Autumn Brown Bear Trip

 

Autumn Photo Experience: 12th – 18th September 2018

Trip Report

Mid-September in Finland, and the trees of the Kuhmo region were already turning from the crisp greens of summer into the vibrant golden colours of Autumn. We were present on location a week in advance, in preparation for the arrival of our fully booked Autumn photo experience. This autumn, the temperature was comfortable, and fluctuated between 0-15 degrees. A couple of brief overnight frosts revealed the stunning landscape at sunrise, helping to speed up the transitioning of the Autumn colours.

 A pristine  Red fox  (Vulpes vulpes) pausing to smell the air, among the vibrant autumn colours of the boreal forest.

A pristine Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) pausing to smell the air, among the vibrant autumn colours of the boreal forest.

The lead up: 7th – 12th September

Our guides were getting very excited in the lead up to the tour, as the area had been producing some exceptional and consistent predator sightings. The magnificent Brown Bears had been showing every night, with a big male present in the hide area every night quite early on. The highlight previous the the groups arrival, was the presence of a mother bear in the area, who was bringing her 3 tiny cubs along with her. These cubs were less than a year old, and 2 of the 3 had exceptionally unique pale colouration. Although Autumn is the best time to observe wild bear cubs, this family in particular were very unusual, and were attracting a lot of attention among the photographers on site. A very blonde female Bear had also been showing nightly, but was particularly shy.

Our guides had also sighted an alpha female Grey Wolf on September 9th. This exceptionally rare canine was seen briefly as she ghosted into the forest, before she let out a huge howl just as darkness set in. We then experienced one of the most beautiful sounds in nature, as she joined with her pack. The howling filled the air as it grew to a crescendo, leaving us speechless. See a short clip of this moment below.

The Wolf pack were predicted to circle their territory like clockwork, visiting the location we were based at every 5/6 days. During Autumn as the night’s get longer, the silent landscape provides the perfect conditions to listen out for the distant, eerie howling of Wolves communicating with one another. The crystal clear Autumn nights also offer potential viewing of the Aurora Borealis. On the 8th, we were treated to a dancing display of the Northern Lights which lasted around 20 minutes – September is one of the best months to view Aurora in the Northern hemisphere, as the autumn equinox approaches.

 The  Aurora Borealis  as photographed from one of the North-facing hides.

The Aurora Borealis as photographed from one of the North-facing hides.

Our group arrived mid afternoon on the 13th, 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. With a good mix of recent sightings, we were all keen to get out into the hides over the coming days.

 Our basecamp for the duration of the trip, located amonsgt the picturesque Finnish Boreal forest.

Our basecamp for the duration of the trip, located amonsgt the picturesque Finnish Boreal forest.

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Day 1. 14th September

After a short walk to the hides at 3:45pm, our first night was underway, with slightly overcast weather. This produced some nice soft light, and helped to intensify the Autumn colours. It wasn’t long before the first bear emerged, namely the large male bear nicknamed ‘Mini Brutus’. This confident bear was the largest in the area, and tended to appear early on allowing our group to photograph him in the beautiful low autumn sunlight, producing some amazing vibrant images. Shortly after this, the blonde female Bear was seen for the first time, but kept her distance.

 The pale blonde female bear, wanders through the autumnal swamp in search of food.

The pale blonde female bear, wanders through the autumnal swamp in search of food.

As the night progressed, we were delighted when the mother bear emerged cautiously on the forest edge. Closely following behind, were her 3 tiny cubs, inspecting the swamp in search for food. It was a real treat to see this family on the very first night, and allowed some very intimate encounters. The male bear returned once again during the evening, and an elusive Wolverine was seen briefly from a few of the hides, bounding across the swamp. As night fell on our first night, a Ural Owl was heard calling from the forest. Our first night was quite eventful! We left the hides at 7.30am the following morning, walking back to the lodge for breakfast, where we discussed the night together.

