Photographing bears at Martinselkonen, Day 2

I wrote the previous posting about the bears in Finnish so I’ll put some background about the trip here. Martinselkonen Eräkeskus is one of the best known places for photographing bears in Finland and they have a very good track record. 80% of the visitors are now foreigners because the Wild Wonders of Europe project and the Bear book by Stefano Unterthiner have made Martinselkonen well known abroad.

The bears are fed with salmon waste and dog food so they arrive to the main photographing area – where I was the first night – like clock work. Roughly 30 bears frequent the area but even locals hardly ever see them apart from the feeding spots. Bears are also still hunted in the autumn (the feeding and photographing ends on 10th August) so they don’t get too used to humans. So you don’t have a lot of chance – or risk – of meeting a bear in the forest. But if you do see cubs in a tree you better back off because the mother bear will protect the cubs by all means.

We arrived at 4.30 pm and were overnight in the cabin where we could photograph the bears without disturbing the them. When we arrived three bears were already waiting so we went pretty fast into the cabins. In the first night we saw about 20 bears and at one point 12 at a time. Two bears had cubs, the other one 2 and the other (in the picture in the previous posting) 4 – which is very rare.

The second night I was beside a pond in a smaller cabin where only 2 persons fit in. In the first photo you can see the situation. It is the other cabin beside ours and a bear wondering whats going on. Obviously they can hear and smell us but they only see the lenses sticking out of the wall. The cabin windows are not transparent from outside.

While on the first night the bears were waiting for us, here we had to wait for 3 hours before the first one appeared. We were already discussing the possibility that they wouldn’t appear at all but were told later that hasn’t happened in the last 7 years. In the end we saw over ten individuals and 5 at the same time. There were hardly any fights hear because the bears could easily avoid each other by going round the pond. Except at one point the leading male made an attack by swimming across the pond, but obviously the others had time to get out of his way.

His main target was the blond female in the second photo. The same happened the first night that a male chased the blond female away. Maybe a sign of color-racism because normally the males didn’t seem to mind about the females too much, but this blond female was chased away on both nights.

Some of the males bears seemed to enjoy swimming. The day was quite warm and there was a lot of mosquitos so maybe it was nicer to stay in the water.

We saw the last bear at about 1 am and even though we took turns to check for them in the following hours they didn’t return. The photographic dream was a bear in the morning fog but no bears in the morning and also no fog because the night was so warm.

The photos have been taken both with my Canon 5D MII and 40D at the late hours at ISO 1600. I was using my 100-400 f4,5-5,6, 70-200 f2,8 and 28-70 f2,8 lenses.