Finland is one of Europe’s last places of true wilderness, its also the most forested country in Europe with around 70% of the land being covered with trees. Most forests are coniferous and reach so far north that they lay on the same latitudes as Alaska or Central Siberia. Finland is also known as the “Land of a Thousand Lakes”. Most of these lakes are small and shallow but cover vast areas of this amazing country.
Finland is a country of vast green forests, beautiful Baltic Sea islands, windswept arctic fells and thousands of blue lakes. These untouched and beautiful landscapes provide habitat for thousands of wild animals and birds.
Those hoping to see images of people dancing in a provocative way from my title then Im sorry to disappoint you in that sense. But I have something much more beautiful; the dance of the Black Grouse during their Lek from their breeding grounds in Finland that is both beautiful but at times can be violent.
The term “no man’s land” can conjure up all sorts of meanings, from barren land, unclaimed land or more commonly known as the area between two opposing armies over which no control has been established. The very fact in some cases that these areas are so barren is the sole reason things are left to grow, nobody wants to either live there or have anything to do with that place. The very reason then, that not far from the Russian border Brown Bears, Wolves, Wolverines and other such predators should find a place to live and in most cases be free to roam and live as they please.
I have just spent a week with my clients in one such area, devoid of humans, the distant deep throaty calls of Ravens breaking the silence, interrupted with roars from Bears and Wolves all letting each other know they are still there and this is their patch. The stillness of such a place is beautiful, it reaches deep inside you and puts you in a place you rarely find yourself today. Free from humans and the ever glaze of urban living, with all its noise and disturbance.
As soon as our flight touched down, we were picked up and driven to our base camp, a former forest workers residence close to the border with Russia. Surrounded by the lake of Kuikka as well as by boreal forest. A few miles separating us from no mans land where one of the most charismatic mammals and one of the most misunderstood ones finds a little solace and is able to live out their lives without the one-side cruel and unfounded persecution against them, the Wolf.
After a quick stop off at the local supermarket we headed to our remote home, unpacked and had a quick bit to eat and refresh then headed straight to the hides. A routine we were going to get use to as its almost always light there 24 hours a day. I had five clients plus myself and we split ourselves up through the hides and then the routine is to wait, make no noise and observe the areas to your front while you’re sitting in well protected hides that have been there and been accepted by the wildlife for years.
That first night we saw Brown Bears and Wolves which was a wonderful start to the trip. The Wolves were a little far away but the male Brown Bear came quite close to our hide as he passed their the swamp area to our fronts.
Our pattern was to be the same as that first night throughout the week, staying all night until the following morning in the hides,where we would be picked up by our host and driven back for breakfast and then to rest throughout the day. This was to maximize everyone’s chances of seeing these elusive mammals. It was a hard pace but one so important to give everyone the very best chance of seeing these shy animals.
Almost from the off there were images to be taken, my belief has always been there’s always an image to be taken no matter what and while we waited for the main actors (so to speak) to turn up the warm up acts were just as beautiful. We took turns on look out as the others slept in the hide and rotated ourselves throughout the night once again giving everyone the best chance to see what they had come to see, mainly the Wolves.
The smell of the pine needles, the crisp air and pure silence was beautiful and something I can’t find the words to explain, I hope the following images go someway to showing you just how beautiful this place is. We saw Wolves most evenings and its hard to post all those images so I have chosen a few of my favourites.
Wolves are shy, yet so clever, seeing and witnessing their interactions with other animals and their own type taught me a lot. Incredible, beautiful, ong-legged, athletic body built for speed and movement over large areas and at the same time ruthless in their execution of prey. I witnessed caring and kindness too and a deep sense that they are “the boss” with a leave me alone attitude which I admired.
While waiting for the Wolves we carried on having some amazing sightings of Brown Bears as they both share the same habitat and land with each other; often coming into contact with one another over food and key territories.
