In search of bear, osprey and moose
© Bear photo by Sara Wennerqvist
From central Sweden onwards, you find fewer and fewer people, but more and more animals. Moose, brown bear, wolf, lynx, badger, wolverine, eagles, and ospreys. Just to name a few. Why go to Africa when you can go on a safari in Sweden?
THE BEAR HIDE
Our first safari is in the observation hide. “The chances of spotting a bear, provided you stay quietly in the hut, are high here,” says Sylvia Adams of Amazing Nature Scandinavia, before locking us in the hut. “Here in Gästrikland, you have the greatest chance of seeing the live version of a teddy bear in real life. But, the animal is really very shy.”
By the way, should you be hiking yourself and still (almost) bump into a bear, don’t run away but stay calm. If you leave it in its natural habitat, it won’t do anything. Running away is not practical. A bear can reach 50 km/h over short distances, and you cannot compete with a 300 kg brown bear. In autumn and winter, the chance of spotting a bear is minimal. In autumn, they hibernate.
“Provided you stay quietly in the observation hide, the chance of spotting a bear is high here”
The bear may be number one among Sweden’s big game, but the other five animals are also pretty cool. The Swedish wolf also lives here in central Sweden. There are 400 to 500 wolves in total. Just like the bear, the wolf is rather shy. They are mainly active at night and are well camouflaged. It is, therefore, a real challenge to spot a wolf. The chances of hearing its howl are much higher. Cliffhanger. We won’t see him this night, but his presence has a big impact on us.
Another darling is the wolverine. Less well known than wolf and bear, but still, there are about 700 in Sweden. The wolverine is sometimes called the big brother of the weasel. Sheep farmers don’t like the wolverine because it can recognize some of the woolly animals as prey. “Wolverines don’t wait for their prey; they just go after it,” says Sylvia. “Large prey such as reindeer, deer, and sheep are mainly caught in the winter. Because of the snow, the wolverine is faster than its prey. In summer, he is not the best hunter: he trots slowly and makes a lot of noise. This makes it easy for its prey to escape from it. But it is a fierce creature. A hungry wolverine can even take prey from bears and wolves.
I can hear it making whinnying, snorting, and growling noises
MEET THE BADGER
Meanwhile, it is deep in the night. And Rupert Bear hasn’t come to swing by yet. I doze off in the bunk bed at the back of the cabin. “Hej, pssssst,” my friend Silvia hisses. “Come!” As gently as I can, I slide out of bed. “Look,” she says. “A badger!” I look through the windows. In the dark, I see something moving. We shine a little, and then the badger is beautifully visible. The big, broad head and a heavily built, stocky body. The white stripe. The short legs and the short, broad, bushy tail. He nibbles the sprinkled grain undisturbed. Badgers are omnivores. They are bad hunters and eat whatever they can find right in front of their noses. Wow. Magnificent.
His lodge must be nearby. The badger is a nocturnal animal, which leaves its sett at dusk to search for food, up to one to two distances, sometimes four kilometers from the sett. The badger is a silent animal, yet it can make many different sounds. I can hear it making whinnying, snorting, and growling noises.
But our big friend, the bear, doesn’t turn up. The next day we learn why. That other big friend, the wolf, has watered against our game lodge to mark his territory. And wolves and bears? No friends. “The bear must have smelled the wolf’s pee,” says Sylvia. Nature gives no guarantees.
Immediately after the game lodge, we drive on to a lovely place called Kloten. And particularly suitable for our next safari. The moose may not be the most dangerous animal in Sweden, but it is definitely the zoological superstar of these parts. You could almost call it Sweden’s mascot. It can be seen on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and even oven mitts.
Sweden’s predators are not easy to spot, but the chances of spotting an elk on a moose safari are high. So much so that our moose guide Mikael guarantees it. “The moose is everywhere in Sweden. In summer, there are about 300,000 to 400,000 moose,” says Mikael, impressively dressed in a full moose leather suit. “Don’t expect to see a moose on every corner; you have to spend some time in the forest or look carefully in open areas because that’s where you can see them more easily.” To see moose, you have to travel some distance. This safari is, therefore, partly by car. Mikael knows the places like no other. When he thinks there might be moose there, he drives ultra slowly. “Look over there,” points out Stan, the video man. But this moose was a bit too quick for us. We just see it disappear between the trees.
“They see us,” the beasts stare at us and we stare at them
STARING AT MOOSE
A little later, we come to a clearing. “Shhh,” says Mikael. “We are going to get out of the car very quietly. Be careful with the door. And no talking!” As quietly as possible, we get out. There are four impressive moose in the field. Elk can live up to 25 years and be 2.10 meters high at shoulder height. They are also tough guys: the male elk can weigh up to 850 kg. “They see us,” says Silvia. Yes, they do. They’ve spotted us, but they don’t run. The animals stare at us, and we stare at them. A roe deer also spots us and, screaming (I never knew roe deer screamed) and jumping with four legs in the air, it takes off. After a while, the moose also disappear, probably having seen enough of us. But, we are back in the car in less than five minutes when a mother and her calf stand in the middle of the road in front of us. And these moose are not running either but staring at us. I think the moose think we don’t see them if they don’t move. By the way, not the most convenient way of defending against hunters.
The osprey plunges over its wing into the depths, while its eyes never lose sight of the fish. At the very last, its wings brake and it grabs the fish with razor-sharp claws
Dawn colors the sky and the clear water orange. Guide Lars-Erik is waiting on his boat. “This lake drains into the Baltic Sea via Stockholm,” he says. “Until the 10th century, the lake was an inlet of this sea, but due to the rise of the land in the Baltic Sea area, the lake was separated from the sea.” We cast off the ropes and set course for where Lars-Erik thinks we will find ospreys. Well, thinks. He has been sailing these waters for so long that he knows perfectly where his flying friends are. Every now and then, he throws a handful of dog food into the water. The gulls fly along and dive on a chunk in turn. “When a lot of gulls dive into the water at one place, the osprey knows that it can probably score a fish there too,” explains Lars-Erik. And lo and behold. “Look, there’s one in that treetop,” points out photographer Frits. The animal looks at the cat from the tree for a moment but then comes flying in to check it out. Lars-Erik throws a fish into the water, and the osprey grabs it easily and quickly flies back with the catch.
We sit on the deck and enjoy the morning sun and the beautiful birds of prey that fly by time and again and drop like bricks on the fish in the water. “Was that a white-tailed eagle? It could have been.
What a treat it is to go on safari in central Sweden. Everyone has seen a picture of all the animals we have been lucky enough to see, or a video, or perhaps at the zoo. But seeing an animal in the wild is something else. Free in its natural habitat, undisturbed by hordes of people. The wilderness is alive and well in central Sweden.
Looking for big game yourself?
Amazing Nature Scandinavia has put together a whole range of wildlife experiences, tailormade for you. Check the website for your favorite animal. Those who go on elk safari even get an ‘moose guarantee’, and the chance of seeing bears near the hut is great. If you shoot faster than your shadow, you will get the most beautiful eagles in flight in front of your lens. Robins? There are also those in central Sweden.