The Big Four of Finland

Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 1.10.2018

There was a two-week gap between my posts, for I was hiking in Lapland. In my previous post I talked about autumn colors, and how I’m about to go to check the situation myself up north. So, was it good this year? Did the old saying about 10th September hold true?

Yes and yes. On my way up I stopped at Ylläs area for two day hikes, and the birches were alight in yellow, and other species added orange and red here and there. Autumn colors were superbly bright.

Hiking in Finland

All the birches were yellow at Ylläs on 14th September, and blueberries and other shrubs added red.

BigFour_EiRuskaaPoyriksella_4123

When we drove 120 km farther north (measured as a bird flies), there came an abrupt change in the landscape. Near Hetta town all the birches were suddenly leafless! The peak of autumn colors had already passed here in the fell areas of the very northernmost Lapland. That was a bit pity, but however, we had a fantastic hike that contained lots of treeless and pathless fells, six days without seeing other hikers, peculiar sand dunes and juniper meadows, fishing, frosty mornings, sunshine and still weather, rain and winds, aurora borealis etc.

Hiking in Finland

Autumn colors were great at Ylläs on my way up on 13th September. In Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area the autumn colors had mostly passed by 14th September. On my way back on 21st September autumn colors were still blazing in Ylläs area, and at Rovaniemi as well. In Kuhmo half of the birches were yellow and the other half was still green. Rowans were red, and views started to be great.

During this past weekend I was orienteering and noted that many aspen groves had yellow floors: most of the aspen leaves had already fallen. The peak of autumn colors has just passed Kuhmo area, but the landscape is still colorful.

 

The Big Four

Then let’s proceed to today’s topic. Years ago I visited Tanzania and learned that ‘safari’ is Swahili language and means journey. Also I learned the term ‘The Big Five’. Originally both of these are hunting terms, but nowadays both are generally in use also for nature tourists and photographers. And yes, we saw lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinos. And yes, of course it was fascinating to see those magnificent animals!

Hiking in Finland... though this one is from Tanzania.

At that time I had my very first digital pocket camera, which did not produce magnificent quality… And my better camera used slide film, which I have never got scanned. Anyway, you probably recognize these huge shapes as elephants.

In Finland we have four big predators, and these could be named The Big Four of Finland: Brown bear, Grey wolf, Lynx and Wolverine. Do these names attract your interest? Do they live in your country?

I am not a nature photographer in the sense that I would own lots of camera arsenal, like long lenses. That’s why I very rarely get any decent photos of mammals or birds. I respect the professionals who know how to take those kinds of pics, but it’s not my thing. My thing is wilderness, large uninhabited areas, hiking and backpacking through them. Seeing and feeling how each wilderness area is an individual personality, differs interestingly from others. I walk or ski for days or weeks on, and therefore I carry a lightweight SLR camera, and only one adjustable lens.

There have been even times when I’ve taken only a compact camera with me. That means less weight, but it means also that photographing for example aurora borealis, starry nights, mists and other less easy views grow difficult or impossible. The same applies to smartphone camera, which is a good backup camera, but does not replace a lightweight SLR for my purposes.

Hiking in Finland

So, here’s one pic of Brown bear, but I’m not going to bother you with my feeble efforts with other predators. This photo was taken from a commercial photographing hide in Kuhmo (see below).

If you are interested in these great animals, there are lots of quality galleries of Finnish nature photographers and photo agencies. Here are just some examples:

Hiking in Finland

Vastavalo says it is the most popular photo agency in Finland. Vastavalo produces over 300 pics with search ‘wolf’.

Hiking in Finland

Stock photo archive Leuku produces about 250 images with search ‘bear’.

BigFour_HannuH

Hannu Huttu is a renowned nature photographer living in my area. In his gallery you need to search in Finnish, (Haku is Search, and for bear you search for ‘karhu’, wolverine is ‘ahma’, wolf is ‘susi’.) Here I searched for ahma and got 112 photos of wolverine.

 

Are predators dangerous to humans?

So, we have big predators in Finland. Is it dangerous to hike in those parts of Finland where there are most bears or wolves? No.

The animals have superior senses compared to us humans. They hear, smell or see us way before we see them, and they move away. In winter you can see tracks of wolves, wolverines and lynxes, and in the late springwinter also those of bears. See my earlier post about joys of animal tracks.

I have hiked a lot in every part of Finland for decades. Have I bumped often to the predators? No way. I’ve seen a bear once during a hike, and that was a memorable occassion. Maybe I’ll tell that tale some day here. Wolverines I’ve seen a couple of times from car window, and lynx once from car window, but never on my hikes. Live wolves I have never seen.

However, I see tracks of these animals every now and then. And the knowledge that they roam about in these same woods adds a lot to the wilderness feeling!

If you are interested in seeing wild northern predators, it is possible. There are nature tourism companies that feed bears with gutting waste etc., and they have built photographing hides near these feeding places. This happens in the middle of forest, the animals who come to eat by nightfall are wild animals. A zoo is completely another thing.

Kuhmo, the city I live in, is the capital of this kind of tourism in Finland. There are several companies who can almost guarantee you will see bears if you buy a night from them. Maybe one night per two or three summers goes without a single bear, but seeing a bear is almost 100% thing. In addition you can see wolverines and wolves, but the movements of these animals are more difficult to predict. And you’ll see ravens and birds of prey. See Wild Taiga and Wild Brown Bear.

I’m not trying to say these predators are pet-like soft toys. No, they are big, sharp-toothed, and they eat meat. If you would happen to get between a bear mama and her cubs, you could get into a dangerous situation. This happened once during 20th century, and if I remember correctly, the poor jogger ended up dead. However, to happen to approach bears accidentally from just the right direction and so silently they do not hear and smell you is extremely unprobable.

Wolves kill hunting dogs who roam far in front of the hunter. That is a problem for hunters in some areas.

In some countries hikers have to be very wary of bears. You need to pull your foodstuff high up to a tree, for example. Not so in Finland.

When you are spending a night in a wilderness hut, do hang your backpack and foodstuff to the outer wall of the hut, or otherwise up. Not because of any predators, though, but because of mice. When you are sleeping in your tent in the middle of forest, your backpack can lie in the absid, or stay outside, covered with raincover. No need for hanging there.

* * *

I’ll try to resume my post per week pace from now on. Let’s talk about ultralightweight hiking next Monday.

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