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.
During the summer months the sun rarely sets giving you almost twenty-four hours of light which is amazing for photography. Late at night, the sun briefly dips beyond the horizon before rising again giving you almost no darkness as we know it back in the UK. This can throw your body clock a little as it takes time to adjust to these beautiful and amazing long days of light.
There is something magical about the wildlife and forests here. The colour green is calming and the gentle rustling of the leaves and pine needles is like music to your ears. Devoid of humans, interrupted only by the occasional roar of the Bears or the haunting howl of Wolves. The stillness of this place is just beautiful along with its remoteness that gives you a sense of true wilderness.
I’ve just spent a week with my clients in one such place in Finland, one of my favorite places in the world. 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 this was our remote home for the week. Once we had unpacked, had a quick bite to eat and refresh up we then headed straight to the hides and our first fourteen hour shift.
I had six clients plus myself and we split ourselves up through the hides each night. This was our pattern from the first night throughout the week, staying all night until the following morning in the hides. In the morning we would then be picked up and driven back for breakfast and then 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. Large carnivores are generally faring well in Finland, where there are plenty of undisturbed wild areas and abundant prey. Finland is home to all four of Europe’s large predatory mammals: brown bears, wolves, lynx and wolverines, all of which live in this area of Finland.
There’s no need to fear an unexpected encounter with a wolf when walking in a Finnish forest, as wolves are scarce and do their best to avoid people. Finland is home to more than 1,500 bears, though they are only seldom seen, since they are shy of people. Wolverines, also known as gluttons are hardy arctic animals that look like small elongated bears, though in fact they are more closely related to Finland’s pine martens, otters and badgers.
Lynx have become more common in Finland’s forests in recent years, though they are hard to spot, as their excellent senses of sight, smell and hearing enable them to keep well away from humans. I’ve never seen one here but seen markings that indicate their presence.
Each night we all split up, I always give my clients first choice to which hides they want to go in and I take what’s left over alongside them. From the first night in the hides until the final night before we headed home all my clients were lucky with both sightings and images which was great news.
Working with wild animals though there is never any guarantee and on some nights sightings were very few if at all. This made the fourteen hour stays in the hides we did each night just that bit more longer. Here is a view from one such hide as the sun dips over the horizon and starts to rise slowly. Below there is another couple of images from inside two of the many hides there.
The following images and those above were captured over those five nights alongside my clients and show you these wonderful mammals that live in this remote part of Finland. They appear in order in which I saw these wonderful predators throughout our time there.
Two young Brown Bears play fight above which was wonderful to witness, gaining strength and skills that will stand them in good stead for the future. We also had a few views of the stunning White-tailed eagle and also the Black Kite which can be seen below.
We witnessed a few encounters where the Wolves cornered the Brown bears to try and steal their food, and to watch all of this unfold before you is beyond words really. So we were all able to get different images of these magnificent predators and often very close up photos using the cover of those hides. All these wonderful creatures live wild there and go about their lives around you, to witness that is just priceless.
On the last night all my clients except one who went to another hide headed to the Wolverine hides.The mammal is just so unique, a solitary animal, that has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the ability to kill prey many times larger than itself. Some people think they are just a fictitious character in films or comic books but they are real. Sadly there are only around 200 of them in the whole of Finland due to persecution. At around 10.30pm in the evening as the light was slightly fading the first of these amazing creatures turned up. They move so fast that often your first glimpse is of a dark shadowy figure in the distance.
My clients were treated to some wonderful encounters throughout the night right the way through until the early hours and our departure these fabulous predators turned up without any warning or notice. These creatures are just fascinating and I hope the following images do them justice
At the end of the 1970s, Lassi Rautiainen pioneered the putting out of carrion and natural food for bears in Finland in order to photograph them. Permits are needed for feeding predators, and Lassi has worked intensively for many years with the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture. Finally, in April 2009, the EU commission agreed that member states can decide for themselves about the use of animal carcasses in the wild. Following this, in the summer of 2009 Finland became the first EU country to enact its own law respecting putting out carrion for wild animals.
I believe with the backing of the Finnish government Lassi is helping the animals that choose to live in this part of the world. Having visited this place many times now I also believe that his work, endorsed by the highest court in the EU protects these rare and vulnerable animals from total extinction in Finland before they head back to spend the winter in Russia. He works with researchers, helps them locate and track the Wolves by their radio collars fitted and shows local people that data in order to dispel the rumors that Wolves kill people and take livestock. Which in turn helps their number and stops or even slows down the hunting of them in Finland.
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 and Wolves spend most of their time in Russia, the majority of the photo hides are located only a few hundred meters away from the Russian border. Decades of work and knowledge 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.
In my own wildlife photography I don’t place out any food for wildlife and I take my images as seen. I understand the complex nature of these animals though and by being here I feel in no way does it compromise my own very strict stance on placing out food. The food placed out here is carrion and fresh salmon from a local processing plant that has been caught in the local rivers and streams that’s exported to other countries. Lassi does not put out dog food. Everything he does is checked and regulated by the government he’s worked with for over thirty years.
I feel its very important to list all of this information so there is total transparency and a better understanding of how I managed to capture these images. A lot of my images are brief encounters and behaviour brought about by the presence of these predators in these areas. Some of the close up images are taken in a different place where I was alone as my clients were elsewhere due to lack of space. Often the bears are very shy and come and go at will.
There are many wildlife watching, photography trips and tours to various places in Finland and other European counties each year now. Sadly very few, if any of the tour leaders, photographers are transparent in explaining how they got their images which for me creates a distrust from the public.
I’d like to thank all my clients for your company and the laughs over the last week. Thank you for your patience during the fourteen hours each night. I look forward to seeing your images and good luck to you all and your photography. My 2018 dates for the same trip are now up on my website. They can be seen along with all the trip information on the following link.
I also have a wonderful trip planned at the same place in Finland for the Black Grouse and Capercaillie Lekk in 2018. If you’d like to join me then please see the following link. I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and the images in someway have transported you to this truly amazing place in Finland, many thanks.