Martinselkonen Reserve, located in Eastern Finland, is one on of the best places in Europe to photograph brown bears.
This tranquil wilderness location is highly recommended – on occasion up to 20 bears and 8 cubs have been seen in a single night! Safaris to watch brown bear started here in 1996. At first few bears were seen, but over the years sightings have steadily improved and are now frequent.
The bears usually wake from hibernation around mid-April, when there is still plenty of snow, offering the possibility of photographing these magnificent creatures against a background of snow until early May. However, localised spells of warm weather in spring can affect this, as brown bears do not hibernate fully so are woken easily. The first bears are usually seen around the end of March, and by early May they start to forage voraciously. During their long hibernation they use up large amounts of body fat, so at this time of year they are lean and hungry, but their coats are in excellent condition – which makes them highly photogenic.
Rutting normally starts in the last week of May. At this time you are unlikely to see large numbers of bears at the feeding site, but they are very active. You may see adult males vying for superiority, which can cause individuals to get extremely aggressive with one another. Each year some lucky visitors witness bears mating and capture amazing images. Although bears have been observed mating as late as the first week of July, experience suggests that best time to have a chance of seeing this is from the end of May through until the end of June. The long summer evenings at this time of year are perfect for watching wildlife. Once the mating season is over, the bears start to forage again with gusto. Although there may be occasional fights between adult males, the forest is generally a more peaceful place in July. At this time of the year over a single night at the hide you may see as many as 20 or more individual bears.
Females with cubs usually start to appear at the feeding site some time in June, although in some years they have been seen in May, and in others not until early July. However, as a general rule, it seems that July and early August are the best times to photograph females with small cubs. Since 1999 the practice of leaving out carrion at the site has attracted even mothers with cubs, who are usually extremely nervous of human presence. Some bears have revisited the site regularly since 1997. The forest site is a more suitable environment than open bog, as bears feel more comfortable when there is some tree cover, and places to hide especially when with cubs.
The forest around Martinselkonen offers opportunities to see woodland birds such as woodpeckers, and rare eastern species such as Siberian jay and rustic bunting. The black kite, which is very rare in Finland, nests in the area and visits the carrion, laid out to lure bears, on an almost daily basis, and another frequent visitor is the white-tailed eagle, four were once seen together! A feeder in the lodge garden attracts bullfinches, siskins and great spotted woodpeckers, plus the odd red squirrel. Nesting boxes have attracted Tengmalm’s, pygmy, and Ural owls, and passerines such as Siberian tit and pied flycatcher.
Martinselkonen Nature Reserve is located close to the Russian border in the municipality of Suomussalmi in Eastern Finland and opens from 20 April until 10 August each year.
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