Just as the swallows return to Capistrano, the polar bears (Ursus maritimus) make their annual pilgrimage to Churchill. Known as the “polar bear capital of the world,” the town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, with its approximately 800 permanent residents, is perched on a spit of land between the western shore of Hudson Bay and the Churchill River. For centuries, this peninsula has been the polar bear’s natural point of access to the bay. It is the first place the Bay freezes over to allow the bears access to their prey, ringed seals. They migrate here in the Fall, about six weeks before they can gain access to the ice. While here, they are more communal than at any other time of the year. This is the time and the place to see polar bears up close in the wild.
Polar bears sleep, but they do not hibernate, and can easily be aroused. This individual, half buried in snow to keep his body temperature low, has selected a spot alongside some willows with their last-surviving brilliant leaves glowing in the soft sunlight.