 The mother Bear emerging from the forest depths accompanied with her three adorable cubs. Image © Magnus Fredriksson

The mother Bear emerging from the forest depths accompanied with her three adorable cubs. Image © Magnus Fredriksson

Day 2. 15th September

After breakfast, we had a short walk over to the hide area. On this walk we encountered a number of bird species, the highlight being 2 Hazel grouse (A male and female). 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 4 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 (See videos below). A Red-Flanked Bluetail was sighted by group member Stephen Clarke, (Stephen’s Website), who photographed this Boreal specialist species.

 The West lake and it’s stunning autumnal foliage bathed in afternoon light.

The West lake and it’s stunning autumnal foliage bathed in afternoon light.

 Autumnal birch forest on the walk to the hide area.

Autumnal birch forest on the walk to the hide area.

 Hides 23-25 on the north lake in mid September.

Hides 23-25 on the north lake in mid September.

A short session in the bird hide produced some excellent images of the squirrels, smaller bird species present in the area. The highlights of the bird hide included Red Squirrel, Crested Tit, Greater-Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit and Jay.

 Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus)

Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus)

 European crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus)

European crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus)

An afternoon presentation was given on Bear Biology in the auditorium before dinner was served. The hide evening once again produced a respectable number of predator sightings over the course of the night. The soft lighting produced favourable photographic conditions, when the mother and her 3 cubs appeared early on. She returned on two separate occasions later that night. The blonde female bear appeared slightly later, venturing slightly closer to the hides around the main lake.

 A pale Brown Bear cub wanders out of the forest edge onto a rocky outcrop, closely followed by it’s mother.

A pale Brown Bear cub wanders out of the forest edge onto a rocky outcrop, closely followed by it’s mother.

Day 3. 16th September

The walk back from the hides produced views of both Common Crossbill feeding high up in the firs. After breakfast, another session was spent in the bird hide where a Goshawk was seen on multiple occasions this day, manoeuvring itself through the forest in hunting mode. 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. A number of plant species and fungi were observed, and some good views of the surrounding area were had on a hilltop. Capercaille and Grouse pellets were found, as well as some mammal droppings.

 The Finnish/Russian border zone. Beyond this marker point is ‘no man’s land’.

The Finnish/Russian border zone. Beyond this marker point is ‘no man’s land’.

After arriving to the hides, the weather wasn’t too favourable and thick cloud had settled above the forest. Our group was treated to an exceptional night of sightings however. A Wolverine appeared at the East lake and main lake only 10 minutes after arriving in the hides. It showed in various areas. This was followed by the large male, who circled the East lake, which was adorned with vibrant autumn colours. Some nice reflections were present in the lakes, thanks to the still overcast conditions. The Blonde female appeared next showing distantly. The mother bear appeared, first in the forest, coming very close to the hides. It was in the forest where she felt safest with her cubs. Some very intimate encounters were witnessed here.

 A female Brown Bear forages for food in an area of thick forest, alongside her cubs.

A female Brown Bear forages for food in an area of thick forest, alongside her cubs.

It was just as the night was setting in when a ghostly pale animal emerged from the forest fringe on the East lake. Out of the gloom, the alpha female Wolf appeared, wandering around the lakeside, past the hides and into the forest. She made her way over to the rocky outcrop before disappearing into the night.

 An alpha female Grey Wolf wanders cautiously across the autumnal swamp, pausing for a moment to check her surrounds.

An alpha female Grey Wolf wanders cautiously across the autumnal swamp, pausing for a moment to check her surrounds.

Day 4. 17th September

The following morning, we collected the TrailCams to see what they had captured. On returning for breakfast, to our surprise, all four of the cameras in both the forest and the swamp had captured a number of videos of Bears and a potential Wolf (too distant & dark to confirm). The TrailCams were taken out again that afternoon and re-positioned for the final nights of the trip. The following footage was captured by guests Llyn and David on their Bushnell who has very kindly shared the footage with us.

© Llyn Pickles.

The morning and early afternoon was spent photographing various species of fungi, plants and birds in the local area. A presentation was given before dinner, where various processing tips were discussed and some guest images were processed, where we shared our editing techniques for Adobe Photoshop.

 A Greenfinch perches on a moss covered branch.

A Greenfinch perches on a moss covered branch.

