Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Jerry Hickman of Spokane spends much of his year surveying sharptail grouse, loggerhead shrikes, sage thrashers and burrowing owls in Lincoln County.
But given a couple of weeks of vacation, Hickman is among a handful of bird and bear experts chosen by the Wild Rockies Outdoor Science University’s Ursid Research Center to lead public trips into the haunts of the polar bear.
Hickman will be leading his sixth trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Sept. 10-17 to see one of North America’s great fall wildlife spectacles.
“In past years, the group has seen up to 202 different polar bears,” he said. “This area of Hudson Bay is a real concentration point.”
The first trip Hickman led to Churchill was billed strictly for polar bear watching. But future trips were expanded in scope.
“At the same time the bears are concentrating there’s flocking of migrant shorebirds and species such as arctic terns and some spectacular bunches of snow geese.
“And it would be hard not to see some white whales, wolves, caribou, snowy ouls and peregrine falcons. You could even do some fishing.”
The trip is sponsored by the Missoula-based research center, but will run in conjunction with a similar trip sponsored by the Bozeman-based Great Bear Foundation.
Nature watchers can sign up for Hickman’s trip for $900, which includes guide, room, board and round-trip transportation from Missoula to Churchill. A $100 refundable deposit required. The similar trip sponsored by the Great Bear Foundation costs $2,100, but includes a helicopter flight and a boat ride.
“I’m trying to offer a less expensive trip,” Hickman said, “but people who wanted a helicopter ride could do that on their own for an additional fee.
“I love the tundra country, and this is a poor man’s way to get to the arctic,” he said.
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MEMO: To register for Jerry Hickman’s bird and polar bear observation trip to Manitoba - or for info on other bear trips and programs ranging from Glacier National Park to Russia - contact Ursid Research Center, Box 9383, Missoula, MT 59807, telephone (406) 728-9380.