The Magical Moment I Saw A Bear in Finland
“Bear!” Chris whispered.
I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest.
It took a moment to find the bear through the viewfinder on my camera: I pressed the shutter.
Through the window of the hide I watched the bear approach; hesitantly, it edged around the pool before reaching a stop and it looked straight at us.
I fired the shutter again.
All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked, it turned and headed back towards the forest.
I realised I’d been holding my breath!
Did it hear the shutters clicking or did something else spook it?
The bear ambled around the pool and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.
A mist danced on the surface of the still pool; the sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light.
The bear was reflected in the watery mirror as it sniffed the air; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.
A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?
We’d been in the hide for around five hours before the bear arrived, slowly watching the summer evening envelop the view before us.
An hour earlier the light had been extraordinarily perfect and we’d been wishing a bear would appear then. The pool had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.
After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening bar a brief appearance by a fox. I curled up in the lower bunk and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.
An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”
I crawled out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the gloom.
The bear was walking towards us, and he was big! He strolled past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.
I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.
To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.
I’m sure those bears wandered my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn from the fairy-tale pool of the night into a familiar daytime scene.
It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.
I’ve seen brown bears twice previous to this, on both occasions in British Colombia, Canada. Those experiences were incredible – once was in the spring, as the bears were fresh out of hibernation and the second time was during the salmon run in the autumn: there were a lot of bears.
This Finnish encounter was far more intimate.
The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.
A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries.
I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears.
Now I’d seen those bears with my own eyes I suddenly felt wary – not scared as such, just aware that the forest concealed more than I could perceive.
We did this bear watching experience at Wild Brown Bear Centre, near Kuhmo in eastern Finland, however there are a number of similar companies that do the same kind of thing. Chris did the research and booked Wild Brown Bear Centre through their website. The centre has accommodation as well as the wildlife observation hides however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead.
The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.
As well as seeing bears, there is also the chance of glimpsing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
We stayed in hide #17. It cost us €120 each for one night in the hide, this included a snack bag (coffee, water, sandwiches and snacks – they cater for vegetarians and vegans with prior notice) – Summer 2016 prices.
The hide had a very rudimentary toilet: it was little more than bucket lined with a bag.
After spending the night in the hide, we spent the following daytime dozing in the van (this is when you would use your room, if you opted for accommodation, which also includes meals). We enjoyed, of course, a sauna and fed ourselves in the camper.
I note that the Wild Brown Bear Centre offers airport pickups, having our own transport removed this requirement and allowed us to explore the area on our own.
I took all of these pictures with my Fuji X-T1, Fuji 55-200mm lens, mounted on an original Gorillapod. I didn’t have a big fancy wildlife camera!
We may have been in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – but unsurprisingly for Finland we had mobile signal and after a quick edit of my favourite picture on Chris’s computer I’d shared it with friends, online through my phone!
If you want to see more pictures of these beautiful bears check out the amazing websites of Kyle Moore and Harry Read, two talented young wildlife photographers we met at the centre, they’d been there for a whole month photographing the bears! (links open in a new tab. Warning: there’s super cute bear cubs!) >>
It was an incredible night, moments that I will never forget; I would definitely do it again!
*I haven’t been compensated for this post. We visited Wild Brown Bear Oy as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money.
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