Photographing Brown Bears in Finland
Bears are marvelous!
I cannot imagine not eating for a single day—my size should testify to that—and it has always amazed me how huge animals like bears hibernate during the winter, surviving solely on the reserves accumulated during warmer months. Yet, their strength and power can be compared to the big cats, who, by the way, eat throughout the year.
I have always wanted to watch bears in the wild, observe their activities and behaviour, and of course, photograph them. When informed that I could do all this quite close to where I live, I decided to go right ahead and take that four-hour flight to Finland.
There are two options to reach the Martinselkosen Eräkeskus Wildlife Centre . Take a flight either to Kajaani or Kuusamo; the place is about a two-hour drive from either of the airports. Once you arrive, a small garden area at the edge of the forest enables you to see and photograph several species of birds.
The area is remote and very peaceful. Started in 1991 as a family-owned initiative, the Martinselkonen Wilderness Centre is located in the municipality of Suomussalmen, near Finland’s eastern border, and very close to Russian territory , one of the finest places to watch bears in finland.
Finding our ” Bear-ings “
Every summer, the Eurasian brown bears of this region migrate to Finland after their winter hibernation in Russia. There are several hides built inside the forest where one can stay and watch the bears. Every evening, we would walk for about 40 minutes into the woods to reach the hides and once in, lock ourselves until the next morning.
By its geographic virtue, the Nordic (Scandinavia, Finland, or Iceland) nights’ are just a couple of hours of darkness and there’s good light for the rest of the time. So you watch the bears throughout the night. A guide accompanied us on the walk to the hide where we stay locked in from 4:30 in the evening until 7:30 the next morning, until he comes to take us back.
The bears are active during the night and they move into the thick woods in search of berries during the day. It is safe during this time to get out of the hide and get back to our guest house for some sleep. The hides are small (about 10 ft x 5 ft) – just enough space for two – but strong. We carried with us a couple of sandwiches (hey, I’m no hibernating bear!), some tea and some drinking water.
Our First Day
On our first day, still new to this adventure, we locked ourselves in the hide and set up the camera, the lens peeking out of a small low-lying window with a cloth over it for camouflage. After an hour or so, the first bear appeared – peeking through the taiga tree trunks. Then, within a short span, a huge female followed and she wasn’t alone – she’d brought her cub along.
The mother—like most mothers—was very protective of her young. Later that night, she chased a male, which had wandered close to us, literally making our hide shake due to their thumping feet. In between all the excitement, I did notice that she could outrun me easily.
The cubs were playful, wrestling among themselves, and at times, climbing over one another. Whenever they felt threatened by the bigger males around (which would only happen if the mother had wandered a little far away), they would quickly climb a tree.As the bears slowly moved away into the woods, I sat back and ate my sandwiches, sipped some hot tea and looked through the small window of the hide.
It was a fantastic first day’s experience in the wild. Once you come back to the guest house, breakfast is laid—porridge served with local berries; the same berries that the bears love. Lunch usually comprised local vegetables, fish and reindeer meat.