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Wildlife in Finland Day One of the adventure scroll to see all the Story

At the end of July 2018 I travelled with photographer Robert Canis and a group of 6 other photographers to a lodge (Martinselkonen Wilderness Centre) on the Finnish / Russian border ostensibly to take photos of wild brown bears in the Finnish Taiga forest. We expected an adventure and we got one. Our plane from Heathrow airport to Helsinki was delayed and we ended up almost missing our connecting flight to Kuusamo. A mad rush across Helsinki airport ensured that we all made the flight. Our luggage sadly did not. Fortunately, we were all wise enough to ensure that we took our cameras and photographic equipment as hand luggage. So we were not going to miss out on the opportunity to take photos. We had a very pleasant two hour minibus journey from Kuusamo to the Russian border. Finland has 18,000 lakes and lots of forest. We got to see a lot of forest and lakes. And Reindeer walking across the road.

Woodpecker

We got to the lodge late in the evening. The plan was to rest during the next day ready to stay awake all night to take photos of brown bears. It was difficult to sleep. Usually in Finland in July the temperature is no more than 15 degrees centigrade during the day and much cooler during the night. But Finland had a heatwave like the rest of Europe and the temperature during the day was nearer 30 degrees centigrade. Due to its proximity to the North Pole there was almost 24 hours daylight so sleeping during the day was not going to be easy., especially with the heat. I could not sleep and spent my time at the lodge taking photos of wildlife. The lodge was located in the middle of the forest and lots of wildlife was attracted to the feeders full of seeds, nuts and other food. One of the many creatures attracted to the feeders was this woodpecker.

Bullfinch

Also attracted to the feeders was this colourful bird - a bullfinch. The challenge was to get a photo without the feeder being visible.

Woodpecker

Woodpecker sitting on a branch near the feeder waiting to get some food.

Wagtail

Wagtail on the grass near the feeder.

Another colourful bird attracted to the bird feeders.

Red Squirrel

Not just the birds were attracted to the feeders. We got to see the antics of red squirrels which are of course very rare in the UK, particularly in the South of England. Red squirrels in Finland are not quite the same as English red squirrels.

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel on a branch
Red Squirrel climbing down the branch towards the bird feeder
Red Squirrel near the bird feeder
Red Squirrel on a branch
Red Squirrel watching through the branches
Dragonfly

There were lots of flying insects, and especially dragonflies but they were impossible to photograph in the air. They just flew too fast and too erratically. I did manage to photograph this dragonfly when it settled on some wood.

Seagull on one of the trees of the Finnish Taiga forest in glorious late evening sunlight

We walked through the Taiga forest to a hide set near a lake. We would change hide each day to get different types of photos. One hide was near a lake, another in the forest and the third near a swamp. Finland is a cold country most of the year and the hides are insulated to keep in the warmth and keep out the cold. 30 degrees centigrade during the day became something like 45 to 50 degrees centigrade inside the hide. There were no open windows and opening doors with wild brown bears outside was NOT an option. We suffered for our art. The light early evening by the lake was wonderful but you've guessed it, no brown bears. I took this photo of a seagull in the glorious light. I had not travelled all that way to take photos of seagulls, however, good the light.

Female Brown Bear with 3 Bear Cubs

Eventually our patience was rewarded and this female bear appeared on the other side of the lake with her three bear cubs. The light was simply glorious and we got reflections of the bears and the trees from the forest in the lake. I thought the bear was huge. That was until I saw bigger bears later.

A larger brown bear walking along the banks of the lake. I was certainly glad of the water of the lake being between me and the bear, and the safety of the hide. Brown bears are killers. On returning to the UK I found that people at Woburn Safari Park in their car had been attacked by brown bears. I did not need reminding that we were told NOT to open the door of the hide. Like all animals brown bears tend to attack humans when provoked or when hungry. I had no intention of provoking them and our guides told us that the bears were well fed. Brown bears are omnivores meaning they eat everything. Eating people is not usually their first choice and they prefer to eat berries. Well, that is what we were told!

Female Brown Bear
Female Brown Bear with Bear Cub

We got to see a lot of bears. This female bear later returned with her cubs.

Female Brown Bear with Two Bear Cubs
Mother brown bear and cub by the lake
Bears Foraging for food

At times it was very dark and the conditions put a huge strain on the capabilities of our cameras and lenses. I am a great believer in the idea that it is better to get a photo with a bit of grain, atmosphere and movement, than no photograph at all. This is a case in point..

Wild Brown Bear
Brown Bear Walking from the lake to the forest

At 7 am our guides came to collect us. We have managed to stay awake all night and cope with the intense heat and lack of ventilation. It was exhilarating to see brown bears in the wild and to be able to photograph them. Fortunately, during our first night with the bears we had not had a particularly close encounter and made the most of our long lenses.

Most of my photos were taken with a full frame camera, a 100-400 mm lens and a 1.4 converter so the focal length of most of the photos was 560 mm. A safe distance from which to take photos of wild bears.

Bears are like London buses. You wait hours for nothing and suddenly they all arrive at the same time.

You need a lot of patience for wildlife photography. Not that we were going anywhere with wild bears on the prowl!

We were less than half a mile from the Russian border. Apparently Russian bears do not understand borders so many of the bears could have been Russian ones. How do you tell?

There is no night during the summer near the Artic Circle but it definitely got darker. This put a strain on our cameras. This photo of a young bear walking near the lake was taken at just before midnight.

We spent hours waiting for bears to appear when the light was good. And of course they appeared when it started to get dark. This photo was taken at just before 1 a.m. in the morning. Not the best time to take photos.

The last brown bear that we saw that night. At almost 1.30 a.m.!

The very slight breeze on the water (no good to us in the hide of course) disappeared and the reflections on the water of the trees was to die for. No bears of course. That would have been too much to ask for. But we did get a wagtail to appear on the shore of the lake.

Glorious light. reflections on the lake and early morning mist. Perfect for that photography a brown bear. Only you have guessed it - no brown bears around. And despite the sweltering heat no brown bear obliged by having a dip in the water to cool down.

But we had survived Day One of our Finnish adventure. And were delighted with the photos that we had captured. Ready for Day Two in the Finnish Taiga Forest.

Created By
Philip Pound
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Credits:

Philip Pound www.philippound.co.uk

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