Thursday, 8 June 2017

Brown Bears and Wolverine 2nd - 5th June

I had always planned to visit one of the places where there are hides for Brown Bear and there are several close to the Russian border north east of Parikkala. Some of the sites also get the occasional, almost mythical Wolverine but occasional to me generally means once but not since. That's probably not fair now as some of the sites are now actively looking to give photo opportunities for Wolverine. Whilst researching which sites to visit I came across Era Eero which focuses just on Wolverine and whilst they may get the occasional Brown Bear or Wolf it is the Wolverine that is their speciality. Looking at their web site and talking to people who had been the chances of seeing and even photographing Wolverine seemed very good so this was the place for me.
The beautiful log cabin at Era Eero
I arrived at Era Eero after a long drive down a gravel track which for a time had followed a rocky ridge with deep drops on either side. It was snowing when I arrived but fortunately not settling. The format for both here and the Brown Bear sites is to arrive early afternoon for a meal before travelling to the hides at around 16:00 then you are left until 07:00 or 08:00 the following morning with a basket or knapsack with coffee and sandwiches so it's all very civilised. At Era Eero the hides even have a fixed toilet but often it's just a bucket so you need to know your fellow photographers reasonably well! It cost 170€ plus 20€ if you have a meal.
There is a small hide for birds with seed infront of the house and I tried that for an hour before the Wolverine. Red Squirrel gave superb views along with many Siskin, several Northern Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker but it was spoilt a bit by the snow flurries.
At Era Eero there are four hides overlooking adjacent areas, food, primarily fish, was thrown out as we were dropped off at the hide. Some is placed under concrete stones to stop the gulls getting at it. Three French photographers occupied the first two hides with me in the second and an American gentleman in the fourth.
We were dropped off around 16:00 and amazingly a Wolverine appeared right infront of my hide at around 17:15.
It clearly knew where all the food was as it went from place to place pulling up the concrete stones. Some of the fish had been thrown in the trees and I was delighted to see the Wolverine climb the tree to retrieve it although it kept its back to me the whole time but this was fantastic.

It soon ran off into the woods with a piece of fish and I sat down waiting for it to reappear with just the Common Gulls for company which also had clearly learnt where the food is. It, or possibly a second animal returned at 19:30 briefly then again at 19:45. I had a similar wait for another appearance at 20:30 then 21:30 and again at 21:45. It was still getting dusky at around 23:00 and getting lighter around 03:00 so when I had my last sighting at 02:30 it was really to dull for photography and they did not reappear before we were picked up at 08:00.
Wolverine - no point in climbing a tree if your chased by one!
I was ecstatic I had had amazing views in good light and when it had returned it had climbed the tree side on and looked across at me, I couldn't have asked for more. Speaking to the French contingent they had had just two sightings and both after 22:00 when it was rather dark. The American to my right had had some decent views but of the animals infront of my hide. This was the French parties second night and the joked about my good luck whilst we had breakfast back at the house. They stayed for a third night but there were no Wolverine sightings at all. It was thought that a Wolf had killed and Elk in the forest and the Wolverine had gone there.
Whilst talking over breakfast both the French and American were headed for the Boreal Wildlife Centre at Viiksimi. There were two habitats for the bears there; swamp and woodland and the swamp also offered the possibility of Wolf as well so I decided to head for Viiksimi as well.
Boreal Wildlife Centre - accommodation and dining etc.

Food for bears
The arrangement at Viiksimi is similar but the site is run by wildlife photographer Kari Kemppainen who's fantastic photographs were all round the dining area, As a result the design of the hides and set up was better for photographers. At Era Eero the hide opening is rather narrow and why use concrete blocks to hide the food, I have some great photos of Wolverine with both feet on what looks like a concrete breeze block!
I had decided on the swamp for my hide. There was a single large hide, with toilet and three smaller hides in slightly better position for photos but with a bucket. Fortunately I was by myself again with the three Frenchmen in two adjacent photo hides. It cost 150€ for the large hide and 180€ for the photo hides.
We arrived at the hides at 17:00 and Kari set out the fish. He had barely, excuse the pun, moved out of the way before a large adult Brown Bear meandered across the swamp, stopping right in front of me. I could have got a decent photo with the camera on my phone! He wandered around and crossed a muddy area to perch on a fallen tree stem before wading back in front of me and wandering off in the direction of the woodland hides. 
Brown Bear - adult male
You sink deep in to the mud if you weigh 300Kg
He reappeared a couple more times during the night and two other bears, another younger male and a dark female. 
A younger male
female Brown Bear
What a great experience it was to be able to watch these huge animals at such close quarters. Without the use of these organised hides I think there would be no chance of photographing or probably even seeing Wolverine and perhaps the best you could hope for with Brown Bear is to see one lumbering off in to the distance. It's quite expensive but for the views I got well worth it I think.

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