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Bear Watching Experience in Finland

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Travelling in Finland in June is an almost unworldly experience as darkness never descends and one is reminded of the film ‘Insomnia’. Whilst a little unsettling at first it offers wonderful opportunities to view wildlife in near perfect conditions and it was on a calm clear evening in June, 2009 that I joined a group of excited and slightly nervous travellers in an eight-person-hide deep in the forest of northern Finland close the Russian border. Whilst a little cramped, the facilities inside the hide were good and eight comfortable viewing chairs were set up to allow viewing of a small clearing through glass screens. Photography was enabled through a cloth trunk which concertinaed out towards a wide field of view. Everything was done to avoid any distracting aromas escaping from the hide which would potentially scare off local wildlife activity. Our guide hushed and shushed us as we made our clumsy entrance to the hide.

Suddenly before we’d even settled into our chairs there was a cry of ‘bears’ followed by another ‘shhhhhh’ from the guide who tried to calm down the excited mood of the camera-ready tourists.
A couple of young bears were jogging gently across the clearing towards a small outcrop of bushes where they discovered a prize of dead fish which had been left out to attract them. My initial response to this sight was one of slight disappointment that trickery had been used to entice the bears to our photographic range.

Whilst snapping hungrily with my camera I wondered whether the opportunity would have arisen had the food not been left for them, and decided that we may have had a totally wasted night had this not been done. During the course of the evening we viewed eight bears which were all named by our guide and obviously regular visitors to this area.

brown bear finland

After three hours of photography and videoing there was a feeling of over-indulgence and almost anti-climax; but a colleague who had visited the site a few weeks earlier had spent a night in the hide with only a glimpse of one bear so I guess it is really a matter of being there at the right time and our greed was duly satiated. A pack of sandwiches and snacks was distributed by the guide with plenty of soft drinks and water; after which some of the group retired to bunk-beds at the back of the hide. There was even a private WC in the hide – although I understand that in the smaller hides this was generally substituted by a bucket.

brown bear walks past hide

For all my concerns regarding the ‘bait’ put out for the bears; the several hours of viewing such a wonderful creature was in my opinion worth the slight cheat!

We departed the hide early the next morning and trekked back to the Boreal Wildlife Centre where showers and a good breakfast were in order.

One out of two wasn’t bad and after a refreshing shower (or a smoke-sauna and skinny-dip in the refreshingly cold lake as was my preferred way of waking myself up) we partook of a basic breakfast.
All in all this was a wonderful opportunity to see the beautiful brown bear in virtual natural habitat.

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