The small country of Slovenia is home to some of Europe’s most stunning vistas, from the towering peaks of the Alps, the picture postcard city centre of Ljubljana, to the forest covered hills and mountains of the Dinaric Karst.
It is when you dig a little deeper, exploring the country’s sprawling forests that the true magic of Slovenia is properly revealed. These wonderful forests, a mixture of pine and beech, hide some of Europe’s finest wildlife – a population of brown bears. With the help of Slovenian Bears, it is possible to spend your evenings enjoying fantastic bear encounters from the comfort of purpose-built hides.
I spent the vast majority of my time in the Notranjska region, home to the country’s core population of bears, but the area is also filled with incredible caves and other features typical of a limestone karst landscape. I managed to explore the incredible cave network of Križna Jama, travelling up to 4km along the water filled passages, and the delights of Lake Cerknica, the largest intermittent lake in the world.
The beautiful meadows are filled with wild flowers, including an array of delicate orchids, the copses are alive with the sound of birdsong while in the forests the call of the Cuckoo resonates through the trees. For the lucky few, an encounter with the striking Ural Owl is certainly one of the region’s avian highlights, with up to one pair every square kilometre this surely one of the best places to see them in Europe.
In reality though, I went to Slovenia for the bears. With between 400-700 bears in this small country, there is a very good chance that you can have superb encounters over the space of a few days. I have to admit I was unsure of what Slovenia would be like for bear watching and particularly in regards to the photographic opportunities, but I needn’t have worried … my 5 nights flew by with countless bear sightings.
Sitting in the comfort of the hides, waiting and willing for a bear to appear through the sea of trees is a thrill in itself. Every noise has you on the edge of your seat, a crack of a twig – it must be a bear? No, it is just a family of Jays bounding across the forest floor. The alarm call of a Blackbird rings loudly in your ears, but still no bear appears. But then, in complete silence the first bear comes into view, a young bear tentative in its approach, aware of those watching and waiting in the hide. After a few minutes though the youngster relaxes and goes about its business, only pausing to check that there is no immediate danger. After a few minutes the bear’s ears go up, the nose starts to twitch and the eyes focus on something I cannot see. Then over a rocky outcrop, two more bears appear, both with a golden hue to their coats and walking purposefully towards the hides. Now three bears are within only 20 metres of the hide, the two new arrivals keeping their distance from the first individual and all of them ignoring the deep thud of camera shutters firing as they go about their business.
This was just my first evening in one of the many hides on offer, and what a great introduction it was. I hope to be heading back to Slovenia later this year to try my luck again, so you can expect another flurry of images over by the autumn.
Here is an array of other images captured during the following nights.
If you are thinking of a long weekend away filled with wildlife (particularly bears), I can highly recommend this beautiful and welcoming country.
I am already planning a return visit to the area and hope to operate a photography tour in 2018 with Wildlife Worldwide.