Spring Rut 2019 - Trip Report
Spring Rut: 22nd - 28th May 2019
Just one month after our successful ‘Spring Awakening’ photo tour, we were on location again in Finland, this time for our ‘Spring Rut’ photo tour. The daylight hours had drastically increased and were increasing day by day. An orchestral arrangement of breeding bird calls could be heard every morning as they were at their climax. Coupled with the repetitively beautiful call of the cuckoo Echoing throughout the forest and swamps, it was clear that spring had finally sprung in this far northern region of Finland.
Prior to arriving on site, our Swedish guide Magnus, had been on location for 3 consecutive weeks guiding his own tours. Thus, we had a head start as to knowing the recent activity levels. With frequent messages notifying us of his encounters, including wolves, bears and wolverine, we couldn’t wait to once again get back to the land of predators. Following an enjoyable day of observing the local bird life and getting to know their bearings of the local area, our group of 8 were eager to once again get into the hides. We say ‘again’ because 5 of the 8 guests that joined this trip had also visited last autumn on our ‘autumn gold’ tour. So were keen to see such how much contrast the spring season had to offer.
Thursday 23rd - Night 1:
With beautiful clear conditions forecast for our first night in the hides it looked like we were in for a good night, and that we were indeed. After a few hours of entering hides we had our first bear encounter, which was a very impressive male. We were very happy to see that it was the same large male that we have been observing just one month previous on the ‘spring awakening’ trip. The first day we saw this particular bear was on Easter Sunday, and so since it was a new bear in the area we appropriately Nicknamed this bear ‘bunny’.
The still, glass-like reflections that were occurring on the main lake whist this male was searching the area were absolutely stunning and provided some incredible opportunities to capture reflections.
A short while later another bear we were very familiar with made an appearance - the beautiful young female we’d named Blondie. This is her second year alone and she was sexually mature. Therefore, she had attracted the attention of a similarly aged male, which we had observed during our Spring Awakening tour. She emerged closely followed by a male bear named ‘Pointer’, who we had encountered a few weeks previous. Blondie was potentially in heat, meaning she smelled very attractive to any male bears that were close. Pointer proceeded to follow Blondie around the east lake, as his shape was perfectly reflected into the dark waters edge.
It was such a privilege to spend considerable amounts of time on location, as doing so enables you to really get to know individuals and follow their life stories throughout the seasons. We were likely the last people to see this young female bear the previous autumn, and the first to see her this spring, having seen her on the first night she emerged during April. Let’s hope that she successfully breeds and passes on her genes to a new generation of Finnish ‘spirit’ bears!
A short while later at approximately 21:35 yet another new bear arrived (the fourth so far), this time a young female. She was very cautious as the scent from the male that just passed through was likely still strong, and so she was observed standing up tall many times in order to get a better view of the area. This is a classic spring time behaviour due to the rutting season being fully underway.
Just when the night couldn’t get better, a mother bear emerged on the forest edge. She was closely followed by 3 young cubs which all appeared from the south! This was the well known pale mother bear ‘Lumikki’ (Finnish for ‘Snow White’) and her cubs; a daily visitor throughout the autumn. It was amazing to see the gorgeous little cubs, now 8 months older yet still displaying the same distinct characteristics. The mother and her cubs proceeded to show for over half an hour, circling both lakes and almost all of the hides present on site. As a thin mist started to form around the dark lake water, pink hues warmed the quickly darkening sky. Our guests were treated to the dream start, filling memory cards with hundreds of images to sort through.
At 22:40 as the light had faded slightly, the large male known as bunny from earlier emerged again from the south. This time he appeared to be on a very determined mission, following the scent trail left by the mother and cubs that had passed by just one hour previous. The behaviours observed throughout this night were classic ‘rutting season’ behaviours, and are what makes this month and trip so unique and unpredictable! Finally, just before settling down for the night, the distant call of a Tengmalm’s owl was heard circulating the lake.
As darkness began to set in, distant alarm calls from the mother bear were heard. Upon checking outside, the cubs were observed frantically climbing a tall pine tree, presumably because of a nearby male bear which was out of sight. We couldn’t have asked for a better first night - A total of 8 bears throughout the night made for a great start to the trip! Not to mention the amazing views and courtship behaviours that were observed throughout the night.
The return to the lodge from the hides on Friday morning was greeted with some beautiful bird songs. The flute like descending whistle of a Redwing hung in the air, with a number of other species beginning to call also. Both the migratory Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff called regularly, with the occasional blast of song from Pied Flycatchers. Earlier on this day we guided the guests to the hide area, as we always do on day one so to show them the area and give them some idea of the varied landscape each hide offers, whilst doing so a few of the guests took the opportunity to set-up remote trail cameras. When collected at a later date it revealed that the bears were equally as active under the cover of darkness - as to be expected. Below we will attach a few of their favourite clips recorded with owner credits displayed in the description.
After a fairly quiet evening with some corvids for company, shortly after 9.30pm as the light slowly faded and the mist began to rise, the pale bear known as Blondie returned to the eastern hides, where atmospheric conditions created some unique views. Although a brief encounter, some unique images were taken during this unusual encounter.
