull bison staring at me, framed by poplars. We regarded one another solemnly then he emerged, and nonchalantly walked in front of our bus to join his family of sixty or so individuals.
Later, a cry went out. “Moose! Over there!” And there, in the wetland, was a grazing bull. To me, these secretive creatures look primeval, with their immense antlers, bulky shoulders – and tiny, almost invisible tail.
The fifth critter, the black bear, eluded us… but that’s Mother Nature and wildlife watching, isn’t it?
Mind you, these Big Five aren’t all you’ll find. In Riding Mountain, we saw white-tail deer and elk; in Churchill, I was thrilled at the sight of a curious Arctic fox. In both environments, we saw lots of bird species, from great blue herons to snow geese, putting my binoculars to good use.
For sure, you never know what you’ll see, when you’re out and about in the wild.
Written by Katharine Fletcher
Photo: © Eric Lindberg