April , Bear on the snow

The first bears of the year arrive to the hide area usually at the end of March up until the first week of April at the latest. Big male bears wake up first, whose arrival time depends on the spring conditions and the distance of it’s winter nest from the hide area. In the spring, bears are thinner and the their skin may be a bit saggy, usually referred to as ”a couple of sizes too big”. The day timetables of April have been adjusted to suit the change in day length, as bears may arrive earlier and this way daylight hours can be better utilised. The conditions of spring may vary from year to year, such as temperature, amount of snow and its melting rate. Spring generally progresses in the way explained in the following sections. In April springs progression occurs quickly and the landscape may change rapidly.

In the beginning of the month there may be a lot of snow and by the end there may only be a little left. Changes can be very quick with fast melting of snow occuring if there is warm weather and rain. Great changes in conditions may even happen in one week when both light intensity and warmth increase. As spring progresses, the daylength increases several minutes every day. Snow reflects light efficiently so photography is not just limited to the hours of daylight available. It is also possible to photograph for longer during a full moon, when the sky is clear it is possible to photograph through the night. In addition to bears, wolverine actively move within the hide area and it is possible to photograph the wolverine throughout the year. Migratory birds arrive by the end of April, however some species may arrive during mid-April.

  • Snow

    In the beginning of April, large male bears are the first to appear in the area. This is the best time to photograph bears in the snowy landscape. At this time the snow is normally very soft and deep, therefore the heavy weight bears will sink down into the snow and struggle to move within the area. The smaller bears and females with cubs usually continue their hibernation for a while longer, as they can’t move in deep soft snow that can be up to a meter deep. Usually smaller bears and female bears appear in the beginning of May. April is a good month to photograph bears, wolverines and even wolves. At this time of year the brown-coloured bears standout well as large dark targets in the white surroundings.

    At the time of the deep soft snow conditions, the best opportunities to photograph are from hides 1-6, 12, 13, 21 and 22. The ponds in the area

    remain frozen solid and the landscape is dressed in a layer of snow. At the time of deep soft snow, bears will be moving calmly and slowly often

    stopping to check the safety by listening and sniffing the surroundings. The slow moving makes it easier for photographers to anticipate the movements of bears and plan photography situations. Because bears have a very good sense of hearing they may

    be shy of camera shutter sounds for the first few visits in spring, but soon they realise that the cameras shutter sound poses no threat. During the spring months, bears often come to the hide area early, sometimes even in the afternoon. Focusing is easier to manage, because undergrowth remains beneath the thick blanket of snow. Sometimes however, we experience very cold weather, this may result in the auto-focus struggling to lock onto the bear, or the camera’s functioning may slow down slightly. It is important to notice the features of the snow when shooting, because the snow is pure white it is reflective, this is why photographing darker bears can sometimes cause a tough challenge for setting the right exposure. If the camera is set for automatic exposure the snow will invariably overexpose, or the snow will be correctly exposed, resulting in the dark animal being underexposed. Therefore, it is recommendable to set exposure manually to achieve the correct exposure of the image. To set the best exposure it is recommended to test the amount of exposure before the bear arrives by taking test photos from the landscape and various objects with different shutter speeds.

  • Sun

    Sunlight on bright days in April combined with the white snow often results in problems of overexposed images when not careful. After the brightest parts of the afternoon in April, the sun slowly drops low to the horizon, resulting in a lovely warm lighting to photos.

    In clear weather conditions, the late evenings and early mornings at the time of sunrise and sunset may provide opportunities to photograph bears on blue glowing snow, as shown in the following image 19.

  • Full moon and blue moment

    Although the days are bright, the nights in April may be too dark to photograph through the whole night. However, during the full moon in clear weather photography is possible throughout the night. In clear weather conditions during the full moon, it’s possible to photograph bears with a

    full moon in the same frame, or illuminated by the moonlight as shown in the following image 20 taken after midnight. For photographing the blue moments and full moon within thephoto it is recommendable to use the largest brightest lenses from wide angle to 400mm. The best possibilities are from hides 1-6, 12, 13, 21 and 22.

  • Snowfall

    In April it’s possible to photograph bears in snowfall and blizzard like conditions. On cold days in the beginning of May, rain may also fall as snow. It is recommended to use the lens cap in these conditions, to protect the lens from snowflakes. Autofocus may be difficult in such conditions, due to the lens locking focus onto falling snow instead of the bear, therefore it is advised to use manual focus when conditions are rough. Also, take care not to overexpose in blizzard like conditions.

