Suomen Luonto
English summaries 6/1999

A night with the bears
by Alice Karlsson, photos by Antti Leinonen

Spring is the bear photographer's "high season" as bears awakening from their winter sleep begin to visit carrion to eat and build up their strength. Such activity lasts, however, for only a few weeks, after which the animals keep away from the carrion until the summer.

In April, a Suomen Luonto lady journalist received an invitation to watch the bears' antics from wildlife photographer Antti Leinonen's hide. As the couple watched, three adult bears and two wolverines visited the "bait", consisting of two cow and two pig carcasses, in the evening, during the night and on the following morning. Alice was able to observe, and also hear, two of the bears (nicknamed "Thick" and "Black" by Antti for easy reference) engaging in combat; she virtually stared them straight in the eye. Between Alice and the bears there was only the thin wall of the hide.

Ice melts at Kilpisjärvi in June
by Antti Koli

Finland has the outline of a standing woman, whose right hand is raised. At the tip of the "fingers" lies Lake Kilpisjärvi, where the borders of Finland, Sweden and Norway meet. Located in arctic conditions, the lake lies at an elevation of 450 metres above ground level.

During the winter, a layer of ice over a metre deep forms on Kilpisjärvi with, on top of this, a thick layer of snow. The ice and snow do not begin to melt until May, and then only gradually. Lake water appears from under the ice on the Finnish side first. By mid-June there are only fist-sized fragments of ice left floating on the water. When the wind blows, the ice fragments are blown against the shore, where their tinkling sound is a joy to behold. By the time of the Midsummer celebrations, Kilpisjärvi is generally completely ice free.

Cuckoos "gone cuckoo" enliven the Finnish summer
by Antti Leinonen and Antti Halkka

In the summer of 1995, at first only bears and wolverines visited some carrion put out by a wildlife photographer. Flesh flies and bluebottles then laid their eggs in the offal, which soon began to seethe with maggots. These attracted as many as 19 species of birds, included cuckoos, to the carrion.

No less than five cuckoos might appear at a time around the feast. They were generally present during the light summer night. The cuckoos, and other insectivorous birds, fed mainly on the maggots wriggling out of the carrion to pupate among moss.

From their behaviour, it became apparent that of the five cuckoos four were males and one a female. The male cuckoos appeared to have no territories, but the female may have had one. In addition to their normal, familiar call, the birds produced coarser noises, often repeated in a series. The Finnish name of "käki" for the cuckoo is derived from a series of notes, "khuu-kha-kha, khuu-kha-kha", uttered by the bird, which from a distance sound to Finnish ears like "kuka käki", kuka käki".

In Finnish mythology the bird has earned an enviable status, being mentioned several times in the folk epic The Kalevala, as well as constituting the subject of an enormous number of myths and superstitions. Over the centuries it has acquired several other names in Finland, including "tin-breast", "gold-breast", "silver-breast" and "golden cuckoo".

Silent fliers of the night
by Markku Lappalainen

Finland has at least six regularly occurring bat species, the northernmost of which in terms of their range is the Northern Bat. The others are the Daubenton's Bat, Whiskered Bat, Brandt's Bat, Natterer's Bat and Long-eared Bat. Aside from these species, the Natthusius' Pipistrelle, Noctule and Particoloured Bat have all been encountered in Finland from time to time.

Despite being feared, bats are in fact rather innocuous creatures. Living in a house, they may disturb the rightful owners with their twittering, movements and droppings. The best way of keeping them out is to block up the tiny holes they use for entrances and replace their accommodation with special bat boxes put up in the yard; needless to say, this should take place while the bats are away in winter. All Finnish bats are protected, making it a punishable offence to kill, or even unnecessarily disturb, them.

People tend to fear anything different and out of the ordinary. A night-flying mammal probing its environment by means of a built-in echo sounder and with a blood-sucking relative over in tropical America forms an ideal target for fear and suspicion. But bats have been flying around for at least 50 million years. Whether they continue to do so depends largely on us.

Toxic delicacies
by Kauri Mikkola

Finland has far fewer animals that are poisonous if eaten than, for example, the tropics. No mammal, bird, reptile or fish is dangerous here if ingested. Of our five amphibians, the toad, newt and crested newt are toxic, though.

Among the molluscs and insects there are somewhat more dangerous juicy morsels. Mussels may contain toxic protozoa, and both mussels and the Edible snail (also called the Roman snail, Apple snail and Vine snail), Helix pomatia, quickly become poisonous following death. Many insects warn potential enemies about their inedibility. They acquire toxins either from their foodplants or by manufacturing them. Finland's most poisonous animal appears to be the Oil beetle (MeloŚ violaceus), which contains cantharidin.

Baltic seals
by Antti Halkka

Population counts carried out by the nations surrounding the Baltic indicate that the number of grey seals has grown. There are now approximately 7000 individuals. The grey seal population has now outgrown that of the ringed seal, of which an estimated 6000-7000 now inhabit the Baltic as a whole.

There are more ringed seals living in the Gulf of Bothnia than anywhere else in the Baltic area; here the population is around 4000 and it is expanding the whole time. It is estimated that there are only 150-200 ringed seals left in the Gulf of Finland, and there the species is on the brink of local extinction. Every fourth female ringed seal in the Baltic is unable to reproduce owing to environmental toxins.

Jingling bell keeps bears at bay
by Riku Lumiaro

Suomen Luonnonsuojelun Tuki Oy has brought out a bell modelled on a North American design. Attached to a wrist or haversack frame the bell jingles merrily all the way as the person moves, frightening bears, who are thus able to make good their escape before any confrontation is imminent.

Last summer, a bear killed a person in Finland, the first case of its kind for a very long time. Dangerous situations sometimes develop when bears meet people unexpectedly. It is hoped that the tinkling bell now on sale in Finland will help people roving the forests to avoid such chance, and potentially hazardous, encounters.