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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Disappearing Into Finnair: Finland 2022, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and big predators (1 Viewer)

8 August Monday 3

I’d gathered during the previous night’s briefing that I needed to select my hide for the night and for that matter at some point for the rest of the week. Accordingly, after breakfast I went to reception and asked their advice. They pointed out their lack of responsibility for the results and I said I didn’t care, I was the newbie here, advice please! They suggested the furthest away hide from the centre was free and had been getting some good sightings so that was it: Hide A for my first night. After that I’d have a better idea of the layout of all the hides (there is a map but on the ground is better) and would probably book selections for the rest of the week on the morrow.

After that I was free for the rest of the day and well rested so I went for a wander around the centre grounds and along the entrance road. It’s hard not to be conscious that you are in a place that deliberately attracts large predators that during the day when there’s no bait near the hides are somewhere else…. That limited the distance I was prepared to go from the buildings, but it extended during the week till I really wasn’t worried at all. All the tracks are forested up to the edge, with occasional clear-fell areas from logging.

Mainly I saw the same small collection of species as the previous day, but round the back of the accommodation and storage sheds I struck lucky, finding a male Three-toed Woodpecker foraging along the woodland edge. It was only the second I’d ever seen (the first was near Wengen, Switzerland, in 1985) and I stuck with it for nearly an hour, enjoying close views and getting some nice pictures for a photo-tick. Result!

Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit were a little out of the ordinary and a couple of high-speed Camberwell Beauties continued to tease.


Northern Blue
Spotted Flycatcher
Three-toed Woodpecker X 3

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Awaiting that eagerly too!

Anything short of John gotten eaten will be a minor disappointment :D
Well thanks very much!

OK then, off we go.

A roast chicken dinner was followed by the evening briefing and the staff then walked us out to the hides. Silence is the rule, plus move quickly and quietly. One or two visitors had to be shushed by the staff. It was a lovely sunny evening and the light was still full as we made our way out along the boardwalk. Our guide stopped and pointed. “There’s a bear.” OMG! With the action pretty much frozen, we asked if standing in the open and taking photos was OK and received assent, with a comment: “be quick though, once it notices us it will be off.”

And it was, which was a serious confidence boost. I got a couple of shots of it running and then we all made our way onwards to our respective hides.

There are about 30 hides altogether and the preferred mode of operation is one person to a hide as this very much reduces the temptation to talk and risk scaring the wildlife away. One or two hides are so small they just won’t hold more than one person anyway, but most are fitted out for two or even four: if you are a couple or just push it a bit you’ll get what you want. Personally I was happy to be on my own and free to shoot from any aperture in my hide at any time, though again moving about is discouraged. These rules/guidelines are to improve your experience so it is best to follow them to the best of your ability.

You aren’t totally alone: phones have to be on silent (of course) but there is a WhatsApp group for passing messages about what’s showing where, and most importantly which way it is going as it heads off across the complex: this frequently gives you a useful heads up on what is coming your way.

My first evening was a roaring success. The Brown Bear on the walk-in was followed at 1829 by a visit from a Wolverine, then at 1838 another massive male Brown Bear well adorned with fat, named Hemuli (Finnish for Hemulen, for any Finn Family Moomintroll fans) – a regular at the complex.

At 2020 the Wolverine – or another, there was a whole family knocking about – made another visit to my hide and at 2040 another Brown Bear wandered through the area. Loads of photos of everything. No surprise, bears are easier to photograph than Wolverines, which were fast, a bit spooky and being lower to the ground, often obscured by grasses or low bushes.

I ran completely out of light at about 2330 and slept from then till 0245. It was cold. I had a number of layers on and was rolled up in the sleeping bag on the lower bunk but I still wasn’t warm. I was also once again conscious that the separation between me and passing bears was mainly smoke and mirrors as not only was my little wooden hut eminently demolishable but the canvas-covered deep panel from which, via drawstringed aperture, my camera protruded for photography (though I’d brought it in overnight), was no protection at all against sweeping paws or mighty head and shoulders. Even that three hours was somewhat broken slumber!

