Spring Awakening 2019 - Trip Report

 

Spring Awakening: 20th - 26th April 2019

Trip Report


Late April in Eastern Finland and temperatures were unbelievably high for the time of year. The surrounding area was unequally covered with a layer of snow, which varied in thickness. With average temperatures generally between 0-5 degrees Celsius at this stage of the year, the +19 degrees Celsius was a big surprise. With daytime temperatures of above +10 Celsius for 5 consecutive days, the existing snow covering was receding by an exceptional amount as each day passed. We were present on location a few days in advance, in preparation for the arrival of our group.

 The lead up: April 20th - 23rd

As we prepared for the week ahead, it was apparent very early after arriving on site that Spring was setting in early. Redwing were present around the lodge, sitting conspicuously at the tops of conifers singing loudly, and displaying to nearby females. Siskin and Redpoll were also displaying and singing in the mornings, delivering an impressive dawn chorus which echoed around the forest. Upon arrival we were told of a few sightings of Bears which had been sporadic as activity was just heating up. We prepared for our first night with our expectations low. As we approached the hide area, a small number of Hooded Crows were circling above the swamp. As we emerged from the forest onto the Swamp, a Wolverine stood motionless, watching us from beside the lake. We stood and watched as this Wolverine moved around the lake in broad daylight and off into the trees. Was this a sign of the good things to come?

A Wolverine with an ice covered tail pauses momentarily at the East lake.

A Wolverine with an ice covered tail pauses momentarily at the East lake.

 Over the coming 3 nights, predator activity began to increase. A large dark male Bear had started to emerge earlier each night. His majestic, powerful build was unmistakable, as he moved onto the swamp and into view.  During our first night we had a surprise Red Fox, which carefully patrolled the edge of the forest. Ravens could be seen squabbling on most nights, their croaking calls echoing around the forest clearing and swamps. We were treated to excellent views of a pair of magnificent White Tailed eagles, which descended like flying barn doors, touching down on the frozen lake. Both of these birds showed very well for 2 nights prior to the groups arrival, as they picked up meat scraps on the frozen lake surface. The regal trumpet like calls of Common Cranes signalled the start of the day, often complimented by a heavy frost. All of these additional highlights complemented the steady increase in Bear sightings, and we were excited to share these wildlife encounters with the group.

A White-Tailed Eagle takes off from the frozen lake surface with a piece of meat.

A White-Tailed Eagle takes off from the frozen lake surface with a piece of meat.

Our group arrived mid afternoon on the 24th of April, and were greeted at Kajaani airport. After a short transfer to the lodge, we arrived on site. After an enjoyable evening meal, a short intro presentation was given before heading off to rest before our first night in the hides.  

The lodge in it’s beautiful wild surrounding, as the snow recedes quickly.

The lodge in it’s beautiful wild surrounding, as the snow recedes quickly.

Day 1 – 25th  April

After a short walk to the hides at 4.45om, our first night was underway with some excellent weather. Gorgeous evening light was cast upon the landscape, as a fairly substantial amount of snow remained on the swamp. The first predator that emerged came in the form of a light coloured Wolverine, which appeared twice early on in the evening. We waited for a short while before our group was treated to the first Bear sighting. As if on cue, the big dark male Bear emerged in excellent light only a couple of hours into the first hide session of the week. With our group even spread across the hide area, it wasn’t long before this male Bear made his way past every single hide on site. We were able to capture some nice portraits.

Male Brown Bear up close and personal!

Male Brown Bear up close and personal!

Evening light catches the side of this male Bears face.

Evening light catches the side of this male Bears face.

Shortly after this, a new male bear appeared, this individual being slightly smaller than the larger male seen previously. This individual looked very similar to one of the Bears that had been present last autumn, and was stunning pale looking Bear with unusual colouration. As the night progressed, a number of corvids continued to show, alerting us to the re appearance of the large dark male bear, who visited again at 9.30 as the light faded. The week was off to a very positive start!

The large bold male Bear strolls determined, on a thin crust of snow.

The large bold male Bear strolls determined, on a thin crust of snow.

Day 2 – 26th April

After breakfast, we had a short walk over to the hide area. On this walk we encountered a number of bird species. Due to our partnership with the lodge, we had access to certain areas of the forest zones where we knew there was high ‘Bear traffic’. We placed 3 different Bushnell trail cameras with the group, in the best surrounding areas, leaving them in place to see what they would capture over the trip.  A flock of 60+ Waxwings were seen later in the day, their lilting calls catching the breeze every now and then. An afternoon presentation was given on Bear Biology in the auditorium before dinner was served. The hide evening got underway and again produced a respectable number of predator sightings over the course of the night.

