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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging


Churchill – videos

Polar bear from the tundra buggy

Dog sledding with Gerald and Jenafor Azure of Blue Sky, Churchill

Churchill – Part 3

And so back to town to spend my last 10 days with Heidi. Plenty to do to keep busy. Most of the bears are heading out onto the ice which has, fortunately formed in good time this year – a late freeze is very bad for the bears as they need to be able to go out onto the ice to feed. From the time the bears come in off the ice when it thaws in the spring until it re-freezes they don’t feed – ok, so the odd paw full of berries or a bit of kelp but not a proper meal like a good old fat seal.

Again, i’ve added the images as a gallery so click on them to see a larger version.

I left Churchill on the train, it was -42’C with the windchill and only going to get colder! For this journey i’d booked a cabin for one and was very happy that i had. I lay in my bed as the train trundled across the snow-covered tundra – the moon so bright i could see right into the distance. Magic! What a fantastic time i’d had, it far surpassed all my expectations, so many amazing memories and so many lovely people. My biggest thanks of all going to Heidi for constantly inviting me until i gave in – i’m so glad that i did 🙂

Churchill – Part 2

So i headed up to the Northern Studies Centre which is located around 25km from the town of Churchill itself. This was to be my home for the next 5 weeks or so, volunteering for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. Cleaning, washing up and giving a hand where necessary (re-stocking the gift shop, admin work that sort of thing). The perks of the “job” are that i get to go out on the tundra buggy at least a couple of times, along with the paying guests/course participants.

I met my room mates (the volunteer rooms sleep four people in bunks) Lizzie who is from Aberdeen and Sarah who hails from Oregon in the States. I didn’t want to bore you with too much writing so i’ve uploaded the photos as a slideshow and written a short caption for each one, click on the first photo and you will be able see a bigger version.

It was a sad day when i had to say goodbye to Lizzie and Sarah as they headed for the train but we have made plans for the future – Sarah and i are going to meet up in 2013 in France and walk the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago together and Lizzie, depending on work will hopefully join us for at least a part of the walk. It will seem very strange to be sleeping in a room on my own again, i feel i was so so lucky to have been able to share the last few weeks with such great girls, we’ve had such a laugh and got along so well together.

At the end of the 5 weeks i headed back to town to stay again at Heidi’s house and will post again with more images.

Heading North, very north!

After a looong couple of days travelling i finally arrived in Churchill, greeted at the airport by Heidi, it was so good to see her again – unbelievably it’s been three years since i last visited Canada! Headed into town and dumped my bags at heidi’s then we headed to Gypsys for food. Yum!

Flying in to Churchill on the Calm Air flight. Couldn’t get over how remarkably like the Uists it looks from the air! (Meaning so much water and very soggy and boggy looking).

Waking up in Churchill – we have snow!

Heidi had to go off to work but had very kindly lent me her car so i headed off on what was to become my routine for the first 10 days of my trip – birding! I was under strict instructions not to leave the car and wander off. There are polar bears in the area and they will eat you! My daily route took me up to the granary building by the port then along to Cape Merry and back along the coast road as far as the airport then off down Goose Creek Road to the weir. The weather was cold but hovering aound 2’C it was not uncomfortably so.

Snow Bunting, Churchill, Manitoba

Still plenty of Snow Buntings around – the grain train was swarming with them 🙂

I met this guy, a Silver Fox along the road to Cape Merry

Silver Fox, Churchill, Manitoba

So close i didn’t even need the telephoto lens!

I really didn’t expect to see Beluga Whales, they are usually gone well before October, but here they were, still in the Churchill river.

Beluga Whales, Churchill River

Beluga Whales

Lots of geese around still, here are a mixture of Snow Geese and Canada Geese sitting around on the frozen ponds.

Snow Geese and Canada Geese

On the frozen ponds at the granary

I love Snow Geese!

Snow Geese, Hudson Bay in the background

You never quite know what you might find, i’d had a tantalising pico-second glimpse the day before of a large falco, heading away from me at a rate of knots, just a silhouette in the poor light. I had been hoping for Gyr Falcon but didn’t want to call it. Anyway, the next day on my “rounds” i found this sitting on a pile of old railway sleepers and guess it must have been what i’d seen.


Peregrine. Nice!

