If you want to see and photograph brown bears, there are not many better places than Finland.
This year we've spent a week in July and a week in August photographing bears. We never get bored of seeing this powerful animal and each trip presents itself with new challenges and opportunities.
Travel info. We landed in Kuusamo airport and later were transferred to Martinselkonen nature reserve. The journey by a car which was arranged via Martinselkonen wilds centre took about 2 hours (~150 km). The reserve is situated close to the Russian border in Eastern Finland. It is 170 km from Kajaani, 180 km from Kuhmo and 270 km from Oulu; so you can choose to fly to these airports instead of going to Kuusamo.
The first bear photo session starts the following afternoon. The hides are around 15 minutes drive from the lodge. There is an option to book a main big hide for group of people or pro hides for 2-3 people. We've chosen pro hides in three different locations: swamp, lake and forest. We were taken to the hides around 4 pm and stayed overnight till about 7 am. July is the best month to photograph bears.
By the way, all three trips we booked directly using Martinselkonen website. This worked out well. If you prefer travelling with a group, there are several agencies offering bear watching and photographing experiences.
Lenses. Lenses of length 300-600mm are most useful in pro hides. Most often we used 300 and 500mm but 70-200mm was always ready on a spare camera for the moments when bears come very close to the hide. ...and it actually happened quite a lot. There is no need to bring a tripod, however you may wish to bring a tripod head.
Photographic experience. On our arrival to the swamp hide, the rain had poured nearly all day. The forest was a slop of mud and puddles, and the water level have risen dramatically in the swamp.
Towards the evening, we spotted a bear with two cubs crossing the swamp.
They came a bit closer to the hide but did not stay long. Mom and cubs looked alert and kept scanning the woods for male bears.
The following day we headed to the pond hide. This year cub activity by the pond was very poor. Couple years ago there was plenty of action from fluffy bear cubs who kept climbing up and getting down the trees all evening.
This time the area was left mainly for tough adults or adventurous "teenagers".
The evening was calm, with no wind. Perfect conditions for reflections.
Most of the days we've spent in the forest hide. There is always a good activity not only from adult bears but from cubs as well. Of course, the area first is scanned by huge males.
By the way, a full grown male weighs on average 250 and 300 kilograms (550 and 660 lb), females typically range between 150–250 kg (330–550 lb). We came across some interesting facts about bears:
Is Eurasian brown bear a threat to humans? Actually, brown bears don't seem to be a great threat towards humans. They only attack humans when defending their cubs or when they are starving. There was a tragic case that took place in June 1998, Finland. A man in his forties was out jogging in the forest. He surprised a female bear with a cub close to the jogging track and was killed.
If we talk about brown bear diet, it's interesting to mention that they mostly eat berries, roots, leaves, insects, and fruit.
Meat takes 15 % of the diet. The archaeological remains of Eurasian brown bears show that animals were up to 80% carnivorous. Afterwards, when humans became a bigger threat and prevented the bears from hunting livestock, the animals had to adapt to their surroundings. The diet of brown bears varies enormously throughout their differing ranges. For example, bears in Yellowstone National Park eat an enormous number of moths during the summer, sometimes as many as 40,000 in a day in August. In areas of Russia and Alaska, brown bears feed mostly on salmon, the nutrition and abundance of this food accounts for the enormous size of the bears from these areas.
Bears have been known to go after human grain stores for food, with some Russian Bears actually getting drunk on grain alcohol.
Let's go back to our bears in Finland's remote forests...This year we've witnessed quite a lot bears standing on the legs. The reason behind this behaviour is to get a better smell, sight or sometimes a good scratch...
The cubs behave in the same way when they want to get a better picture of the surrounding area.
Ancient Eurasian tribes worshiped the bear; its ability to stand and walk on two legs led them to believe it was a their brother.
One of the days was particularly warm, and some of the bears kept sitting on their hind legs in the forest trying to cool themselves down. We have not witnessed this kind of funny behavior before.
When the environment is safe with no male bears around, there is plenty of action from fluffy cubs. They are very active, play for long periods wrestling or chasing each other.
If we watch the cubs play-fighting together - they're just look like children.
We wrote a separate blog just about the cubs. If you are interested, please check out it here.
Thank you for visiting. Hope you enjoyed it.