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Welcome to Finland

by Guido Muratore | July 10, 2013

© Guido MuratoreWhen I think about bears, the first place that comes to my mind is Finland. The country has one of the largest bear populations in Europe, and the bear is the Finnish national animal. In April 2013, I visited Finland for ten days, trying to photograph the brown bears after they woke up from hibernation. This was my first long photographic trip and it was perfectly planned, as it is the only time of year when photographers can capture images of the bears on snow.

The First Bear

When you photograph wildlife, you always have to consider that it is possible head out and return home without pictures, because, as a friend says, “Nature is nature.” While being with the right guide helps to increase the chances for good shots, we still felt lucky to see bears on our first night out.

Around 20 o’clock, a large male came out of the forest heading towards us. The excitement we felt was indescribable. He began to get closer and closer, to a position about ten meters from the hide, allowing us to take some amazing photos. The most incredible thing was to see how he was aware of our presence because with every shot,he raised his head as if to scold us. During this time of year, when the bears first rouse from hibernation, they are not very confident and any sudden movement might make them suspicious and flee, so every action must be well thought out.

Finland bear in snow © Guido Muratore

Nevertheless this bear remained in front of our hide all night, walking around and stopping to eat from time to time. We found him the next morning still there, so we could photograph him with the beautiful light of sunrise.

Bear looking for something to eat in snow © Guido Muratore

The Forest

One of the things I like most in wildlife photography is to use a wide angle lens with animals. This isn’t easy because of the extreme proximity of the subject required. From the beginning of the trip, I wanted to photograph a bear this way. The forest was definitely the most suitable place for the purpose, so I decided to try. Even though the bear approached our hide and allowed for many photographs in the beautiful light, it wasn’t close enough to allow me to do the shot I wanted. After nearly three hours the bear finally found a seat right where I wanted him. The picture is not perfect; I would have preferred completely snow covered ground, but I was happy with what I got.

Bear portrait in snow © Guido Muratore

Bear in forest with snow on ground, Finland © Guido Muratore

Goodbye Snow

Although it was still April, at the end of our journey the snow had already melted and the landscape was completely transformed. The number of bears present grew day by day as they awoke from hibernation, and consequently increased the chance of seeing them. The last three days in particular I photographed bears in all possible conditions: sunrise, sunset, fog, and also under a snowfall. I could not hope for anything better!

Bear roaming forest © Guido Muratore

Bear photography in Finland © Guido Muratore

Finland bear © Guido Muratore

The last night we saw the best show. Two young males had finished their snacking and began to play in front of our eyes, first rubbing their snouts against each other then standing up and beginning to sink. We could see it was not a real fight because the bites were only hinted at and there was no aggression in their hits. Unfortunately it was too late and too dark to take pictures, but I remained in ecstasy watching that scene, filming it as a record. I could not hope for better experiences from this adventure. I look forward to returning again at another time of the year to photograph the cubs with their mothers. They are easy to see in June and July, when you can photograph them in the treetops where they climb to escape from the big males who try to attack them to mate with females. I expect another fantastic Finnish adventure!

Not Only Bears

Finland is not just good for bears. I think it should be considered, at least in Europe, the paradise of every wildlife photographer, both for mammals and for birds. There are so many animals that it is not rare to find a capercaillie on the roadside or white hare behind a house. On my trip, we focused our attention on two particular species, dedicating ourselves exclusively to them for few days: the wolverine and the black grouse.

The wolverine is one of the shyest mammals and an absolutely fascinating creature. It is the size of a medium-sized dog and has long curved claws that are rather scary. Wolverines run with a curious gait, the awkward bounding stride characteristic of all mustelids.

Wolverine © Guido Muratore

Anything but awkward, the black grouse is a beautiful bird that, during this time of the year, fights with other males for the conquest of the females. During these battles, you can sometimes see twenty grouses simultaneously in the arena—a pleasure for every photographer!

Black grouse pair © Guido Muratore

Black grouse showing white feathers © Guido Muratore

Finland has proved to be one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever seen. If you are a wildlife photographer, you should absolutely plan a visit!

About the Author

Guido Muratore is a young Italian wildlife photographer based in Turin where he is working towards his Master's Degree in Aerospace Engineering. In this city he had the possibility to meet people who introduced him to wildlife photography and was shocked and captivated by the beauty of nature. Today his pictures have been published on various nature websites and he is a contributor to the photography section of a binoculars forum. To learn more about Guido, visit his website and Facebook page.

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