O Canada! Churchill, Manitoba — Day 6 — 2014-07-08

It’s difficult for me to believe, but this is (drum roll…) Blog Post #100!

Day 6 – Today’s field trips will take us back to the Dene Village area, Cape Merry, and to Polar Bear Jail in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. For you folks who appreciate Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata, this will be a treat for you.

Lorne said he would take us back to Dene Village, and that is what he did. Once there, I immediately headed to the Amerorchis rotundifolia site where I had previously found a few Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata. Photographing this species forma as well as photographing Polar Bears were the two main reasons I signed up for this trip — the rest is icing on the cake. I wanted to look for more of them. Here is probably the best one I found. The plant has only two flowers, but the markings are just fantastic:

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

Note the super dark petals under the dorsal sepal as well as the dark red markings on the lip. To me, this is the apex of the species.

I did find a few more that were close to being the tops in my book:

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

For the two above, I think the color clash of red and purple add an extra bit of pizzaz to the flowers.

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

The two flowers in the image above left, actually belong to two different plants — that’s why one of them has spots and the other has stripes. I also find it interesting that this unusual forma seems to be found on plants with just a few flowers…

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata
Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata
Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

I’m not sure if these next two images represent Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata, but I’m going to include them in this category since the purple dots are much larger than are found in the typical form of this orchid species:

Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata

At this point, it’s almost like discussing how many bubbles are in a bar of soap, so I’ll just show the images and shut up. 😉

Amerorchis rotundifolia Amerorchis rotundifolia
Amerorchis rotundifolia Amerorchis rotundifolia

The remainder of the images are ones that I thought would be of pure white flowers — indeed, another very rare occurrence, but all of these flowers turned out to have pink spots. From 6 feet (1.8 meters) off the ground, the spots actually seem to disappear:

Amerorchis rotundifolia Amerorchis rotundifolia

Amerorchis rotundifolia

After spending so much time alone at this one spot, I began to worry that everyone else was already back at the van waiting on me, so, I headed back. When I got there, only a few of the group were there (mostly the birders who didn’t find much to see at this location), so I found some wildflowers to photograph that were near the van. There was one rather large population of Pedicularis groenlandica or Elephant’s-head lousewort. The flowers of these plants are quite unusual and do resemble elephant’s heads. The only problem with photographing them was fighting the constant wind. These plants are tall and spindly, so getting them to behave and stay still is a chore. I managed to wait out the wind gusts and catch a few shots during the brief lull:

Elephant's-head lousewort Elephant's-head lousewort

You are probably wondering why I don’t include some full plant/habitat shots of some of these species. For reasons such as lack of color contrast and the like, these wide-angle shots just don’t work. That’s why I haven’t included them in most cases.

Just next to the road and close to the van was a large patch of Parnassia palustris or Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus. I had never seen this particular species, so it was nice to be able to photograph the only open flower that I saw:

Parnassia palustris or Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus

Walking across the road a bit, I saw a couple of stems with blue flowers that looked somewhat familiar. This is the darkest of the bunch. Turns out that this is the rare blue form, Oxytropis campestris var. dispar or Late Yellow Locoweed, which is a threatened species in neighboring Saskatchewan.

Rare blue form of the Late Yellow Locoweed

By now, everyone has gathered back at the van, and it’s time to head back into town and have lunch at our favorite place, Gypsy’s Bakery and Restaurant.

After lunch, we head out past the Eskimo Museum where the Epilobium angustifolium Fireweed is blooming:


Along the way, we see lots of signage that use the Polar Bear or Eskimo as part of the advertising. Here is one for a lumber supply store:

Business sign in Churchill

Off we head to Cape Merry at the northern end of town. Cape Merry is the home of the remains of a canon battery, which is a stone wall to protect the cannon from enemy fire. It was constructed to guard the Churchill River and the river mouth, and to prevent enemy occupation at Fort Prince of Wales (just across the river to the West) by providing crossfire. You can still see the site of the first battery and the remains of a powder magazine which still has the original limestone mortar.

According to Parks Canada, the Hudson Bay Company’s Committee in London was not pleased with either the location or the construction. The battery was located directly across from the fort’s eastern flank. The cannon could be used by the enemy to fire directly upon the fort. Built into the middle of the battery, the powder magazine was in a dangerous position — any stray sparks could ignite the black powder and blow the whole thing to smithereens. The flag pole on the top of the magazine made an excellent target for an enemy ship in the bay. In 1747, Joseph Robson, a stone mason and surveyor for the Hudson Bay Company, was instructed to relocate the battery to a second site. It still stands today, having been rebuilt in 1959-60 using stone blocks found at the site along with modern cement. A lone cannon stands as a reminder of its original intent. This cannon is one of the original 42 cannon from Fort Prince of Wales.

While wandering around on the cape (secretly hoping to see another Polar Bear), I stumbled across two interesting orchids. One of them is the dwarf form of the Blunt-leaf orchid called Platanthera obtusata forma collectanea. It can be found in several of Canada’s eastern provinces. It looks like the typical Blunt-leaf orchid — just a miniature version, only about 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) tall:

Dwarf form of Blunt-leaf orchid

The other orchid is one that we saw earlier in the trip, the dark form of Corallorhiza trifida or Early Coralroot orchid, except this one was quite a bit darker:

Dark form of Early Coralroot orchid

It was getting late, and it was time for us to head back to the Centre. On the way back, we passed a large, hangar-type building up on a hill. Lorne said, “Let’s go to Jail!”. We turned off on the gravel road leading to this building, and as we got closer, I could read the sign on the front of the building, “Polar Building Holding Facility”. This is Polar Bear Jail:

Polar Bear Jail

Around the perimeter of the property were a dozen or so holding pens, designed just for holding misbehaving bears:

Bear holding pen

The sign on the one above reads, “Danger – Bear Trap – Keep Away”, as if we needed a reminder…

Bear holding pens

Apparently, they take a pen out into the field when a misbehaving bear is found and transports it back to the holding facility. At the facility, the bear is transferred to quarters inside the building. I can only imagine what goes on in there to try to make the “bad” bears remember not to mess with people again. We stopped at the entrance on the other side of the building where there were some workers cleaning the equipment. We chatted a while, but they declined to let us enter and see the one bear that they had been holding for a week. As I understand it, the rule of thumb is to hold the bear for 30 days, then transfer it to one of the mobile holding pens and cart it off. The bear is then released at some undisclosed location, far from human activity.

An interesting way to end the day. Who knew about “Polar Bear Jail?” Seems that I’ve been learning something new every day on this trip…

*** Update: Today my brother, John Fowler, sent me the link to this article about Polar Bear Jail. It does pretty well to explain about the dangers of Polar Bears in the Churchill area as well as explain wha happens in Polar Bear Jail.


One comment

  • John Fowler

    You can learn more about the polar bear jail by googling the term. Interesting to read about.

    Great flower shots and prose here, as always, Jim!

    July 25, 2014

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