Same pile of sleepers, a different day. A cross fox this time, no, not angry, a cross between a Red Fox and a Silver Fox.

Cross Fox

Cape Merry – how Hebridean does this look?!

Overlooking the Hudson Bay

Cape Merry always fascinates me

You don’t get this sign in the Hebrides though. And people still ignore it!

A thaw and the temperature went up to around 4’C making the morning very misty and murky but i was happy to find this Bald Eagle sitting on a rock in the pond on the outskirts of town.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Greater Yellow Legs

Greater Yellow Legs

Found this Rough-legged Buzzard on my way out of town.

Rough-legged Buzzard (Rough-legged Hawk)

Goose Creek Road is always interesting to have a slow ride down, i got Redpoll down here and a probable Snipe, Gray Jay was a regular.

Goose Creek Road

Scaup down by the weir, Greater unless you can tell me any different…


Returning from one of my rides out the weather had turned pretty nasty – great huge snowflakes so i was heading back home. I thought i would take the “scenic route” so turned off to take the track that follows the coast and takes you near to Miss Piggy, the wrecked aircraft. Something white in the bushes caught my attention and yes! My very first polar bear! It was pretty big but was thankfully looking very sleepy. Managed some rather ethereal looking shots through the snow.

My first polar bear sighting 🙂

Looking rather sleepy…

Towards the end of the week we had an invite to a BBQ, it was held out at Camp Nanuk – a beautiful place out in the middle of nowhere. Bit of a magnet for polar bears – the clue is in the name (nanuk = polar bear in the language of the Inuit people). So we spent a great evening, -4’C burning sausages on sticks over a fire. As soon as it got dark we could see the northern lights which were truly amazing and i didn’t have my camera! Aaarrgghh!! Never mind when we got back to town later on we called back to Heidi’s and i picked up my camera and tripod and was able to get some great shots.

The frozen lakeside setting for our BBQ at Camp Nanuk

Mmmm, toast those sausages…

And just incase a polar bear decided to join us – 4 cracker shots and 2 live shots

The aurora? Well, i’m sorry but words fail me really, i just can’t begin to describe the amazing spectacle that we had that night, easily the best northern lights i’ve ever seen.

Aurora behind the Inukshuk at Churchill beach

The granary on the horizon and the whole sky lit up with flowing, pulsating aurora curtains.

So, the end of a first 10 days, having a fab time so far. Next i’m off to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to do a stint of volunteer work. I don’t quite know how i’ll get on – i’ve never done any sort of  volunteer work that hasn’t been bird-related before. I’ve been told “be prepared to get dishpan hands“. Ooo er!? Ian is always very fond of telling the story that when he first met my mum she told him “I hope you don’t think you’ve got yourself a domestic goddess!” I think, though perhaps i’m wrong here, that he thought no, but she can waffle on endlessly about moult and plumage. Doesn’t help much in the kitchen when faced with the washing up from 85 people though…




Moths, Birds, Itchy Feet and a FitBit

Although the weather has been very dry these last few months and we’ve had the odd day over 20’C the conditions haven’t been really ideal for moths with the northerly wind, clear skies and coolish temperatures. However, some of the nights have been pretty good with our biggest catch of the year so far on the 25th July – an amazing 580 moths of 40 species in just one trap (our Robinson 125W MV).

Our best moth night so far this year

The haul included such goodies as Archer’s Dart, Howarth’s Minor, Oblique Carpet, Pretty Pinion, Lime-speck Pug and Yellow Shell which were all new for the year. There were an incredible 193 True Lover’s Knot and 98 Dark Arches.

Bordered Grey

Scotch Annulet – the bugger flew off before i could get a decent shot – i think it’s new for our 10km square

Archer’s Dart – nice moth!

Ingrailed Clay

Purple Clay


The ringing has been pretty decent with plenty of Meadow Pipits on the move, the vast majority of which were juvenile birds. We’ve also been lucky enough to catch and ring 16 new Swallows and a Sand Martin (keep wanting to call them Bank Swallows which is what they’re known as in Canada/North America).

A nice surprise in the net were two Swallows that we had ringed this year as nestlings – one nearby in Askernish and one in a nest in a barn near Hallan cemetary – always good to see them fledged and healthy. A Pied Wagtail juvvy came to vist – we’d also ringed that in a nest nearby here in Askernish.

