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!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bears at the Pond

I wasn't joking when I said Finland was mostly trees and water.  The view from the plane as we approached Kajaani was typical, a few scattered fields, but basically trees

and once we hit the road it was mostly a blur of green. 

Nearing our destination the paved roads morphed into unsealed roads, but with no more vehicles.  According to the local joke this (2 vehicles) is a traffic jam - a third car would constitute gridlock.

We stayed at Martinselkonen Erakeskus, an old border post (with Russia).  Comfortable accommodation, with a cute pixie house in the grounds
and various walks leading away through the trees (and the mossies which had us semaphoring away!). 
The mix was birch with some conifers

or conifers with some birch.

There was a pond which had lovely colours, but seemed devoid of life.

However one evening we headed for another pond to see the bears.  Before the trip this was the venue I most wanted to visit, but we were told the reality is it is often slow and the numbers of bears are well down on the other sites.  The possibility of reflections seemed a bit of a lost hope when we arrived and saw the breeze constantly riffle the surface. 

The light wasn't too bad for a while, but all there was to snap were a greenshank and green sandpiper.  We kept scanning for bears at first, but it wears thin after a while. 

The hours ticked by but then, after the sun had slipped away the bears started to come, and in the end we had a fairly good number through.  In the dim light the Scots pines reflected a strange purple light I've never noticed before, and in time a mist rose on the water. 
As always the cubs kept a close watch on the other bears.
Although these older cubs didn't run this time they did look constantly to their mother for reassurance. 

One bear waded out for some food on a small island but the mist on the water made getting a sharp shot difficult.  It looked better climbing out though.

The light faded further, the bears thinned out

and the night slipped away into a cool and misty morning. 

I was concerned how the pictures would come out but in the end I hope you agree some were OK, again thanks to the 5D3 low light capability.