On our penultimate hide night, a large Wolverine was seen again fairly early on at the East lake. Around 5 bears were sighted, including the large male, the mother and her cubs and a new female bear who had appeared in the area. We were gifted with some nice light on this evening, allowing some very nice environmental portraits. The mother bear and cubs continued to show well, and began to venture out into the open more. As it got later, the mother bear and her cubs would become slightly bolder. We were able to watch and listen as she repetitively signaled with her lips, making a deep ‘drip’ sound. This was her method of communicating to her three cubs, who followed the sound as she led the way in the twilight.

 ‘Blondie’ the pale female Brown Bear, emerging from the forest edge.

‘Blondie’ the pale female Brown Bear, emerging from the forest edge.

 A large male bear confidently passese the north lake at sunset.

A large male bear confidently passese the north lake at sunset.

Day 5. 18th September

On our final night, whilst walking to the hide area it was clear to see how much the Autumn colours had progressed during the trip. Both a Wolverine and a Red Fox were seen on the rocky outcrop at different times, sniffing out and taking some of the bones left out for them near the main lake. We were treated to some of the best encounters of the trip this night, where the female ventured ever closer with her cubs alongside her. A male Sparrowhawk spent hours taunting the Hooded Crows around the main lake, whistling and calling constantly. The blonde female Bear emerged early on. She had previously been timid, but ventured only meters from a couple of the swamp hides allowing some very vivid autumnal portraits. The big male followed shortly after, doing his usual circuit of the area, looking fantastic in his Autumn surroundings. A short gallery below highlights a few of Kyle’s & Harry’s images taken throughout the week.

Day 6. 19th September

Following the final night, the Bushnell’s were once again collected, capturing more videos of bears in the surrounding area. A flock of 12 Waxwings flew over as we returned to the lodge, almost as a fleeting goodbye. The group shared breakfast together for one last time, before the returning to Kajaani airport for flights home.

 Group Photo! I think everybody can agree that Harry (far left) needs to work on his ‘bear impression’…

Group Photo! I think everybody can agree that Harry (far left) needs to work on his ‘bear impression’…

The combination of individual Bears as well as mammal species made the trip very enjoyable and varied. The Wolf and Wolverine sightings were very nice to witness, as they are two of the most elusive and scarce mammal species in Europe. The standout highlight was the presence of the uniquely coloured ‘white’ cubs. Autumn is usually the best time of year to view cubs in Finland, however this unusual family group were a rare sight and proceeded to visit every single night. The white cubs gained national recognition across Finland and many people travelled to the area to view them before they disappeared to hibernate shortly after our departure.

 Image © Abraham Achterberg.

Image © Abraham Achterberg.

The group were excellent from start to finish and we couldn’t have asked for a better bunch to share the trip with! Even if our group photo taking ability was questionable! A guest gallery of images taken over the 6 days can be viewed below (photographer details displayed).

Bird List: 13th – 19th September

 
  • Willow Tit

  • Great Tit

  • Crested Tit

  • Coal Tit

  • Red-Flanked Bluetail

  • Greenfinch

  • Common Crossbill

  • Treecreeper

  • White Wagtail

  • Waxwing

  • Eurasian Jay

  • Siberian Jay

  • Great-Spotted Woodpecker

  • Black Woodpecker

  • Three-toed Woodpecker

  • Hooded Crow

  • Raven

  • Goldeneye

  • Gadwall

  • Black-Throated Diver

  • Whooper Swan

  • Hazel Grouse

  • Black Grouse

  • Capercaille

  • Common Gull

  • Lesser Black Backed Gull

  • Kestrel

  • Sparrowhawk

  • Goshawk

  • Buzzard

  • White-Tailed Eagle

  • Ural Owl (Heard)

 

If you wish to join our Autumn Bear trip to Finland in 2019, please let us know as places are going fast! Autumn is arguably the best time of year to photograph Bears at this location, due to it’s unique colours, predator activity levels, comfortable temperature and light. To secure your place today or request an itinerary for next years tour, email us at info@bearphoto.co.uk or click the tab below for further trip details.