Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Trees, lakes and things that go bump in the night

"There's one coming." 

I glanced at Kay whose view from the hide seemed no different to mine and asked "How do you know?"

"I can feel the ground shaking."

Finland had been a new experience.  After landing at Kajaani, a regional airport, we had travelled along mile after mile of literally empty road, mainly through forest, but with regular sightings of ponds and lakes apparently devoid of wildlife.  Kay alone spotted a deer, but otherwise the very odd bird was all we had seen.  However within minutes of settling into our hide for the night the first of our photographic targets appeared ....... and we weren't disappointed.

I first read about trips to photograph wild brown bears years ago and it had been a slow burning desire ever since.  However it was when I saw the pictures on the Natures Images website that the flame burned stronger and after a couple more years I knew there was only one way to put it out.  Kay isn't really into photography, but when she heard about the trip and saw the pictures she too wanted to see them so in early June we joined 5 others on a 5 day trip led by Paul Hobson.

There are 3 sites set up for photographers - woodland, the swamp and the pond.  The first night (you are in the hide from 5pm until 7am) saw Kay and I in the woods - the highest concentration of bears at the closest quarters, but if the sun is out a bugger for contrasting light - and with the sun only setting at 11pm for a few hours of low light it was a challenge.  But this first night it was all new and the pictures almost came second to the amazing experience of being literally within feet of animals that really could make the ground shake as they walked along.

First sightings were females and youngsters.  They are, of course, fed to bring them in and for a while not too much happened as the bears enjoyed a leisurely meal, quite often lying down as they ate.  Paul had warned us about avoiding memory cards full of lazing bears so it was a case of looking for some movement, a nice pose and then later when the youngsters had had some food watching them play. 

We watched some bears standing or climbing to reach up tree trunks - we hadn't noticed but some honey had been smeared up the trunks. 

Others used the trees as scratching posts, standing and rubbing their backs Baloo-like, with a contented look.

Some food had been spiked on a branch

but you had to be quick or it was all snaffled.

The first sighting of one of the large males was breathtaking - a scarred head atop a solid frame supported by huge paws.  Safe enough in our box I couldn't envisage meeting him outside.
The hides were snug (small) and there were 3 at each site.  Our neighbours in the hide you can just see in the 3rd shot here .......

were next morning cursing the fact that they only had big lenses - not needed for this site.  Kay was snapping away with my pocket digital camera,

partly because I'd pinched the 100-400  - when I wasn't using the 24-105!

Bumping up the ISO (thank god for the 5D3's low light performance) you could just about snap all night, but in fact as the last bears wandered away about 1am not much then happened even when the sun came up again an hour or so later.

By the time we were collected the next morning we were tired but happy - and that was only the first night of 4.  Walking out we also confirmed the answer to that old rhetorical question - of course they do ......

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