The Boreal forests in Northern Finland along the Russian Border is a fine habitat for Brown Bears comprising of swamps, grassy patches and woods. Under the midnight sun during Finnish summers, the bears are the most active as they’re foraging for food. I travelled to Finland a few years ago with hopes to see and photograph the spirit of the Boreal Forest!
It took me 4 flights from Coimbatore, India via New Delhi, Doha in Qatar and Helsinki before I arrived after almost 60 hours in the Northern airport of Kajaani. Another 2 hours on road, I reached the Bear Lodge with high hopes. The following day, I headed to their hides by around 4 pm after dinner. Wondering how come 4 pm was already dinner time? Well, when you’re after the Bears, it would be needed to stay up all night from around 4:30 pm until 7:00 am the next day in small wooden cabins (Hides) waiting for the Bears to come. Sounds pretty tough ain’t it? But if I have to tell you that there are beds inside the cabins with mattresses and comfortable height adjustable chairs, it does sound a lot more doable. Take it from me, the waiting is well worth it when you get to see what you waited for all night!
Recollecting memories from the trip, it was my 4th night when the Bear Guide recommended I tried one of the cabins inside the Forest rather than those by the lakes where I had sat the previous 3 nights. I decided to go by his advise and got into one of those cabins and the game of waiting began. On the previous nights, the Bears arrived even as early as 5:30 pm, which was about an hour after I settled in. But on this day, it was well past 1 am at midnight and the clouds had drawn in. There was no sign of a bear.
As it is, the forests allow very light from the midnight sun to penetrate inside and with the clouds, it was relatively dark. Looking at the watch every 5-10 minutes, time seemed to pass much slower than ever. Precisely at 2:36 am, the first Bear arrived. A young individual with a much darker/blacker coat than the others I had seen earlier. Camera ISOs were up at 4000 and yet, I had a shutter speed of just 1/25 at the widest aperture.
He walked out, paused for a few seconds and was very intrigued by the sound of my camera. He curiously but cautiously walked towards me, and then……………………….
…………………………………..Hid behind the tree, he would Peep and when he heard the camera click, he would go back behind. Once I stopped clicking, he would peep again. It was like a game of Hide-n-seek. The young guy hung around for a few minutes and eventually lost interest and walked away into the forest. I thought it was a good night of photography and decided to check out what the lodge had packed for me as a midnight snack. Some cold smoked ham sandwiches, yogurt, musli bars and juice. Can’t ask for more in the middle of the Finnish Boreal Forest, hardly a kilometre from the Russian Border.
It was around 6:40 am and I heard a few guests walking back to the lodge. I decided to pack up as well and head back for breakfast. My lenses and cameras were detached and as I was packing them back into the bag,
I see another bear walking across the forest. This was a total surprise. I used a 24-120mm lens at 45mm for this image. He was so close, came near the cabin and I could hear him breathe. This was the closest I was to a Bear in the entire trip there. What an experience it was. He came, and then he went away! There are many places in the World where you can see Brown Bears – Alaska, Kamchatka and the list goes on. But there are just a handful of places where seeing Brown Bears in the Boreal Forests are possible and Northern Finland is just the right place.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan