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.
One of the most remarkable features of Finland is light, white summer nights are perhaps Finland’s most iconic natural phenomena. The night time sun is at its strongest during the months of June and July but the further north you go, the longer and higher the sun stays above the horizon where you experience a full Midnight right the way through to August early September.
Late at night, the sun briefly dips beyond the horizon before rising again, blurring the boundaries between fading night and dawning day. For wildlife photography this is a dream, team this up with some of the most wonderful wildlife in the world and Finland really is an amazing place to visit.
So its no surprise that Finland is a favourite place of mine and I visit at least twice a year. Firstly in April for the Black grouse and Capercaillie Lek, you can click here for this years amazing trip and write up on my blog. I then return for my second trip in July for wolves, bears and wolverines
I’ve just returned from this amazing place with my clients on that second trip I do each year. Devoid of humans, the distant deep throaty calls of Ravens breaking the silence, interrupted with roars from Bears and Wolves. Once these fall silent the stillness of this place is just beautiful.
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.
Our pattern for the week ahead was the same from that first night we arrived, entering the purpose built hides around 7pm with all our gear and provisions, staying all night until the following morning. Upon entering these hides, we get comfortable and then wait for the forests to awaken around us.
The majority of the hides are located only a few hundred metres away from the Russian border, in a 1-3 kilometre wide military zone called ‘No man’s land’, a relic from the times of the Cold War. This border zone is a perfect area for wildlife since people require a permit to access it and subsequently, there is no-one to disturb or chase away the wildlife there.
In recent decades throughout Finland the populations of these large carnivores have been purposefully restored, and their numbers are now stable. Finland is home to more than 1,600 bears, about 150-160 wolves, nearly 2,500 lynx and 150–170 wolverines. But anyone out walking in the forests is very unlikely to see any of these animals. All four species are wary of people, and seek to avoid us whenever possible
Unlike the fox and bear, the wolf has always been feared and hated in Finland, and the wolf has been the symbol of destruction and desolation, to the extent that the very name of wolf in Finnish language, “sushi”, means also “a useless thing” and the by-name hukka means perdition and annihilation. While the bear has been the sacred animal in Finland, wolves have always been hunted and killed mercilessly. The wolf has been represented as implacable and malicious predator, killing more than it manages to eat
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. The following images were captured over those five nights alongside them all.
A female Brown Bear scratching an itch she had on a tree as she shows her pleasure at getting at the right spot, the second image shows her pausing, maybe shocked that someones seen her having a scratch who knows but both images make me smile. This was the funniest moment all the week and shows just how amazing and funny wildlife is once you watch them go about their lives.
The wolf pack there has four members at the moment having lost a few recently. Its led by the alpha male known as “Crooked tail” due to the shape of his tail and he was born in 2006. Then we have the alpha female who is known as “Light Girl” due to her pale to white coat she has and she was born in 2005.
Then there is a male wolf that is their son and he was born in 2011, he is pale brown and looks really strong and heathy. The last member of the pack wears a raid controlled collar so that he can be monitored and he is estimated at around 2 years old maybe slightly older and from another pack. This alpha pair have produced a total of 16 cubs, two of which have died.
Wolves don’t like the presence of bears and seeing them can often spark off strong reactions. Often in open areas and where the carrion or salmon is placed out the Wolves attack or drive them away. These tactics are mostly always led by one or both of the alpha wolves, but the young or other members of the pack can also join in. The idea is to drive the bears away insuring a supply of food for the pack. The following images captured two such encounters I witnessed.
There were also other hides placed around some of the large, naturally occurring lakes in this amazing areas. After hours of watching you had a fleeting glimpse of these amazing creatures as they passed through and occasionally had a drink. It was amazing to see them if for just a few moments before they vanished back into the dense forest that surrounded us. The following images captured some of those treasured moments.
Information on this amazing place and our host –
At the end of the 1970s, Lassi Rautiainen pioneered the putting out of carrion, 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 Finish 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 animals 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.
In my own wildlife photography I don’t place out any food for wildlife. 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. Most of my images are fleeting moments captured by watching and learning.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.
I feel its very important to list all of this information so there is total transparency, integrity and a better understanding of how I managed to capture these images.
The week flew by due to the hours in the hides etc. All my clients took home some wonderful images and encounters and I’d like to thank them all for their company throughout the week and wish them all well in their photography in the future. Thank you to all the staff there for looking after us all too with amazing food and everything we needed.
The dates for my 2017 trip are now up on my website and can be seen on this link. Three places have already been booked if you’d like to join me to this amazing and remote place then, many thanks.