Late in the night at around 1am, a couple of our guests observed something slightly worrying. The mother bear reemerged after not being seen for almost 24 hours, but this time without her 3 cubs. She did however, have the large dark male bear close by her side, due to her being in heat. At a time of year when breeding rights are at stake, we were hugely concerned that this large male bear may have attacked the mother bears cubs (Or worse), to allow himself more freedom to potentially mate with her. We watched as the female bear left scent marks, closely followed by the determined male bear who followed her every move. We would have to wait until the following night to find out more information on the fate of the cubs.
Early in the morning Blondie re emerged at 4.30am by the lake hides, allowing some further photographic opportunities. The quantity of visits had reduced, however the quality of these encounters and photographic conditions still produced some excellent results.
Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th - night 3 and 4:
A number of birds were present in the area, including displaying Goldeneye, at fairly close range to the hides. This continued on almost every night, providing some needed amusement. It must be mentioned that the most memorable bird observed and heard during this trip, was the humble Cuckoo. Almost all day and all night, it’s beautiful and mesmerising (if not slightly repetitive!) vocals seemed to fill our ears, delivering the perfect soundtrack for our week long boreal adventure.
After our second and third night in the hide, it was obvious that drama was beginning to unfold. The mother bears cubs hadn’t been seen since the large male Bear followed their scent, in a determined and calculated way. The third night passed again, giving us no views of the cubs. As night 3 ended and day 4 began, we began to worry as to the cubs whereabouts, despite some other unique photographic opportunities with some of the older bears. Upon arriving back to the lodge our group enjoyed breakfast together, before we returned to our rooms to catch up on sleep and rest for a short while. Later in the afternoon, one of our eagle eyed guests (Clarie Lloyd) spotted something through the window from the accommodation building, and she quickly came to alert the rest of the group. Slowly and inquisitively meandering through the forest all alone, were 2 tiny bear cubs! We quickly and quietly gathered outside next to the accommodation building, and only a short distance away in the forest, stood the two cubs. The cubs were definitely the offspring of the female mother bear, and at least 2 were still alive and well since we saw them on night one, which was a positive sign. They foraged quietly close to the lodge, before making their way off in to the dense taiga forest.
We were treated to a range of lighting and weather conditions during night 4, very similar to night 3. Night 4 followed a similar pattern, although occasionally Waxwing flocks passed over, and a number of other bird species remained in the area, all very vocal. We were delighted to observe the two cubs we’d seen earlier, emerge distantly, proving to us all that they were coping on their own - learning to forage independently.
The large male bear (named ‘Bunny’) emerged fairly late on at a similar time on both evenings including on night 4, providing some unique but challenging photographic opportunities. Another dark younger male bear appeared later in the night, foraging for a short while before moving on.
Monday 27th – Night 5
Upon arriving into the hides on our final night, it wasn’t long before one of our guests spotted a Red-Flanked Bluetail, which was singing out in the swamp. A lone Wolverine bounded across the swamp out of nowhere, it’s comical run giving it away. It was good for a number of our guests to finally get a clear, unobstructed view of this unusual and incredible mustelid. A new bird which was added to the growing species list (which we will attach at the end of the report!). Following an eventful, but demanding couple of nights, we were hoping that the Bear activity would pick up earlier in the evening, allowing for some images. We waited as the sky turned from clear and blue to being full of angry, grey clouds.
We had some distant views of the large male bear, who appeared to still be close by to the mother bear. The Bears didn’t venture very close, and we waited patiently for some close activity. After regular scattered and light rain showers throughout the week, we expected to maybe get another as clouds gathered above. A gentle drizzle began to fall, followed by slightly heavier rain. The rain that followed shortly after was something we’d never experienced in the hides before. The heavens opened, as we watched the ponds surface turn from a calm mirror into furiously splashing water. The torrential downpour persisted, as a dark shape emerged in the distance towards the east lake. The large male bear re emerged alongside the female, and continued to pass almost every hide, merely shrugging the unrelenting raindrops off their soaked pelage. Just as the bears neared the main pond together, a small window appeared to the north, allowing a small amount of sun to break through, casting an ethereal light over the swamp. We were able to photograph the bears in some of the most unique weather conditions we’d ever witnessed on location - The absolute highlight of our final night!
Tuesday 28th - Day 6
Following the final night, the Bushnell’s were collected for the final time. The group had breakfast together for one last time, before the returning transfer to Kajaani airport for flights home. The group were excellent from start to finish and we really enjoyed sharing the week with them all, including the Lloyd’s, Pickles and Jonathan Wintle from last autumns trip, we couldn’t seem to shake them off! We had one of our most enjoyable trips to date, with a huge range of photographic conditions, moments and memories.
A guest gallery of images taken over the 6 days can be viewed below (photographer details displayed).
If you wish to join our May Bear trip to Finland in 2020, please let us know! May is a very unique time of year to photograph Bears in, due to the unusual rutting season behaviors observed. Secure your place on this popular tour today or request an itinerary for next years tour by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.