There’s a bear up there!

Click on image to enlarge

Earlier this month I lead a trip on behalf of Natures Images to Finland to photograph the Brown Bears of the taiga forest.

This was my fourth season with the bears at Martinselkonens (time flies when you are having fun) and I was really looking forward to it. I was very fortunate to be leading a great group of clients. Everyone was really excited to see the bears and there was great camaraderie within the group with every one getting on famously together, making for a very enjoyable trip.

I was keen try for some different images this year. Last year they moved the location of the pond hide. The vegetation is a lot more pristine at the new location and I love the trees in the background making for a very beautiful setting.

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We were very lucky this year also that we had lots of mothers with young cubs. In total we counted four mums, each with three small cubs and we lost count of the number of yearlings. It was more like a bear creche to be honest! On one night in the hides we counted thirty three different bears passing though, including cubs and yearlings

At the time we visited, a new male that the guides hadn’t seen before was making his presence felt. He was very amorous and keen to get to know the local female bear population. According to one of our guides, the always entertaining and very lovely Mikka though, there was only one female in season and she was already taken. This meant that all the other mums were very wary of this rogue male’s presence and particularly protective of their cubs, since he would first have to kill them to bring the female back into season. This lead to a lot of tensions with the male causing havoc every time he was in the near vicinity,  resulting in stand offs with the females and their cubs being encouraged to seek safety up the nearest available tree.

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Bear up a tree incorporating the other trees of the taiga forest was a shot I was really hoping to capture on this trip, meaning that I spent a couple of nights in the forest this year. It really helps to have a spotter on hand when it all starts kicking off and Preslava, who I am pleased to say was able to join me this year, performed the role admirably as always.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

For the most part of the trip the weather was kind to us. On our first night in the forest though it rained, which creates its own opportunities. It is really great for example for highlighting the texture of the bears’ fur. I made use of the adverse weather conditions to create some intimate close up portraits and abstracts.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

The swamp is one of my favourite sites. It affords a stunning backdrop against which to set the bears in their natural habitat and is a location I never tire of.

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This year in the swamp the yearlings had even started a bear Pilates class…

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This next shot is one of my personal favorites of the trip. I really like the bear small in the frame as it ambles through the beautiful forest habitat in the early morning light, the rim lighting picking it out.

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After our night in the swamp, another of our guides and good friend Jarno invited the group for an excursion into the wider forest area to photograph other species of the taiga, including Red-throated diver. With all of the group suitably tired after three nights in the hides, only Paul and myself took Jarnos up on his invitation. A couple of hours later as I stumbled blindly, sleep deprived through thick taiga forest  surrounded by mosquitoes I was starting to wish I had voted with the rest of the group to be honest.

As we made our way through the forest, we suddenly we came across a large bird running across the forest floor in front of us, a common crane. Jarno starting looking around in vain thinking that there might be a nest close by. Until Paul pointed out that it was right in front of him. And there sitting in the nest next to an egg  was a beautiful chick. Crane chicks only spend a couple of days at the nest itself before they start foraging in the forest with their parents as part of their crane school training so this really was an amazing thing to see. We left the area as quickly as possible so as to minimize disturbance. I’m pleased to say that mum and chick were quickly re united and both chicks were spotted together with their parents later in the evening the same day.

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Eventually we arrived at the forest clearing where the Red-throated divers were. With both parents around it wasn’t possible to get into the hide without causing disturbance. So instead we photographed them from a distance using our longest lenses. It’s a very beautiful setting and again it gave me the opportunity to try to put the subject in the context of its habitat. This shot also saw me switching off the auto focus and manually focusing to get the composition I wanted with the divers right at the bottom of the frame.

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After our adventure yomping through the forest, Jarno invited Paul and I back to his summer cabin on the side of a lake to get some rest before returning to base. It turned out this included a spot of wild swimming. I don’t think I quite realised what this involved when I agreed to it, naively exclaiming ‘but I don’t have my trunks?’ Paul wisely opted out. And no Paul, I did not scream like a girl when I got in. Much. Just never trust a Finnish man when he says the water is nearly nineteen degrees! After the trauma of the swim it was time for a beer and a sleep. An hour later I woke up feeling a lot more rested but slightly disorientated. I was somewhat startled therefore to see a (mounted) bull moose’s head bearing down on me.

Paul and I returned to the group later that afternoon with our tales of adventure ready for our final night in the hides. The group got to chose which hide to go back into and the guides at Martinselkonens were brilliant in making sure everyone got their first choice hide. Preslava and I returned to the forest for our last night with the bears where the cubs were in playful mood.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

The rogue male was still making his presence felt and there was a lot of tree climbing going on. We were also blessed with some beautiful light during the evening. At last light a cub climbed up a tree in shadow. Further up, the tree was still bathed in beautiful light. ‘Into the light! into the light little bear!’ I encouraged him like something out of a bear version of Poltergeist. Just as the cub reached the patch of light decided to come back down again. Only for the cub to change his mind again and shin up the tree again into the most beautiful patch of red light. I could have hugged the little fellow (had it not been for his 250 kg mother watching close by).

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It was the perfect end to the trip. By this time everyone, including the bears were very tired. Shhh! Don’t wake her, she’s sleeping.

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It is always a very sad moment when the time comes to leave this magical location. The bears are very dear to both Preslava and my hearts and Martinselkonens is somewhere we always look forward to returning to.

I would like to thank all of our group: Aidan, Carol, the two Pauls, Preslava, Robert and Steve for making it such a wonderful trip to lead. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I really enjoyed your company. You made it very easy for me and it was lovely to seeing so many happy, smiling faces coming out of the hides each morning. I have seen some of your images already and know you got some absolute corkers!

Many thanks also to everyone at Martinselkonens for their hospitality and to our guides, Mikka and Jarnos, in particular for going the extra mile for us on the trip, and sharing their homes with us (and dogs, Pressie and I loved the Huskies) . Next time I am definitely packing my trunks though!

If you would like to spend time in the company of Europe’s top apex predator for what has to be one of the best wildlife watching experiences on the planet then Natures images have just put up another bear trip for next year led by my good friend Danny Green. You can book here:

http://www.natures-images.co.uk/pages/holidays-2014/wild-brown-bears-18-23-june-2014.php

 

 

 

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2 Responses to There’s a bear up there!

  1. Beautiful shots as always Jules.

  2. These photos are absolutely jaw dropping! I have to say, the one that captivated me the most was the close of the hair, how on earth did you do that? Fantastic work.

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