With a small amount of snow remaining (Although very patchy now), we enjoyed great sightings of the bold male bear, present on night one. The excellent light, although fairly strong, allowed for some portrait images. This bold bear provided lots of potential for images, as he remained in the area for a while before moving off into the night.

Softly back lit, this male Bear strolled close by to our hides at the east lake, as the snow had all but retreated.

Softly back lit, this male Bear strolled close by to our hides at the east lake, as the snow had all but retreated.

Shortly after sunset, a Wolverine was seen at the east lake. The area was quiet and the Wolverine appeared very comfortable as it played infront of hides 21-25 for almost an hour! The Wolverine foraged for any food scraps available, as it bounced around the swamp in it’s characteristic comical manner.

Day 3 – 27th April

After another cold night, a beautiful frost covered the swamp the following morning. When the wind blew in the right direction, the beautiful bubbling ensemble of a Black Grouse Lek could be heard. Distant but magical. The BearPhoto guides led a short (1.5 hour) guided walk, where we slowly wandered along the tracks through the forest until we reached the Russian border. We were unsure whether we would be able to access the border due to deep snow, but the group soldiered on and we made it. We even had time for a group photo!

Group Photo at the Russian borderzone!

Group Photo at the Russian borderzone!

On the way we found tracks in the snow left behind my mountain hare, as well as pellets left behind from Black Grouse and Capercaille.

Our third night proved to be very productive in terms of photography. The large male that we had gotten used to seeing, appeared early again in bright sunlight. He visited all hides on site once again, making the most of the food he could find. As the light continued to improve a Wolverine made a brief appearance, close to the eastern lake, allowing some portraits.

The large male bear smells the air in some lovely evening light.

The large male bear smells the air in some lovely evening light.

Next came the gorgeous looking young male Bear, in the best light we had experienced on the trip so far. He persisted in the area, and proved very photogenic as he foraged across the swamps.

After darkness had been and gone, a sharp frost was left behind on the ground vegetation. The young male bear returned at sunrise, allowing some very nice images in the warm golden light of sunrise.

Day 4 & 5 – 28th / 29th April

On our final couple of nights, whilst walking to the hide area it was clear to see how much the snow had receded, and all but disappeared! We were treated to some of the best encounters of the trip on these nights, where both male Bears ventured close to the hides. As the snow depth had reduced so much, the Bears felt more comfortable day by day, walking out into the open. Both male Bears continued to show well, and we enjoyed some excellent spells of nice light. Both nights 4 and 5 followed a similar pattern. We enjoyed some excellent views of Wolverine across both nights, meaning we were lucky enough to observe and photograph Wolverine on every night of the trip.

A close encounter with a Wolverine at sunrise near the northern lake.

A close encounter with a Wolverine at sunrise near the northern lake.

Large flocks of Waxwings were present at the tree tops in the hide area, and could be seen regularly as they searched for food, and prepared to breed in the coming weeks.  

On our final night in the hides, shortly after the sun had set, a ghostly figure appeared to the north. The highlights of this animals pale fur made it obvious that it was a Bear, but it looked unfamiliar compared to the other individuals we had been observing previously. As the area fell quiet, we watched in disbelief as the pale shape of a familiar Bear became clearer and clearer. It was Blondie! Nicknamed the ‘Spirit Bear’ of Finland (Read more here), this absolutely stunning female Bear moved silently and cautiously across the northern swamp, making her way around to the eastern lake before disappearing again into the night. The BearPhoto guides were over the moon at Blondie’s return, and predict that she would have hibernated in a den very close by. It was an absolute pleasure to see this stunning female bear safe and well, after her long winter spent underground. We were able to capture a few images (Although slightly dark!) of this gorgeous female, who we hope will stick around for the rest of the season for other people to admire! A lovely way to end on the final night of the trip.

BLONDIE! The unique pale female bear emerges for the first time since her long winter hibernation.

BLONDIE! The unique pale female bear emerges for the first time since her long winter hibernation.

Day 6 – 19th September

Following the final night, the Bushnell’s were collected, capturing more videos of bears in the surrounding area. The group had breakfast together for one last time, before the returning transfer to Kajaani airport for flights home.

The group were great from start to finish and we really enjoyed sharing the week with them all! A guest gallery of images taken over the 6 days can be viewed below (photographer details displayed).

 

If you wish to join our Spring Bear trip to Finland in 2020, please let us know as places are most limited on this trip out of all others! April is arguably the most unique time of year to photograph Bears in adverse weather conditions, due to it’s this unusual time of year, with potential snow cover. To secure your place (1 Remaining) today or request an itinerary for next years tour, email us at info@bearphoto.co.uk.

 
Harry Read