Mind you, the story I heard from a single lady who spent the night in the smallest of the hides put my level of comfort and confidence in perspective. Her hide was too small for a bunk, so it had a single mattress propped against the wall until required, when she had to push her chair out of the way, lay it down, unroll her sleeping bag onto it and bed down on the floor. As she was conducting this operation at the start of the darkest period of the night, a Brown Bear decided to use the corner of her hide as a rubbing post to scratch an itch for several minutes! She told it jokily over breakfast but I got the impression it hadn’t been so funny when it happened.

Fully awake I sat up on my comfy chair still waist-deep in sleeping bag and warmed by carefully hoarded coffee from a Thermos flask. We had been told we must stay in the hides until 0700 – after that everyone out briskly and head back to the centre and breakfast - quietly. At 0520 a Brown Bear ambled past against the early morning sun shining through thin tendrils of ground mist; just after six Hooded Crows and Ravens visited, and bang on 0700 the hide complex sprouted cold humans moving, stiffly at first, homewards.


Running Bear
Brown Bear (male, Hemuli) X 3

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Thanks to everybody for the likes and comments!

9 August Tuesday 3

Although not strictly correct by dates, I’ll split the days of the bear watching period at breakfast each morning, as the whole overnight experience is really one thing and the day starts after the post-breakfast morning sleep. Now that I’d done one night and established I could get three hours sleep out of that, I knew that for my normal function I needed about four hours during the day, so by the time I’d had breakfast, booked my hides for the rest of the week, put batteries on to charge and had a shower that meant about 10 till 2 in the afternoon. I managed about two and a half hours before waking fully and feeling like that was about it. So I got up again and went for a wander in the warm sunshine, thinking that over the several nights sleep would find its own level.

I found a male Azure Hawker basking on a gravel heap not far from the centre, a Common Hawker hung up and, finally, a Camberwell Beauty prepared to sit and give me the performance I sought: underwings, half-open topsides and full spread basking. What a classy butterfly that is.

Today’s dinner was lasagne, nice enough but not exciting. Never mind, a night in Hide 23 to come.

I’d been in less than half an hour when, at 1730, a Brown Bear came close to the hide and gave me another fabulous photo-opportunity. After that I had to be satisfied with a distant Siberian Hawker male patrolling the edge of a lake the hide overlooked from about fifty yards.

Something I wasn’t satisfied with was the door. I’d pulled it shut but the bolt had not so much a hole as a shallow groove in which it seemed to have been pulled open from outside… ooh er. Nobody who’d been in 23 had mentioned it. Must be normal. I did my best to put it out of my mind, with only limited success.

At 2052 I looked towards the door, which was frankly almost flapping open, and saw a Bank Vole sitting on the sill, considering a foray into the hide. The hell you will! I stood up and it fled, at which point I realised I’d missed a photo-opp. The disgruntlement was immediately followed by a blinding flash of dawning realisation: I hadn’t pulled the door hard enough and the bolt should go across the inside of the door frame, not into a slot at all – the clue was in the slight indentation and smoothing of the upright where the bolt laid against it. With that secured I felt much, much better.

Unfortunately it turned out to be a quiet night at this hide, which the previous two nights had enjoyed a mass of sightings. I slept for four hours, waking at 0342. Self-adjusting system – more tired, more sleep.


Azure Hawker
Camberwell Beauty X 2
Brown Bear

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Looks like weather was good. Always iffy in spring. I'm scheduled to go to a friend's cabin May 13th. If there is weather. The cabin is on and island.
Weather was generally very good - surprisingly hot for Northern Europe and only three or four days lost to rain in three weeks, including one massive thunderstorm. Certainly helps with photography generally and insects in particular.

10 August Wednesday 3

Post breakfast I downloaded photos to my laptop and had a quick whiz through them, showered, put batteries on charge and tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately I was repeatedly woken by the occupant of the next room, an adult Downs Syndrome son of a very patient mother who coaxed him through the routines of the Bear Centre brilliantly to the benefit of both. The trouble was he had separation anxiety issues and my sleep was being broken by Wookiee-like cries from the next room as his mum took some well-deserved time to herself. About midday I gave up and went for a wander outside, finding a pair of Bullfinches that effortlessly avoided giving my camera a clear view, a flyover Crossbill and a couple of Lesser Whitethroats.

