As many of you who follow my work probably know, I work for a wildlife travel company called Naturetrek, and last week I got the opportunity to lead their photographic trip to Finland to photograph European Brown Bear. It was my first time in Finland, and it was also my first time to photograph bears (having only seen Black Bear briefly in Canada).
So after exploring the forest around the fantastic Martinselkosen lodge (where I was lucky enough to see a Beaver), we ate our late lunch in readiness for our first long night in the hide. The advice to bring a warm fleece really was not applicable for this trip, the temperatures where in their high twenties and after the 2km walk to the hide everybody had certainly worked up a sweat. It is worth noting that one must have a really good quality insect repellant as well as covering up on the walk to the hide!
We arrived and there, less than 20 yards away (whilst we were still on foot), was a full grown bear, nothing between us and it ... a wild Brown Bear!!!!!
I honestly could not believe it, we shuffled into the hide as quietly as we could and all rushed to get our camera gear ready. Within moments there were a multitude of bears coming to find the food that Martinselkosen leave out for them. This location is right on the edge of the Russian border and they are fed dog biscuits and salmon, only enough to supplement their diet so that they do not become dependent upon it. Except for the pesky gulls that turned up, and seemed to eat nearly all of the salmon, there was a quick appearance from a Black Kite - swooping down and grabbing a piece of fish before flying up into the tree tops.
Anyway enough text for now I know, you want to see the bears ... so here they are for you:
The bears come and go in waves and more often than not, in family groups as mothers bring their cubs to fatten up! At times there were up to 10 bears (including cubs) all feeding around the area. (By the end of the night we reckon we had seen around 30 individual bears.) As some came in, some would leave and this meant the first few hours in the hide went very quickly indeed ... almost non stop action from the very first moment at 5pm until nearly 11pm. The youngest cubs were definitely the crowd pleasers but the behaviour of the adults and the pecking order was very obvious to see. It was all rather fascinating as well as extraordinarily exciting!
The other thing that was very noticeable at the time and particularly in the photographs, is the huge variation in the bear's colourations. Some individuals were definitely darker than others, and some such as the female above were almost entirely "blonde". The cubs also showed a diverse range of markings and colourations which, of course, would be inherited from their parents.
As I said earlier, the cubs were definitely the stars of the show and everybody loved watching their antics as the evening went one. One thing people particularly wanted to see was the cubs climbing up high in the trees but on this occasion we were not treated to this amazing sight. You'll have to read my next post to see what happened the night after!
Finally, one last image for you showing what the forest looks like in the midnight sunshine. As the area is not too far from the Arctic Circle there is 24 hours of light on offer and even at midnight on a clear evening you can get some incredibly good light! A photographers dream to a certain extent but the lack of sleep can certainly get to you if you decide to spend all night watching the bears!
So after a busy evening already photographing the Fox cubs, the Roe Deer that turned up at the Fox den decided to hang around for a wee while and I photographed it for a few minutes before it moved off. I decided to head up the hill towards the local footpath and then back home. When I got to the top of the hill I noticed a young Roe Buck as well as a Doe. The wind was in my favour and I was able to get incredibly close, which of course meant I managed to get some images.
I spent around 10 minutes getting closer and closer until the wind changed and the Doe got spooked, moments later the Buck moved off too.
So a really productive evening again, Ropley is really providing the goods right now.
After a lovely warm weekend I decided I had to make the most of the warm light on offer, as the sun started to set I headed out with my camera. I planned to go for a short walk and see what was about more than anything but I was in for quite an evening.
I set off across the seemingly endless, rolling crop fields, the wheat and the barley gently swaying in the breeze. The golden light creating the long shadows of a summer's evening and Yellowhammers singing from each and every part of the hedgerow. The odd Skylark singing its delightful song overhead and Swallows skimming across the crops as I made my way towards the hill top and the woods that lay upon it. It was there I startled a Roe Deer with an accidental snap of a twig beneath my boot, a big Buck that went bounding off into the distance. I moved down to the field boundary to then notice some movement upon a hay bale, to my amazment there were three Fox cubs, no more than 10 yards away! They weren't afraid of me as such but they did slink off.
So then I did my best to find them again, after nearly half an hour I thought that the opportunity had passed, and perhaps it was time to head back home. Then I saw that tell tale red coat and there they were, three Red Fox cubs (all nearly fully grown) all sat in a line.
So having been spoilt rotten with the foxes, even if it was at a bit of a distance, I then got an opportunity to photograph Roe Deer as two came down the field boundary straight towards me. But for now I will just leave you with one of the more simplistic shots as she munched on her preferred vegetation. Part 2 to this blog post will be up soon ...