On the second week of july we headed to Kuhmo in north-east Finland with the objective of photographing wolves for the first time. A wolf couple had been seen visiting the area regularly in the past few weeks and our expectations were high. Bears were still in the middle of their rutting time which makes seeing and photographing them difficult. Even with the help of a carcass, the animals are wild and free to move as they naturally do in the vast wilderness so nothing is ever certain. Wolverine is a lucky sighting, you get shots of it or you don’t.
We arrived at Kuikka Base Camp in good time to accommodate and unpack. Leaving for the hides happens at 17.00 (always check the time first, don’t trust this as a fact). We got our stuff ready to go and went to the dining room for some coffee and sweet snacks. Plan was to stay in the hide for 2 nights and wolves as the main subject. We got our hide in an area called Paradise where the wolves had most frequently visited in the last few weeks.
Kuikka Base Camp
Kuikka Camp is the base camp for Wildlife Safaris Finland, it is situated on the Kuikkajärvi lakeside. Kuikka has accommodation for 40 guests, dining room, common areas for hanging around during the day, two separate saunas (smoke and basic), canoes, rowing boats and other activities to fill your day and relax with.
In the dining room there’s a flipchart that has all the previous nights activities written down from each hide. We had two dinners and breakfasts at Kuikka and the food was really good and versatile. Different dietary needs were well considered and everyone got something to fill their plates with. After eating together, everyone can make their own snack to take to the hide, consisting of sandwiches, fruits, cookies and such. Water and coffee/tea was provided by the house.
To the hides
The hides are located at about 20min drive from the base camp. You can either drive your own car or the guides will take you there, this is discussed and decided at dinner.
Driving to the Paradise hides takes you inside the border zone which requires permit (arranged by Lassi). Finnish – Russian border is located only 2 kilometers away.
Hide capacities at Wildlife Safaris Finland
PARADISE: 6 hides/ 20-25 customers
lake: 3-4 hides, 9-11 customers
CARAVAN: 3 hides, 6-7 customers
boulders: 3 hides, 6 customers
owl forest: 3 hides, 5-6 customers
From the car to hide only few dozen meters
Paradise hides are very close to where the cars are left so it’s suitable for everyone and not too bad if you have a lot of gear with you.
Our hide was located in the left end of the hides and fit two photographers and four camera bodies nicely, it’s possible to shoot straight ahead and to the left. This hide had no beds so sleeping was done on the soft foam floor with a mattress and sleeping bag. The hides vary in equipment and “comfort” so if you have any need regarding sleeping arrangement, speak up. I tend to sleep in any hide almost too well, so this was no exception.
Upon entering the hide everything should be put ready quite fast. Cameras put in their place through the tubes but also get everything you might need out of your backpack and to a place where you can easily reach them. This includes snacks, backup batteries and memory cards, phone, playing cards, powerbanks and other stuff you might need. This makes it easier not produce any additional noises in the hide.
Even at the middle of July, which can be very warm but usually very cold in Finland, it’s a good idea to pack enough warm clothing to the hide. Sleeping bag is a must for the night and it can be used to warm feet during the evening if you forget to pack wool socks. Afternoon the hide can be 20-30’c warm when it has been heating up in the sun all day but temperatures quickly drop as low as 0’c as the sun goes down. It’s nice to have something warm to add on in the evening. During the hottest weathers it’s important to bring enough water with you. My personal favorite is a hydration pack with the tube hanging at my face level reminding to drink enough.
Succesfull first night
Our first sighting was a wolverine when it moved across the swamp far away from us. It did a typical wolverine like round trip before coming to see if there’s anything to eat. We waited and waited, played a hundred card games and the area stayed empty. Finally our wait was rewarded as a gorgeous light beige male wolf emerged from the woods. We got our first shots!
As the light faded came a pouring rain that made a nice touch to the evenings last shots. Darkest hours are good for sleeping as we were really tired from our travels, alarm clock was set to wake us up at sunrise. I highly recommend to check the rising time beforehand since the internet connection in the woods is poor. Do like I say, not like I do and guess the time wrong by an hour… Well, hard morning light gave us more much sleeping hours and we slept the whole morning. Photos are taken with 560-800 mm focal length.
The second night is always easier, since you get to sleep and relax at the base camp during the day. The hide area is now familiar and you can plan in advance a bit. We asked to stay in the same hide to make the most of our stay.
Ravens were up in the trees right away and some clouds came to make the light conditions a little softer. First wolf came at 8 pm after only a few hours wait. If it had been totally bright, the sunlight would have been too hard, luckily we had a partly cloudy evening.
The same light colored male circled the area and walked beside our hide offering a very brief moment for close-ups. He was later accompanied by a grey female who was constantly harassed by crows. The two wolves stayed in the area for about 1,5 hours.
Our photographing opportunities were brief and limited but we were very happy with them and got what we came for.
As a whole we were very pleased with our stay, hospitality was warm and we felt very welcome to stay.