After a salmon dinner it was off to Hide 27A, facing another pool but closer to it and in a smaller clearing with dense forest coming almost down to its far edge. It was a cloudy evening and the light went fairly early, at least from the point of view of good photography.

Hooded Crow cawing led into three of the clever birds making their way down to one of the concrete bait covers from under which one of them gradually pulled scraps of meat while the other two watched for large mammalian predators erupting from the forest at speed. They took turns and definitely got some food, but eventually abandoned the attempt.

A Red Fox that checked the bait covers along the far side of the lake at 2045 had more luck, managing to sneak a large lump of dead cow from its concealed position. It made off briskly into the woods before a Wolverine or Bear could rob it of prize and/or life. It picked a good time to leave because fifteen minutes later the gigantic Hemuli rolled into view and casually flipped one cover after another over, quickly and efficiently snaffling the meat beneath as he worked the circuit.

It was quiet after that until 2247 when to my delight (and frustration due to the darkness) a she-bear named Lumikki brought her four (yes, four) yearling cubs through the clearing. She was clearly very twitchy, looking about her all the time and occasionally calling the cubs onwards as they played their way through the open ground, one or two coming very close to my hide where it was really really dark. The R7 wouldn’t have anything to do with it but I managed to force the 7Dii to take some pictures on extreme settings and with a short lens on. It was a really great sighting as my eyes were well dark-adapted after sitting watching for action for so long.

Once they had gone I turned in and slept until about 0500. Between then and heading out I was entertained by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Crossbills and Redwings.


A job I wouldn't want, walking around the woods with a bucket full of raw meat for bears that may not want to wait.
Red Fox with a big prize.
Female Brown Bear (Lumikki) with four yearling cubs. Skilful mother! Practically no light, cant have it all your own way.
Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker.

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11 August Thursday 3

A quiet day around the Centre, catching up on some photo downloads and also on a little sleep despite Chewie next door: it was showery all day so I wasn’t tempted out. I managed to have an email conversation with Owen of BF who gave me some sites I could check on my spare day – I had planned to have another night at the Bear Centre, just sleeping, but now felt I could better use that driving somewhere further North. He was very helpful at very short notice and I remain extremely grateful for his efforts.

I’d decided on Hide 1 for my last night of mammal watching: it had a good record of sightings and the best view of a rocky outcrop at the woodland (and bog) edge on which I hoped to get some clear shots. Walking in we had a torrential shower but it cleared through to give a sunny evening from then on. The other thing that happened was that my staff guide apologised that going all the way to Hide 1 I would have to wait while he took other visitors to the 20-series hides off to the left. Relaxed about bears after several nights at the Centre I assured him I could find my own way (Hide A in which I’d spent my first night was actually along the same boardwalk, just a bit further than Hide 1) and I was happy to do so on my own. A bit of a change from the first evening nerves about the bears! I made it without incident (of course) and settled in.

At 1948 there was a bang on the roof of my hide – I looked up startled, I’d had no warning of anything approaching – then I got a WhatsApp message that there was a Goshawk sitting on the roof! I didn’t even get a view when it left.

At 2115 Hemuli ambled down the side of the rocky outcrop and completely caught me out, so that I only got pictures of him once he was already out on the marsh, before he wandered off towards some other hides. Rats. Oh well….

Hemuli made a second pass through the hide area at 2210 and after that it was a quiet night. I slept from about 2300 to 0350 and then had views of Common Sandpiper and a female Teal with a duckling before heading back to the Centre at 0700 as per usual.


Bear Centre offices, reception, dining room.
Bear Centre Accommodation: my window was on the gable end top right.
Me in the hide. I took one earlier in the week and the nervousness was apparent - gone now.
Redstart on the rocks
Sunrise from hide 1
Teal adult female with duckling

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Last lap. Hope you've made it this far, if so, thank you for sticking with it!

12 August Friday 3

With only (most of) two days left before an evening flight home I wolfed breakfast, had a shower and said goodbye to the staff at the Bear Centre before making my way back down the long entrance track to tarmac roads and setting off North with all dispatch.

