In search of the majestic brown bear: an expedition in Finland
September 20, 2019
With some 2,000 brown bears freely roaming the country, Finland offers some of the best opportunities in the world to encounter wild brown bears. Still, bears are shy and avoid meetings with people, so encounters are rare. I traveled to Finland’s eastern borderlands hoping to meet this majestic animal.
Mid September, the landschap is awash with vibrant colors. As soon I see the colors of the trees I know that, even if I will not find any bears, I just love this trip. The colors are so intense and the sunsets are mesmerizing, The best autumn colors usually occur during a two week period in mid-September. Finnish autumn is a blaze of colors with tints of yellow, red, orange, brown and green in the trees and on the ground vegetation. The days are shortening and the light is wonderful: the autumn sun shines low, and in the evening it creates long shadows over the landscape. Some days mist forms above the swamps which creates a dreamy atmosphere. On clear dark evenings you might even see the glow of the Aurora Borealis. And with some luck you can encounter the European brown bear in this autumn beauty.
Bears are active throughout September and many bears arrive in the area earlier in the evening than in summertime. This makes September a good time for bear watching. The bears are preparing for their hibernation and are in search of food. Its’s also the prime season to observe bearcubs. Together with their mothers they are roaming the taiga.
I love the Finnish taiga. This boreal forest is a biome that is characterized by vast, cold and moist coniferous forests. The Russian word tajgá, meaning coniferous forest, comes from Mongolian. The areas referred to as ‘taiga’ together form the largest forest area on earth: it covers large parts of Scandinavia, Canada, Russia and Mongolia. It is the most northern area where you will find pine trees. The most important factors in the development of the taigabioma are the long winter, the low temperature that limits plant and animal life, and sun exposure in the summer. Relatively few mammals are able to survive the harsh winters. The taiga is the habitat of beavers, bison, brown bears, wolves, lynnx, reindeer, snow hare and marten like the tree marten and the glutton.
I roam the taiga like the bears do and I wait in hides for countless hours. It’s worth it: my hope to encounter the brown bear in the wild is fulfilled. The encounters even exceed my expectations. After the second night I even lose count how many different bears I see. I meet a mother with her 3 cubs on several occasions. I see various lone bears and I have a magical close encounter with a pale young female they call ‘the white spirit bear‘. I hear the bears sounds, their footsteps on the swamp, their growls and their noises as they eat. And when I lay in my sleeping bag at night I can hear the bears in my vicinity. After these magical encounters, I am even more intrigued by this mythical creature and I feel so grateful for this life changing experience.
Warning: In Finland, different lodges offer hides from which you can photograph brown bears. But do your research before you travel. Some lodges feed the bears and offer shelter during the year. But then the lodge closes for a few weeks and hunters can shoot the bears from the same hides used by wildlife photographers. Trophy hunting is reprehensible and certainly in this way by feeding the bears during the year and earn good money from photographers and then, if the bears feel safe, have them shoot to earn even more money. So do your research and make sure that you do not unwittingly contribute to the maintenance of trophy hunting.