Predator Watching in Finland
I have still not given up hope to return to Africa in July this year. However, “hope for the best, plan for the worst”, as one of my favorite novel character has a habit to say, and so I started to looking for an alternative / substitute destination, closer to home and less risky when it comes to travel restrictions, quarantines and the likes, and Finland came up as an option.
The general idea: fly to Helsinki, rent a car and drive up north towards towards the Russian border, in the hopes of finding predators like bears, wolves and the elusive wolverine. On our way up we might want to include some detours if the landscape is worth looking at. We are, however, not interested in birding, cultural sightings or water based activities like boat cruises.
So far I have, through trip reports right here at mammalwatching.org, identified half a dozen or so outfits that basically offer the same deal, for more or less the same rates: spend the nights in hides and hope that predators will show up in front of your lenses (yes, I know they are baited and no, I don’t have a problem with that).
Ideally we would rent our own cottage / hut / room somewhere close to a bigger village and from there visit 3 or 4 different locations (over the span of maybe 8 nights in total). I have not checked all the locations of the companies / hides I found, but it seems that for example Lentiira and Kuhmo are relatively close to each other, so at this early stage of planning I guess my initial questions are
Is there a big disadvantage when not staying at the accommodation that the operators of the hides offer?
Do you think it’s possible to decide on a day to day basis which particular hide to visit, without any reservation? (I find it hard to believe that in July 2020 all of them will be solidly booked out)
I’ve seen bears and wolves before, but no wolverine. Is there any operator / hide / location that has a solid reputation when it comes to spotting these animals (like Marrick in South Africa has for aardvark, black footed cats, etc)?
Lassi Rautiainen is the grand old man for large predator watching. I have seen all three every time I have been there during summer. Pl check https://wildfinland.org/. Contact me if you have any questions
We stayed 2 nights at Era Ero in May 2019. We stayed one night in the small photo blinds and one night in the large cabin/blind by the lake. The small blind is much better for photography and the views are a lot closer but the accommodation is small and it takes a little bit of a toll on you sitting there all day/night and trying to be quiet. They take you out about 4pm and pick you up the next morning at 8am. There is a small “pit toilet” and a bed that you sit on to look out the view windows.
The cabin by comparison is luxurious with space to walk around and full size beds in another room.
We saw several wolverine and a Brown Bear both nights. No wolf.
If you are staying in the large cabin and staying up in shifts you might not need another room. If in the small blind you will probably need a room. We ended up birding all day the day between the nights in the blind and paid the price by being asleep the second night when a bear came in and carried away the bait pig carcass. The people in the next blind had video….
The accommodation at the main lodge is basic and I think would be kind of loud with people in and out of the cabin during the day and the rooms didn’t have doors only blankets hanging over the opening.
Pompano Beach, FL
Lassi Rautianen and https://wildfinland.org/ are probably your best bet as you have more chances for wolves there than at any of the other places. This means also possibly observing interactions between the them and bears and/or wolverine (it was amazing last year).
I would suggest sleeping on site as it allows you to sleep as much as possible to be ready for long long “nights”
Sure, it’s possible to stay in Kuhmo and not with tour operators. But it is at least 1 hr to drive to the observation hides from there and you would be doing this twice a day (in the morning from you come out from the hide and in the late afternoon when your return).
Also, most lodges are in beautiful areas where you do some animal watching (e.g. to see forest raindeer) on your own during the day.
Another advantage of staying at the lodges is that you get a lot of information from spending time at the meals with the other guests who can tell you what they saw on previous nights at other hides, plus you have more time to chat to the owners and get information from them.
It’s hard to predict how busy the hides are going to be in July. If the usual photography classes come as scheduled then it can be very busy in some places. But I guess nobody can say right now which photographers will run which classes.
Regarding the wolverines I found myself in the same position first time I went because I had also seen wolves and bears many times but never a wolverine. Lassi Rautiainen has a dedicated wolverine hide which has delivered for me almost every time I went over the last three years.
I am not aware of any hides in Finland for bears, wolves and wolverine that do not use bait but I doubt it would have a high success rate.
Of course there are other places where one has a great chance of seeing bears and to a lesser extent wolves without hides. I’m thinking Yellowstone in the US as one example.
Of course it is possible to observe wolves without baiting but then you have to be prepared to put more time and effort into it. I regularly watch and photograph wolves in Germany without baiting. It is possible to get very close and watch prolonged intercations but it takes weeks and months to learn from their tracks and from camera traps which areas they pass through and where they spend time. And the focus points keep shifting between seasons.
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Jorn Van Den Bogaert
I hope also to go to Finland beginning of July.
I will try to answer you questions :
1 : you stay the whole night in the observation hides, so no need to book the local accomodations , but its intresting to have a accomodation during the day, because you will stay awake at night and maybe want to have a rest during the day. So the accomodation that is offered is close to the hides, so from this point its intresting.
2 : for last-minutes decissions, normally its never possible, but on this moment lots of tours are cancelled (corona), so you can be lucky to have enough choise for dates that the hides are available. I just rebooked my tour to other dates and there was a lot of choise (normally i was goiing to depart 7 june.
3 : for wolverine the best is : http://www.eraeero.com but also good chances at Lassis place (www.wildfinland.org). I have seen wolverines several times on both places.
Jorn Van Den Bogaert