The last but one night we all spilt up and I along with two of my clients headed to the Wolverine hide. This animal is very shy and there are only around 150 of them in the whole of Finland, five of which live in No Mans Land. The ones we saw hadn’t been seen for a while so it was on my mind as I got into place. Shortly at 10.30pm that night though that worry was crushed with the first of two Wolverines.
A truly beautiful animal and one I was so keen to see for the first time; as there are only around one-hunderd and fifty of these animals in the whole of Finland and just five in this whole area we were very lucky to see two at all let alone on one night. Strong, powerful and so unusual, Wolverines are just so unique and the encounter will live long in the memory.
In between going to the hides we rested as much as possible and then went back into the hides each evening at around 5.30pm. There was always lots of bear activity, the Wolves too and the whole place really delivered for all my clients in every aspect which was great for them and also for myself.
Lassi, our Finnish host has pioneered the putting out of food (bait) for Brown Bears, Wolves and Wolverines many years ago in order to photograph them, without bait it is impossible to observe these wild animals in Finland or in any other area where these animals are hunted and thus extremely shy.
His aim is to impart, through wildlife photography and observation, to get a general understanding of Finnish wildlife and of Wolves and Bears in particular. Moreover, it is a proven fact that the presence of wildlife tourism and wildlife photography in this area helps deter poachers from clandestine killing, while also bringing greater acceptance of wildlife among the local people.
The Bears, Wolves and Wolverines spend most of their time in Russia. The majority of the photo hides were located only a few hundred meters away from the Russian border. Decades of work has been put into this place by our Finnish host Lassi, and without this the images my clients and I got wouldn’t have been possible. Twinned with a bit of luck and long hours of waiting the balance of success is always unpredictable though because these are wild and truly shy animals.
My last night was the best for me, as I sit here and type I still can’t believe how lucky I have been and also my clients. Going last so to speak, I have all week had the hide left over because I give my clients first choice on where they want to go. This though has turned lucky for me because I have had some amazing sightings and moments. All my clients have had some great images and moments too.
The last night I witnessed two Alpha Wolves – the male and female working together against one bear in order to pinch the food. Working as a team works for the Wolves against these massive bears. Above you will see three wonderful bears we saw on the last night and also a sleeping Raven I really loved.
The following images happened so fast I had little time to compose and I got what I was given, luckily enough they tell the story. In some beautiful light there was a lone Brown Bear feeding on a animal carcass when suddenly he was almost “rushed” by two Wolves. His response was to chase one, the female drew him away from the food, moving really slowly, the bear coming really close, risking her own life in order for the Alpha male to go to the food behind him.
Once she was away she stood and watched as the bear returned and walked back to the food and there was a short stand off between bear and wolf. But to be fair to the Alpha male didn’t really back off and stood his ground showing his teeth. The bear returned to the food and the male wolf just watched, he then heard my camera and gave me a look to say ” did you catch all of that?”
Watching them work together, letting one feed as the other played decoy was amazing to see and what Wolves do best. So clever, so intelligent and beautiful in the process. I have tired to capture and show the sequences the best I can.
All my clients have had a great time, thank you all for your company. I’d personally like to thank Lassi and his son Sami for all their help, guidance and running a wonderful place in the middle of nowhere. Thank you too for caring for these misunderstood animals and giving them some hope that we as humans can understand them more before just shooting them. Once these animals roamed free all over Europe and even the UK, to think they are hanging onto life in small pockets now scattered over a massive area is really sad and something thats given me lots to think about and how cruel and vile humans are.
I hope you’ve enjoyed all the images, it’s been an amazing week and we have all been very lucky. I will be back here in May 2015 (2nd-9th) running a new trip for Capercaillie & Black Grouse lekking, White-tailed Eagles,Wolves and Bears and then in July for my Wolves, Bears and Wolverines trip. Photo above is of my group and Im so tired Im a sleep already.
My July trip has only three spaces left so if you’d like to join me see the trip on my website. I hope my images have shown you what a wonderful place this is, how nature is hanging on, what some are doing about it. Thank you to all my clients for your time and hard work throughout the work as its been long days and night with little time for anything else, many thanks.