Monday, August 04, 2014

Finland finale

The trip to Finland had been very much with one target in mind - it was all about bears.  But wildlife doesn't work like that.  At the centre itself there were some feeders and on the first morning I was up and down to the tent hide before breakfast.  The light wasn't great but there were clearly a few visitors worth snapping.  The squirrels weren't at their winter best, but how often do I get to snap red ones.
Looking cute as always I was kicking myself later for blowing this shot - not too bad at this resolution ,but not sharp if you go in. I doubt I'll ever see a red squirrel atop a mushroom again!

Birds -wise I was surprised to see plenty of bullfinches although the siskins were more expected.

Other visitors included the greenfinch, great spotted woodpecker and a thrush.  That had me doing a double take though - up here the thrushes were fieldfares!
In the trees behind the feeding station there was a nest box which it had been noted was in use but no-one had taken a closer look, assuming it was a tit of some kind.  After breakfast the hide was occupied by Brian and Ivor looking for some serious squirrel pics so i had a wander around and then went to look at the nestbox.  When a small bird looked out I got a surprise.

Not a tit, and not a bird I expected to see either. The male appeared shortly afterwards and confirmed the identification.

A bird I'm used to seeing in old oak woodland and here it was amongst firs and birches - a pied flycatcher.  I wasn't close enough for decent pics and although my experience is that they tend to be reasonably tolerant of people I just settled to watch and grab the odd shot I could when they came to have a look at me.

Sadly though I'm not sure they'd have raised a brood as one of the other local birds was taking an unhealthy interest - even though the female was in the box sitting tight.

The male tried his best to drive the woodpecker away, but he was just too small to be anything other than a nuisance.

I expected to spend more time with the squirrels, but events took over.  Paul told us that one of the guides had some hides set up in a wood about 20 minutes away, and for the last 2 days of the trip I spent all day in a hide after spending all night in one.  No wonder I needed a holiday by the time I got back.

The target - this 'car crash' view might give you a clue if you know your birds?

A great grey owl nest - now I won't find one of those in South Wales.  Jari had made this and  numerous other nest sites in the hope one would be used and he had struck lucky.  Mind you the poor female didn't do a lot - various poses as she baked in the heat. 
Twice though on the first day she started calling and looked into the woodland, for the male to come gliding in.  The first time I was caught out and had the wrong set-up but over his two visits I grabbed a couple of snaps including one of him handing over a mouse (on the camera LCD at first I thought it was a chick, but clearly not).

The second day the male didn't show in the hours we were there but the female did stretch her wings briefly.  I thought I'd got a couple of decent flight shots, but I'd underestimated the shutter speed needed and the point where she brought head and feet together before landing meant there was just too much blur.   I got the wingspan wrong too, but never expected the wings to be so far behind her.

Still a great bonus to an already fabulous trip.

If you fancy a chance to snap bears I would heartily recommend Martinselkonen and Natures Images were a good company to go with.  No criticism at all about any aspect of the trip.  Paul Hobson was a good guide and nice guy, and our fellow travellers made it a great trip.  So thanks to Brian, Ivor, Mike and Judy and Dave  - and of course the lovely Kay - who better to share a hide with!

Thanks too to the staff at Martinselkonen.

To close a snap with the pocket camera of the youngster who decided he'd like to share the hides - first ours and then he gave Brian a shock next door!
He was only having a look - no aggression.  Interestingly none of the others showed any interest in us at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Swamp Bears

Paul had realised the best site for pictures on this trip was the swamp, so we each had two nights there with the chance to see both adults and the family of 3 month old cubs.  The swamp was an open area of cotton grass and bog.  By the time we were there the ground was getting a little worn in places and the hides were due to be  moved.  Nevertheless it was a picturesque spot and the light was generally better for photography even despite the light rain on the second night.

I guess I don't have to say it was the young cubs that were the star draw here, even though I also got some of my favourite adult shots of the trip too.

The night followed the usual ritual - settle into the hides, watch the guides put down some feed and wait for the bears (after the gulls). On the second night the Italian photographers next door put some honey on the trees in the hope of seeing the bears climb up.

The mum was hugely attentive of the youngsters, and a single grunt when she saw a male bear appear was enough to send them scurrying for the woods and up a tree, until she gave the all clear.  There was plenty of time to watch them playing though - at first in the trees but then out in the open.  A couple even started to eat the cotton grass like lollipops.
It was hard at times not to anthropomorphise - I swear in the first pic one is telling the other where to run (or maybe it's thrown it a stick to chase), and in the second it looks as though there's a bit of flashing taking place!

Look closely here - one of the cubs is hiding from the rain.

And yes - they did climb the trees, as did one of the older cubs.  Thank goodness Kay was there as backup - I snipped off the base of the tree when all 3 climbed up.
The adults also liked the trees but for a good scratch rather than the honey!

The swamp also offered a good chance for some portraits of the adults and other youngsters.  You can see how they ignored the hides

(apart from one youngster who tried to stick his head through a window!).  The cotton grass made a nice backdrop as did the setting sun, whilst in some shots of the adults walking or the older cubs playfighting you can see the spray of water from the boggy ground (you need to look at the bigger views though).
Looking at this shot of a female you can see she is just that - a boob showing clearly in the armpit (bear porn).

Several times I had noticed that the bears would lift food to their mouths on the back of their paws, but this one was standing up and looked like it was nibbling a sandwich.

So there we are, the last of the bear shots - honest.  After a 'shoot' I tend to have favourite shots.  Sometimes at a later stage I change my mind but I suspect these closing pics will always be near the top of my list - a relaxed family group and a shot that really shows the powerful movement and size of the big males (don't know where that blue tint came from though?).

A few more snaps of a non-bear variety will round off the Finland trip - but this has been more than a long enough post!