    At the time of thick snow clouds there is less light available than in clear weather, so it is harder to get sharp images of moving bears. Because of this it is important to be ready to photograph at the moment when the bear stops to listen and smell. The most useful are the brightest lenses, focal length may be from 50 to 400 mm. Photographing bears in snowfall is best from hides 1-6, 8-13 and 17-22.

  • Hard snow

    In mid-April when daytime temperature is above zero, snow turns soft, wet and condensed. In the evening and night once the temperature drops below zero again, it creates a frozen crust of snow, making it much easier to walk on for the bears. As spring progresses even more bears appear because they are now finding it easier to move around. In spring when the snow surface freezes and supports the bear well, it may pass in between the individual hides 1-6. The snow around every hide is hard all provide good possibilities for photography.

    During the evenings it’s possible to photograph with light in the same direction and the mornings with backlight from hides 1-6 and 13. From hides 8-11 it is possible to photograph with backlighting in the evenings and in the mornings with light in the same direction. From hides 21 and 22 it is possible to photograph with side light in the evenings as well as in the mornings. Distances to bears varies from a few meters to 80 meters so lenses in the range of 50-600 mm are suitable.

  • Frozen pond

    The ponds within the hide area are frozen and covered in snow during April. Bears can walk on the ice in front of the hides offering various opportunities for photography. As the sun warms the air, the snow slowly begins to melt. During April the snow on the frozen ponds melt, exposing the frozen ice beneath and during this time it is still possible for bears to walk on the ponds surface.

    During the warmer days of spring, the snow can melt considerably within hours, anything up to several centimetres. Despite of this, bears can still use the ice as a pathway.

    Bears can be photographed by all three pond areas. The best hides for photographing bears on ice are 1-6 and 17-22.

    Bear’s distances from the hide can be as little as a few meters. Photographing the bears is possible with all focal lengths but if one wishes to incorporate the snowy landscape and ice in the photo, then the most suitable focal lengths are from wide angle to 400 mm.

  • Melting snow

    Towards the end of April, the ground once covered by a thick layer of snow finally starts to reappear, with snow melting faster by the day. The sun provides warmth and more light towards summer and the light period of a day increases by several minutes a day. The first snow to melt is from the bank in front of hides 1-6, however the pond will remain frozen. The swamp areas remain covered with a thin layer of snow, until the first snow melts from around the trees and higher spots of the ground. At the end of April, if there is any remaining snow it is

    possible to photograph throughout the night in clear conditions. Nights have a few hours of twilight, therefore it is recommended to use large aperture lenses. After melted snow it becomes possible to fully photograph with luminous lenses throughout the night from mid-May onwards.

    From the hides 1-6, 8-13 and 17-22 photographing using focal lengths from wide angle to 600 mm is recommended. For the forest hides the

    most useful focal lengths are from wide angle to 300 mm.

  • Timetable and weather

    Timetable

    4.00 pm Info, after that a short walk to the hides (500-900 meters).

    8.00 am Return from the hides.

     

    Temperatures

    In the beginning of April temperatures at night are between -5 and -20 and by day are between -5 and +5 degrees. In the end of April temperatures at night are between -5 and +5 and by day between 0 and +5 degrees.

     

    Light

    In mid-April the sun sets in the evening at around 8.40 and rises about 5.30 am.

     

    Clothing and equipment

    There are winter sleeping bags provided in the hides. It is recommended to sit in the sleeping bag placed on the chair. This will help you remain warm and be able to photograph comfortably at the same time. Because the weather is cold it is important to bring warm clothing including a warm hat, warm gloves, woolen socks and moisture-resistant footwear.

    Tips for photographing in snow and cold

    -During snowfall a small air blower and lens cloth can be used to remove snowflakes and water residue from the lens.

    -When temperature is below zero the humidity of your breath may fog up the camera viewfinder. Try to breathe away from the camera, or use other means to prevent misting of the lens such as placing a scarf in front of your mouth.

    - Cold weather drains batteries at a faster rate, so keep the batteries warm. It is important to bring spare batteries to the hide.

    - When returning from the hides, the humidity of air may condense in the camera when brought indoors. It is strongly advised to bring the camera indoors for example inside of a closed bag, wrapped coat or airless plastic bag. This way the inside of the bag allows the camera to warm indoors for 1-2 hours. The memory card can be removed outdoors.