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April 2014


Image of the Month


Brown Bear (Ursos arctus), at Martinselkosen Eräkeskus

So when a friend phones you and asks what you are doing between 25th and 29th April, and you brightly say 'Nothing, Why?', would you expect the answer to be, 'Would you like to go to Finland to photograph bears in the snow?'.  I certainly didn't expect that.  After a few more phone calls and a lot of shrieking with excitement, it was fixed!  Cathy's name had been drawn out of the hat and she was going to take me with her to Finland on her prize-winning holiday sponsored by Canon UK.

CVP are quite definitely the best photographic supplier that most photographers have never heard of. They are really well known for their video and cine sales but have recently revamped their stills photography departments.  Cathy bought a Canon 5D mk III from CVP and her name was added into a draw to win a holiday for two.  And she won!  And I was the extraordinarily lucky friend that she invited to go with her.  And so it was that we travelled to Martinselkonnen Erakesus.  

Bears are active at night, so during the winter months all bear photography is done at dusk and dawn.  It's extremely challenging photography for many reasons.  Firstly, spending 14 hours in a hide with only yourself and some wild bears for company, is very demanding.  Secondly, at that time of the year, it's very cold and temperatures really plummet at night. Then there's the challenge of photographing fast moving dark objects (bears) in white snow in very low light.  So, a huge tonal range and all photographed using high iso settings in order to maintain sufficient shutter speed.  Three cheers for Canon cameras and lenses!
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I've chosen one of my favourite images from the whole trip as 'image of the month'.  It was almost the first frame that I took. The huge male bear slowly emerged from the forest and looked across the swamp to see if all was clear before slowly moving towards the open areas to look for food.
At this time of year, the snow is melting, spring is on the way and the bears have only just emerged from hibernation.  They are starving hungry.  Their priority is to conserve as much energy as they can.  They need to put on as much weight as possible in order to be in prime condition for the forthcoming mating season.  For the most part, they move fairly slowly but they are always looking out for other (bigger!) bears and are ready to make a run for it.  
Their winter fur coat is immensely thick at this time of the year so the bears spend a bit of time, stretched out on the snow in order to forage under the snow and to cool off!  Their huge noses, tiny eyes and big claws give away some clues about their behaviour and attributes.  They rely on their sense of smell to forage for food which they will dig for if they have to.  They listen intently for other bears and are constantly looking for other bears.  They are incredible tree climbers and readily climb to the tops of trees to avoid danger. 
In mid-April, mother bears with yearling cubs (born last season) also emerge from their hibernation dens. They are starving hungry. The mothers are constantly on guard and ready to push their cubs up trees to safety at the slightest hint of danger.  They will then follow, only stopping when the tree branches no longer hold their weight and putting themselves between the bigger bear below and their cubs above.  It will be a while before the new born cubs are to be seen.  There's too much danger at this stage of their development.  
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Sitting up all night watching and listening for bears is tiring (understatement!) but rewarding.  I was priviliged to see a courting couple of bears and some mating or pre-mating behaviour but at 64,000 iso and in almost pitch dark, it is extraordinary that the camera managed to record anything at all.  
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I loved watching and trying to capture the interactions between the bears.... the connection between the mums and their cubs, the majesty and power of the male bears, the rise in anxiety caused by the appearance of another bear, the foraging, the tree climbing and descent, and the flirtation of the courting couples.  I'm delighted to say that I'm going back in June for more!  I really hope to see the new cubs and to spend some nights at the pond hide... and whilst it won't be so damn cold, the mosquitos will be out in force ... hey ho!
Thank you so much Cathy for inviting me to go with you!  Thank you Wild Arena and David for all the logistical support, superb care and arrangements.  Thank you CVP for offering such amazing service.  Thank you to Canon UK for sponsoring the prize.  I'm a devoted Canon user and I'm definitely a CVP customer for life now.  Please, please dear readers, consider using CVP as your favourite supplier!  You might find yourself going down to the woods...
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