Finland here I come
I have now been home for a day and I slowly start to sort out the experiences that I have had and I need to share some of my thoughts with my readers.
I arrived at Kajaani airport at around 22:30 on Wednesday last week. The sky was clear and we had Northern light during parts of the 120km trip from the airport to the Lodge in Vartius. It was Ari, the owner, that picked me up and we had an interesting conversation where he told me many things about the area and Brown Bear experience that one can have there.
The area is very close to the Russian border and the Lodge is actually a former Border Post Station that Ari bought a couple of years ago with photography in mind. He knew that many Finnish photographers had used this area for years to photo the Bears in the wild and the closeness to the Russian border meant the impact from humans is low which is great for the wildlife.
Ari also told me the season in Vartius is the longest in Finland from April until October when the Bears go into hibernation. Certain periods are less fruitful and I suspect that the breeding season is a time with fewer sightings.
When I arrived at the Lodge I was met by warm food. The hour was almost midnight and I actually didn´t know what would happen now. I had spoken to my tour leader Jouko and asked for the opportunity to photo the Black Grouse so it was either that or maybe finding a bed here at the Lodge to sleep in.
Soon I realized that Sabrina, a colleague to Ari, would guide me and a French couple to the Black Grouses hides so it was just for me to finish the meal and put on some warm clothes because it wasn´t warm in the hides.
A short road trip and then off into the wood with snow shoes. This was actually the first time I used snow shoes and it was fun I must say and probably a lot easier than without them. This little excursion was a small adventure in itself but I grasped the full picture first when we arrived at the bog where the hides are.
I am not claustrophobic and that´s good because these hides where really small. It felt like they reach my tummy in height. Not the biggest but I would manage I thought. I would have photo opportunities in 3 directions and that sounded great. When I got inside I understood just how small the hide was. 2 persons wouldn´t have made it here. No way. A small mattress, sleeping bag, pillow and a basket to do ones “needs” in. A premium living space so to speak.
I rigged my cameras in 2 directions and hoped I made the right decisions. Sabrina had told me where they had played last night and that they usually move to a different area the next night so now I just had to try to get some hours of sleep.
I managed one hour before the first Grouse woke me at 3:30 when it flew over the hide. I now realized that it had been a dramatic change in the weather because it was a dense fog over the bog and I couldn´t see the sky at all. It was like having a mist of milk around you. Not optimal photo conditions but I would have a go when they arrived.
I tried to sleep some more but it was so cold that I instead decided to stay awake. Just after 4 the 2 first Black Grouses arrived outside the hides. One was just 15 meter from my hide so I tried to get some photos but the conditions were really awful. They stayed just for a couple of minutes before heading to another part of the bog, further away. I could still see them but I couldn´t produce any good photos. The contrast was so high that I couldn´t get any details from the birds. They played for an hour before they started to feed. I thought this was it but to my fortune they got back to their starting positions and now I got some photos where I actually can say “Hey this is a Black Grouse.”
I have had this little photo mission on my mind for this year and now I can tick the box. It was worth it and I would do it again without hesitation even if the hide wasn´t built for me. Still I didn´t get the photo I would have liked but it was an interesting adventure under harsh conditions.
An interesting start to the Finnish adventure.