Sand Martin


Two Starlings had managed to get themselves down a chimney in an empty house in Frobost, both were dead. The first had been ringed back in September 2010 and was an adult male then, the second bird was ringed as a juvenile female in September last year. Neither bird had been retrapped in the intervening period.

Not sure if i mentioned previously that i’ve bought a FitBit (those of you that know me well know that i can’t resist gadgets!), it’s a digital pedometer and it fixes to your bra and counts how many steps you do in a day, how active you are, that sort of thing. It has a wireless base station and whenever you are within 15 feet of the base station (which is plugged into your computer) it “syncs” and uploads your data to the FitBit website. My friend Linda in Lewis also has one and we both heard about it from my daughter Sara (another gadget girl, dunno where she gets that from!?). We started the Hebrides FitBit group: there are only the three of us as members so far but if you know anyone else it’s all just a bit of fun really 😉

FitBit - digital pedometer

FitBit – i got the girlie pink one 🙂

I decided, in a rash moment, that a 14 day step challenge would be a good thing to do. I set myself the task of doing more steps each day than i’d done the day before – sounds easy doesn’t it! Luckily the weather was good for the two weeks of the challenge and it did force me to get my butt off the chair and get out from behind the computer.

Random yellow welly found on the beach during my step challenge. My phone doesn’t take very good pics…

Well, i’ve decided to go off on my travels again. Those itchy feet, just can’t get the better of them 😉 Now, this won’t be a birding trip – i think i’ll be lucky if my list reaches 10 species! My lovely friend Heidi lives in Churchill in Manitoba, Canada – it’s located in the north of the province, on the Hudson Bay and has been saying for the last two years “come visit me!!”. Churchill is famously known as the location the polar bears gather while waiting for the sea ice to form – they spend their winter living out on the ice. I’ll be there during the height of “polar bear season” so i’m hoping to get some great views and some great photos of the bears. Not too much of a close up though, the last time i was there Gerald Azure (of mushing fame) told us “that bear doesn’t want your sandwich – YOU ARE the sandwich” 🙂

I’m also hoping that there will be some aurora as well to take some photos of, although i will be a little early for the best aurora but you never know. I’m busy stocking up on warm clothing as all i have is wussy British winter clothing which probably won’t be up to much against the arctic chill!

Here are some interesting links:-

Telegraph Article: Churchill, Canada, Polar Bear Capital

Churchill Weather (Current conditions)

I visited Churchill previously but that was during the season that could loosely be described as “summer”. Here’s the write up from my old blog:-

Plans: Fly into Winnipeg (via Toronto), stay overnight then fly Calm Air out to Churchill. I’m staying with Heidi from the 8th October until the 29th November – then i will leave on the train and travel back to Winnipeg – approximately 40 hours – this time i’ve booked a cabin for 1 – treating myself to a little comfort 😀 I’ll then have a couple of nights in Winnipeg (providing the train gets there on time!) then fly back to Heathrow via Toronto. From Heathrow i’ll get a flight to Glasgow and stay overnight. The next day i’ll get the flight from Glasgow to Benbecula. Phew!

Had a ringing session at Druidibeg – i went on my own, Ian stayed and ringed at home – there aren’t usually enough birds for the two of us at Druidibeg. It was my first time this year getting midged – no wind at all, the nets were hanging perfectly. Shame there were no birds to go in them! Had a visit from the Eriskay ponies though…

Eriskay ponies

The ponies weren’t at all bothered by me sitting on a rock just a few feet away from them.

Well, here are our ringing totals for July 2012 – a pretty good month! More than happy with the number of House Sparrows ringed for our RAS – again, as with the Meadow Pipits, the vast majority were juvenile birds.

New Retraps
Sand Martin 1
Swallow 16 2
Meadow Pipit 61
Pied/White Wagtail 12 1
Wren 11
Robin 3 1
Stonechat 1
Wheatear 1
Blackbird 10 8
Song Thrush 11 2
Sedge Warbler 4
Willow Warbler 23 2
Starling 21
House Sparrow 94 703
Chaffinch 1 1
Greenfinch 47 50
Twite 2
Lesser Redpoll 31 11
Reed Bunting 1
Totals 351 781
Species 19 10