Land of the midnight bear – part I

Click on image to enlarge

This was our second trip with Natures Images to Martinselkonens. If you want to photograph bears then this is the place to go. Last year weather was unkind for the majority of our stay with only the occasional   break now and then making it hard work at times.  We were also disappointed not to have any mothers with young cubs. But this is what draws you back as a photographer…that and the fact that Pressie and I love the bears. It really is one of the best wildlife watching experiences in Europe.

The Brown Bear  is one of eight species making up the bear family. The Brown Bears that roam the Finnish taiga on the Russian border are themselves one of several subspecies, made distinct by their geographic distribution; and a cousin of the American grizzly.

They are big, powerful animals. A fully grown adult male brown bear can weigh anything up to several hundred kilos,  and stand over a metre at the shoulder. A particular feature characteristic of brown bears that distinguishes them from other members of the bear family is its large hump above the shoulder blades.

Despite being Europe’s largest predator, they are naturally shy. Centuries of persecution mean they are wary of humans and try to avoid contact as far as possible.

The bears of the Finnish taiga are part of the world’s largest population of bears, extending from the Baltic to pacific, including Norway, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus along the way and comprising around 110,000 bears. In Finland there are around 1000 bears in total.

Bears are not protected in Finland and can still be legally hunted (although the cost of a permit is beyond the means of most native Fins). Despite this, the no man’s land which runs along the frontier with Russia provides something of a  refuge for the bears,  militarised as it is and subject to strict access controls.

Before going into the hides, our Finnish hosts had something to show us. A den used by a hibernating bear from the winter.

Click on image to enlarge

This is Marco, one of our guides doing his best impression of a bear emerging from hibernation.

It certainly whetted our appetite for our first night in the hides later in the day. After an early dinner we trekked off together into the forest. For our first night, Pressie and I were in one of  the two man pro hides in the swamp. This is one of my favourite hides with lots of bear activity. This year they had moved the hides and the swamp was carpeted with cotton grass as far as the eye could see.

I should just say at this point that Natures Images have been running trips to Martinselkonens for several years now and unlike most UK bear watching tour operators offer their clients the more intimate 2 person professional hides located at three different locations (swamp, pond and forest) rather than the two large public hides at the centre, thus making for a more satisfying wildlife watching experience.

Click on image to enlarge

It wan’t long before we saw some old friends, two yearling cubs from the previous year appeared from the edge of the forest and walked toward us through the cotton grass.

Click on image to enlarge

This particular bear is one of Pressie’s favourites. Can’t think why!

Click on image to enlarge

It was a great start to the evening and things were about to get better still, as we spotted an adult female bear watching nervously from the edge of the forest before tentatively stepping out in to the swamp, followed by her two newborn cubs, born only a few months before. Just wonderful for both of us to see. It was the start of what was to be a magical evening. So special for us in fact, that I thought I’d share a few more photographs with you than usual.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on  image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

It’s a sad fact that a cub has only a fifty fifty chance of surviving its first five years. Sickness and  lack of food play their part. Attacks by adult male bears in around 45% of cases though are the most frequent cause of death in young bears. The reason, is simple. By killing cubs that are not his own, the male brings the female back in to season. Giving him the chance to pass on his genes and eliminate future competition at the same time. Nature can be cruel sometimes. Perhaps because of this threat the cubs stay with their mothers for the first two years.

Click on image to enlarge

The role of mother bear as protector was something that we saw a lot of during our stay. The swamp provides good all round visibility enabling mum to see the approach of an adult male from a quite a  distance, so that she can track it and the family can beat a swift retreat back into the forest if necessary. The pattern was always the same. Mum would hang at the edge of the forest warily checking that the coast was clear before bringing her  cubs out to feed. All the while maintaining her vigil and rearing up at the merest hint of movement and potential danger.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

And this particular mother was absolutely right to be wary as this big adult male walked straight passed our hide a few moments later.

Click on image to enlarge

In between these anxious  moments, the bears delighted us with their antics. This one seemed to have ambitions to be a pole dancer.  I know we were at the tail end of the mating season season but still, shameless stuff!

Click on image to enlarge

As the sun set behind the trees we had a few moments of glorious light. So who walks into it but Lippy. Not the most beautiful of bears (his lip permanently left hanging in a fight with a rival male) but we loved him all the same.

Keen not to receive a similar mauling, this bear made good its escape having caught site of another approaching male. Bears have powerful legs and can run at phenomenal speed when they need to.

Click on image to enlarge.

Tired but happy we emerged from our two man hide at 7am the next morning. The action had been relentless so there was no time for any rest. The highlight of the evening had undoubtedly been seeing the cubs, so I thought I’d finish off with a few more images.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

These last two images are amongst my favourites from the entire trip. So I thought I’d finish (Finnish?) with them.

Click on image to enlarge

I’m off to Bulgaria on Friday (via Romania – don’t ask!) for a few days to visit Pressie’s mum and dad. When I return though I’ll pick up with day two of our time with the bears of the Finnish taiga.

This entry was posted in Finland - Summer. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Land of the midnight bear – part I

  1. I came across your website while reading The Daily Mail online and just had to look at your website as I have also been to the same location. Some fantastic photographs, unfortunately I never used the pro hide as my partner didn’t like the idea of the toilet arrangement. The public hide we used had the two of us and the guide. It was still an amazing experience and had the bonus of the guides giving us aome background of the bears.

    Congrats on the Wildlife photography competition.

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Hi Martyn

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. Really appreciated. It is a wonderful wildlife watching experience isn’t it? I know what you mean about the pro hides. The toilet facilities are grim and don’t blame your partner at all. :)

  2. Tony Deegan says:

    I finally got around to writing a piece about the “Big Four” in Finland, and linked to this page as an example of the kind of photographs that can be taken here: http://www.discoveringfinland.com/blog/?p=193

    Regards.

  3. Penny Dixie says:

    Stunning, stunning images! I keep returning to this year’s N.I. trip … and I see there are places left… soooooh tempting!
    Wonderful work Jules…

  4. Kirsty says:

    These photos are absolutely beautiful and I really appreciate the explanatory details with which you accompany them. I will never be able to travel to Finland or to see bears in their natural habitat, so thank you very much for sharing these pictures. A real privilege to see some of the beauty of God’s creation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>