Back to the Bears
Julia and I have just returned from another week photographing some of Europe's top predators in Finland. This time, with friends Paul and Claire Lloyd we visited WildFinland, run by wildlife photographer Lassi Rautiainen. Situated on the Finland / Russian Border, the hides are situated in the No-Mans-Land between the two countries, to the east of Kuhmo. Our home for the week was in former forester's accommodation, where we ate and slept. Unlike previous trips we spent the afternoons in the various hides - darkness descended at around 19:00 hrs and daylight was around 07:00 hrs, so nights in the hide would have been fruitless.
The accommodation block - we had twin rooms with shared bathroom and toilets.
Our drive from Kupio airport was through heavily falling snow, so we hoped that it would settle and stay for some snowy mammal shots, however with temperatures overnight not getting below freezing, we awoke to a damp overcast day - this was to be the norm for the rest of the week.
Our mornings were free, so we could wonder around the forest. A feeding station neat the accommodation attracted Red Squirrel, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Jay and plenty of Great Tits, but not mush else.
Red Squirrel, starting to acquire it's greyer winter coat.
After lunch we set off on the short drive (about 15 minutes) into No-Mans-Land and to the hides. On the first day we concentrated on the hides overlooking the "swamp", known as Paradise. The hides are of a timber construction with a dry toilet and boat area. All of the hides had ample viewing ports and mounts for gimbals; some of the newer hides also had bunks for overnight use in the spring and summer. Sitting in the hides and staying still for a full afternoon was slightly cold, so thermals and layers were called for!!
Once we were in the hides, food in the form of salmon heads and tails, and dog biscuits was scattered around, and we didn't have to wait long before the first birds appeared. Although it was 17:30 before we got our first sighting of a Wolverine, before then we'd been treated to visits from four male Brown Bears. No females were seen as they retire into hibernation earlier than the males.
View from the hides at Paradise
Long-nose - one of the males bears we were to see on a regular basis
Short-nose - another regular visitor
"Priest" - a very distinctive bear with a white collar, but only seen on our first day.
We left the hides at 18:00 and returned to our accommodation where a superb evening meal awaited us. Evenings were spent chatting or processing the days images.
On our second day, breakfast was at 08:30, and then the time was our own until 12:00 when lunch was served, followed by a drive down to the hides. This time it was the lake hide, but any chance of reflection shots were thwarted by the heavy rain. Needless to say, though with salmon heads and tails strategically placed and a scattering of dog biscuits, the bears still played ball, with the Wolverine coming in as dusk approached. The view from this hide was very different from that at Paradise, the surrounding forest required us to up the ISO to around 6,400, to get a decent shutter speed.
Three male bears at the Lake Hides
As part of the supplementary feeding of the bears, once a week a carcass is put out for them, it also has the added advantage if attracting wolves (which was out main quarry), but also larger birds of prey - both Golden and White-tailed Eagles out in appearances, whilst Raven, Hooded Crow and Magpie were ever present.
Adult Golden Eagle, coming through the rain for an afternoon snack
Golden Eagle feeding on the carcass left out for the bears
White-tailed Eagle fly-by
Raven - "it went that way"
The following day was very much a repeat, with two different Golden Eagles coming down to the carcass (another pig was put out, again in the hope of attracting wolves.
Sub-adult Golden Eagle trying to get some food
Sub-adult Golden Eagle flying off, with the older Golden Eagle not giving up his lunch.
Adult Golden Eagle, suitably fed, leaving the carcass.
"Short-nose" approaching the carcass
Tucking in - the carcass is wired down to stop the bears dragging it away!!
Still tucking in
I'll take this piece for a midnight snack!!
Our final day was spent at another set of hides, again set in the No-Man's Land between Finland and Russia. The Forest Hides are located in an area of Forest leading down to Paradise. Some of the hides (as at Paradise and the Lake) offer low-level opportunities. The hide we were allocated, although not having any low-level camera openings was set slightly down hill, so we were able to get some low-level type shots. A great end to another fantastic holiday, although we didn't manage to see any wolves.
Up-close and personal
"Short-nose" having a root around
"Long-nose" stretching for hi-level food
"Will I fit?" - almost time for hibernation
"Wish it would stop raining"
Our final encounter of a Brown Bear on this trip - looking sorry to see us go.
As we prepared to leave the hides for one last time, on putting our boots on, we found dog biscuits inside them!! Had the Jays that we'd been watching in the Forest Hide been entering the boot and toilet area outside the hide and caching their finds? We'll have to return and try and find out :)