21 Jun 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The longest day - Wild Brown Bear Centre | Finland 

Last night I treated myself to a long night in Hide 13. While others around Scandinavia were celebrating midsummer - which marks the longest day - I was glued to my surroundings, scanning the area for any sign of movement which could lead to a nice photograph.

Around 20:40 pm a young female Brown Bear arrived at the area, although it was fair to expect a male to follow her out onto the wetland, considering the time of year, this wasn't the case. I suspect that this female possible may be too young to mate and thus is enjoying some peace and quiet, whilst most other and older females are being pursued 24/7 by lustful large males.  

This photo shown below, was taken at 1:44 am. At just 1600 ISO F3.2, you can appreciate the amount of available light during the night at this time of the year. Due to some light cloud cover during the night, the light was extremely soft, and slightly directional, which made for beautiful conditions with which to make some nice images. To complement the midnight light, the bokeh created by the out of focus cotton grass, surrounds the bear like a ring of fairy lights.

This image below was taken when she first arrived onto the scene. Although originally a landscape taken photographed, I cropped into the image to produce a portrait final edit. As you can see by the colour balance of this image - which I largely left untouched - at 9pm the light was very vivid in colour and still very directional. She stood there, resting her fore paws on a small mound and sniffed and stared towards my lens. She paused just long enough for me to capture a few quick frames with my slow camera, before she bounded away into the thick birch forest, after being harassed by the hooded crows.
During June, the males appearance can be very unpredictable due to their mating behaviour. Due to the large distances they cover and their one tract mind, feeding is last on their list.  Even when frequenting the area in pursuit of a female, they do not stop to eat, but continue following their nose and the females scent. It is actually possible for males to lose as much weight at this time of the year as they do over their hibernation period.

14 Jun 2014

Wild Grey Wolves Howling

A few weeks ago myself and a friend of mine were fortunate enough to witness, the 'ultimate' sound of nature and wilderness (in my opinion). In the surrounding area, there is a pack of Grey Wolves, totalling maybe 5-6 individuals. These predators are seen roughly once every 8-9 days, while spending their time patrolling their territory; sometimes in a pack, but more commonly individually, so to cover a greater distance more easily. On this particular evening, the large alpha male slowly entered the wetland area, however, he remained mostly hidden at the edge of the clearing. After only a few minutes surveying the area, he turned heel and trotted back up, and behind the rocky outcrop to the south east. After a short while, he initiated a location conversation with the rest of his pack, and this is what we heard...

13 Jun 2014

Bears on heat

Taken 11th June 2014 - Canon 5D Mark ii + Sigma EX 300mm F2.8

The first week of June sees the peak of the mating season for the Karhu. Males have been almost constantly moving, following the scent and tracks of female individuals for almost a month. The males lose approximately 20% of their body weight, compared to when they emerge from hibernation. By the time they head back towards their dens for winter, they will almost double their mass over late Summer and Autumn.

The male bear pictured below (Dark - n. Colliette) was one of the largest bears in the area, when I first saw him in late April. When I shared the evening with him and his mate a few nights ago, I was amazed by the extent of his weight loss, such that he looked like similar to the younger 3/4 y/o bears earlier in the season. 

During May and June, the male's can walk up to 30km per day, in the search, and in the pursuit of the female variety. This results in a more muscular and slender form, which is a welcome change to the fuller form of April and Autumn as a photographer. 

Mating season

Amongst the interesting behaviour characteristics that are shown during the mating period, there has also been a very healthy local activity of Wolverine. There are currently three individuals which have been frequenting the surrounding area. A few of the nights while I was fishing, I was fortunate enough to witness the three individuals moving along the bank of the lake together. The group is likely to consist of two parents  and one adult cub, due to Wolverine being particularly territorial, and they would simply not allow another individual in such close proximity. Whilst photographing in the hides it has been possible to get some great images of these fascinating predators. While in North America, these animals are becoming harder and harder to see in the wild, Scandinavia is fortunate enough to have small populations of Wolverine dotted about, and when in the right location at the right time, some amazing encounters can take place! 

On the move

In between focusing on the larger male bears, you can also be fortunate enough to witness some yearling cubs move through the area. These cub were born last January and are now 18 months hold. They are extremely nervous and tentative, especially at this time in the year due to the aggressive male bears. They can offer you some unique images due to this behaviour, such as the image below. This cub was on the lookout for any movement across the wetland, every few meters it would rise up on its hind legs to get a clearer view across the expanse. Male bears possess a high risk situation for these cubs, If their mother is with them and a male wishes to mate, it is possible that the male bear will try and chase off, and in the worst cases kill the cubs, to naturally kick start the females hormonal cycle, so that he will be able to mate with her in a few days.  

On the lookout

1 Jun 2014

Remote camera mission

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to perfect my 'remote camera' work. I have been using my older 40D body, along with an inexpensive EF-S lens, to try and capture an up close and personal view of the Brown Bears. After two failed attempts due to snowy conditions, frozen equipment and obviously, dealing with wild animals, I was finally able to achieve - to some extent - what I set out to capture. 

Third time lucky

The above image was taken at approximately 22:00. I used the TV (shutter speed priority) function on my body, to ensure that the shutter speed was sufficient enough to hold the detail sharp, even with the movement of the animal (1/100 sec). Due to my 40D using a prehistoric image processor, 'low light capability' is something of a dream. I manually set the camera up for ISO 1250, which after testing seemed the highest I could get away with, before destroying ALL of the detail in the RAW files. Due to using TV mode, the aperture was left to fluctuate along with the available light, this was necessary as the Bears can come at any time, along with any amount of light. My best case scenario was that a Brown Bear would arrive in 'good' light, so that the camera would have to 'stop down' to achieve the correct exposure. As I had manually focused to a distance I felt was likely, by the camera stopping down - due to a good level of ambient lighting - the plane of focus would be deeper, and thus, more likely to keep the animal in focus.

Big foot

One morning after spending a night in the forest hide, I decided to take a quick walk deeper into the forest to search for some nice tracks on the fresh snow. I found a large collection of tracks from; Bear cubs, Wolverine and adult Bears ranging in different sizes, one trail of prints in particular caught my eye. This was likely to be Brutus' hind paw track, just by looking at the shear size of the print. I can now fully understand the legend of the Bigfoot if you were to see these tracks in the middle of the wilderness, and even slightly resembling a human track. In terms of size, my boots are UK 12 / EUR 47, so you get some idea of the mass of this animal.

Frozen in time
Brutus please, it is not a toy