The first bit was on back roads and I found out after a while that although the road quality was good and the traffic almost non-existent, I needed to be a bit careful because of wandering domestic Reindeer, which are surprisingly hard to see in the road and considerably less inclined to get out of the way than UK sheep. Most of them had multi-coloured collars on but a few didn’t and eventually I got a reasonable picture of a non-collared animal that seemed to be a male, with decent antlers, at the side of the road, out of the car window.

Eventually I joined one of the main highways North, which didn’t lessen the Reindeer risk but did mean the road and verges were a lot wider and the deer were more obvious. Drivers coming the other way also flashed to indicate deer hazards ahead and I quickly adopted the same habit as well as taking proper notice of warnings.

Eventually I reached the turn off for the Valtavaara ridge, which Owen had said was a good place for Siberian Jay and Tit. I found a suitable car park and after a typical Finnish picnic lunch set off up and along the ridge, birding as I went. It was an energetic hike but had excellent views in gaps between the pines as well as numerous tit flocks (but nothing I was keen to see), Willow Warblers and a few other bits and bobs including a close though brief view of an adult Goshawk and a couple of Willow Tits.

A couple of summer plumage Brambling just would not sit for pictures and the odd Pied Flycatcher was similarly reticent. I was also aware that I was fairly unfit, had to get back to the car over a fairly up and down ridgeline and then had to make some miles South in order to have a sensible drive down to Helsinki to fly home on the morrow. So I turned back probably earlier than I would have liked to, but as the great philosopher Harry Callahan said, “a man’s gotta know his limitations.”

I chatted to several Finnish hikers on the way back, mostly finishing their hiking of the full 70km trail the ridge formed part of. All had excellent English (luckily as I have no Finnish) and it was nice to pass the time of day with these outdoor enthusiasts. No birders though!

I sent the rest of the afternoon driving back down to Kajaani to overnight in a hotel there, which was comfortable and sensibly priced.

13 August Saturday 3

After a substantial breakfast I set off on a leisurely drive down to Helsinki on excellent roads – apart from a stretch of 30 miles of complete disaster roadworks, surface ripped up sometimes to bare earth, quite a few sets of traffic lights and one or two convoy systems. I had plenty of time to stop at likely looking turnouts but saw only the usual roadside birds all the way down: Hoodies, Ravens, White Wags and so on.

I had loads of time in hand but getting back into Helsinki Airport was almost beyond me – the first attempt I got in the wrong lane and had to come all the way back out to try again: the second time I somehow ended up in the wrong bit of the hire car parking facility and had to go the wrong way up a one-way bit to get where I needed to drop the car off.

After that it was plain sailing all the way home, watching the moving map on the plane to see what I was looking at from my window seat: I even saw a couple of other airliners at a comfortable distance from us. Endex!

Last couple of photos:

Reindeer pretending not to be domestic
Sunrise, Hide 1: I haven't got a sunset to finish with but this supplies the appropriate dose of colour!

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Mind you, the story I heard from a single lady who spent the night in the smallest of the hides put my level of comfort and confidence in perspective. Her hide was too small for a bunk, so it had a single mattress propped against the wall until required, when she had to push her chair out of the way, lay it down, unroll her sleeping bag onto it and bed down on the floor. As she was conducting this operation at the start of the darkest period of the night, a Brown Bear decided to use the corner of her hide as a rubbing post to scratch an itch for several minutes! She told it jokily over breakfast but I got the impression it hadn’t been so funny when it happened.
That'd be Hide 13 then (or the coffin!!)

I was literally 2 weeks behind you this year & did the same drive to & from Helsinki thanks to DAT airlines pulling out of their internal routes 2 days before we flew over (I only found out by pure chance)

Bear Center is a fantastic place - this year was my 2nd visit. Hemuli is definitely a character. My wife asked me in a Facetime message what would happen if we spotted a bear on the way to the hide? I told her it'd never happen (it did that night as we spotted Hemuli on the rock opposite Hide 1 :) )

It looks like you've hacked my hard drive John - I seem to have very similar photos (although I missed the mother & cubs this time). Still not seen the wolves that very occasionally visit the site.
Really enjoyed this thread, thanks for posting your report.
We had our first visit to Finland last July.
We went to that sculpture park too.
We also saw Black throated divers on the lake where we stayed for a few nights but our photos are rubbish.

We're going back this year .
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