Brown Bear Photography in Finland

July, 2012
 

It was such a great feeling to realize that we are deep in the forests of Finland ready to watch and photograph Eurasian Brown bears (Ursus arctos arctos). This magnificent mammal could once be found across most of northern Eurasia but intensive hunting, habitat destruction reduced their numbers or caused extermination in many countries, including England. Finland on the Russian border has a healthy population of brown bears and Martinselkonen Nature Reserve is a perfect place to witness this elusive mammal. We've chosen to come in July as there is a good chance to see female bears with cute and adorable cubs.
We landed in Kuusamo airport and later drove 2 hours to the reserve. The first bear photo session started the following afternoon. We headed towards a hide which overlooked a forest with some open space. A wooden hide was for two, just enough to move around.  We didn’t waste our time, quickly prepared our cameras and were ready for some action. Just minutes before our arrival, the rain had stopped and the sun was covering everything in a beautiful glow. We didn't wait long for our first encounter with a large male bear which was slowly moving out of the woods. Bears look slow but they are able to run up to 35 km/h (21.7 mph). In comparison grizzlies run 56 km/h (34.8 mph), polar bears - 30 km/h (18.6 mph). The fastest human is Usain Bolt who has clocked 44.72 km/h (27.44 mph) in the 100 meter sprint.  

Couple of hours later it was such a thrill to see a bear mum with four cubs coming out of the forest. There was plenty of action from the little ones all evening. We had to take many images just to produce some sharp ones because of the poor light in the woods. It was a bit of a challenge but it was well worth it.

All the cubs were so cute and funny but particularly playful and most adorable was the smallest one. Strange enough but he had chosen to play-fight with his biggest brother despite the fact he was losing all the time. After exhausting play-fighting he used to take some quiet time and rest.

Sometimes his bigger brother used to give him a company.

It was an amazing experience. The excitement from such a nice encounter kept us awake all night. Around 7 am we left the hide and headed back to the Wilds Centre for breakfast and some rest.

At 4 pm we were ready for another evening with bears. This time we headed to a swamp. On the way we had a great conversation about bears with our guide and of course he taught us how to say "a bear" in Finnish. To make the task a bit difficult we decided to count: "yksi karhu, kaksi karhu, kolme karhu". 

Our hide in the swamp was very similar to the one in the forest. With our gear and sugary snacks ready, we were eager for action some from bears. The first bear came out of the forest in the light rain which lasted about half an hour. 

After the stage was taken by big males which weigh up to 300 kg (661 lb). The largest Eurasian brown bear recorded was 481 kg (1060 lb).

Early evening when adult males were gone was a time for cubs. They followed their mum and were a bit shy and cautious at the beginning.

But later they simply couldn't stop playing...

Nevertheless they had to remain vigilant.

While others were playing, sweet little one preferred to stay in mum's company ...

We could spend hours watching and photographing adorable bear cubs. It's such a shame that quite often we are restricted for time.  Nevertheless the day was brilliant. We even had a bit of luck of seeing a White-tailed Eagle on the top of a pine tree. The night was spent in the hide again. This time we had a surprise visitor... Naughty cub was scratching the door of our hide and was eager to get inside...

Back at the Wilds centre we had another tasty breakfast. We couldn’t resist a temptation to try Finnish blueberry jam which was packed full of fruit and flavour. We must admit the food during our stay was really delicious thanks to Markku wife's efforts.

The last afternoon with bears was spent in the hide near pond. This time we had to wait nearly three hours for the bears to turn up.

There was plenty of action and most of it was from fluffy bear cubs which kept climbing up and getting down the trees all evening. Once we have witnessed a female bear on the top of the tree. An aggressive male was around and quite clearly badly scared the family.  

A bear mum with two cubs stayed by the pond until 12 am.

She cuddled them all the time and was very protective, but  when it was getting darker and there were no other bears around we had a possibility to witness a sweet moment of a suckling cub...

Later this family passed our hide couple of feet away and disappeared into the wilderness of Finland…

Back to London we feel happy that we had a chance to experience such a wonderful encounter with Brown bears and a smile doesn’t fade from our faces when we look through the photos.