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I started working for Nature Travels in September 2015 and had never really thought about travelling to northern Europe. As a girl who likes the sea and sun I had usually headed to a hotter climate for my travels. Last month I travelled to Sweden for the first time to explore their capital Stockholm and all the delights it has to offer!
After a very early start, I headed to Gatwick with my friend Kat who I was travelling with for the weekend and flew to Stockholm Arlanda to begin our first day in Stockholm (you can read about her Five things I loved about my first visit to Stockholm). I picked up our Stockholm Card from the tourist office at the airport. I would highly recommend getting one if you were visiting Stockholm for the weekend. Basically, you can choose to have a card for 2, 3 or 5 days and it covers entrance to over 75 museums and attractions, public transport, sight seeing by foot, bike and boat and you also get a handy map.
Stockholm Arlanda airport is just outside the city centre but it’s easy to travel into central Stockholm. We took the Arlanda express for our journey there and by train standards this is one stylish train. Not to sound like a train geek (not that that’s a bad thing!) I was very impressed with this simple but elegant train, as well as standard seats (which were like posh office chairs), some carriages had seats lined facing out the window along a bar table with little table lamps at each place so you could work at them, a change from the train travel I am used to in the UK. This train runs on 100% green electricity which means that renewable source are used to generate the electricity, such as hydropower, wind power or biofuels.
Stockholm has a brilliant public transport system, the underground metro is beautiful having been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings and engravings by over 150 artists. It easy to negotiate and as a person who still struggles with the London underground system, this was a piece of cake!
Talking of cake, I must mention fika! Fika is sort of our afternoon tea equivalent and is the name for having coffee and cake in the afternoon so if you’re invited for fika don’t eat a big lunch as there are a lot of cake and pastry shops to choose from. The Swedes also like their Asian cuisine, there are a lot of sushi restaurants which I found a personal treat and it surprisingly was a very cost effective option for eating out, plus you usually get miso soup and green tea as standard with your meal.
Once we arrived in Stockholm and dropped our bags at the hotel, we took a bus tour of the town to get our bearings and made a plan for what we would like to visit. The next day, we started with a wander around Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, full of cobbled streets and little boutique shops. It originally housed the merchants based in Stockholm and has some beautifully impressive buildings, including the Royal Palace and Cathedral.
We took the metro to Södermalm and walked down the main high street, full of interior designer shops and people dressed in black. Stockholm is an interior designer’s paradise and has many shops dedicated to make your home look chic and sophisticated. We stopped for spot of lunch in the trendy Sofo area and then took a slow stroll back to the Stortorget square, in Gamla Stan for some fika. Although we had not long had lunch the chocolate brownie was hard to resist, (hence the recommendation of not having a big lunch before a spot of fika, unless of course you have more will power than me!).
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a boat tour of Stockholm, it’s a great way to see the town and you can get on and off wherever you want and just hop back on later if you like the look of anywhere and want to explore. We had decided to jump off at Fotografiska, one of the world’s largest exhibits for contemporary photography, coincidentally showing an Englishman’s exhibit of seaside resorts, including Weymouth, the home town of my friend Kat.
The following day we decided to spend the whole day at Djurgården, a royal National City park, originally created as a hunting ground for King Carl XI. This green island in Stockholm also has some of the main museums and attractions of the city. Possibly the most famous of which is the Vasa Museum, a brilliant museum that is home to an incredibly well-preserved 300 year old ship that sank just 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. Stockholm is set between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea which has a very low saline content and accounts for the preservation of the ship and why many divers visit Sweden to investigate a wealth of unspoiled wrecks.
Back in Djurgården, we also visited the Biological Museum, Noriska Museum and Skansen, home to the world’s oldest open air museum and Stockholm zoo. The beginning of May was a great time to visit as it is home to many native animals to Scandinavia was full of very cute new arrivals. We then stopped at the Spritmuseum which is a surprisingly fun and interactive museum for grown ups, exploring our relationship with alcohol, but sadly we had miss any tastings! We ended our day with a walk around Djurgården, enjoying the tranquility of this oasis in the capital city.
Our final morning was spent on a boat trip to one of the archipelago islands for a short stop and explore, Kat and I went for a walk around the island which wasn’t our cleverest idea. We had managed to walk half way round the island and then scrabbled up some rocks to get the other side of the small island, however we came across some rather disgruntled geese that were nesting in the rocks and the ganders were protecting their new families. We managed to find our way to the other side after some careful negotiating around the rocks, which is tricky when there are hundreds of geese (might be a slight over exaggeration), hiding their nests around corners and behind bushes but they let us know very quickly if we hadn’t seen them and got too close.
After our adventure with the aggressive ganders, we headed back to the centre and spent an afternoon shopping for tourist goodies before taking the Flybussarna back to the airport to travel home.
Stockholm is an ideal city break before or after exploring the wilderness of Sweden on one of our outdoor experiences.
Niki at Nature Travels
Sofia from Nature Travels joined our Husky Mountain Expedition in Lapland in March 2014.
It was going to be an eight day experience with six days’ dog sledding. There were six of us, me, two brothers from Belgium, a Swiss couple, Laura the dog handler from the kennel and Marcus, our guide.
The day after we arrived, we packed all the equipment, people, dogs and sleds into the trucks before we were ready to drive up to the mountains.
Once in the beginning of the mountain range, it was time to leave the cars behind and head off into the mountains by sled. For the first day we stayed in the lowland forest, and it wasn’t until the second day we started climbing. Both the second and third days there was a lot of uphill and when you added the work around the cabins in the evening, we all slept early those nights.
It is not only the dog sledding one needs energy for when on a dog sled tour of this kind. Every night when we reached a camp, we first set up the stake-out line for the dogs and then unharnessed the dogs and attached them to the line. Then we carried all our equipment to the cabins and went to fetch water from the lakes to be able to start to heat all the water we need to be able to feed the dogs.
One of us also chopped the big blocks of dog meat we had with us into smaller pieces so they would defrost more easily once we put them in the hot water. Others went to chop the wood we needed for the evening to heat the cabin and for the sauna (in those cabins which had a sauna).
Then when the water was hot, it was time to feed all the 30 dogs we had with us and at the same time dig holes for them in the snow to protect them against the Arctic wind.
All the cabins along the route are used mostly by hikers in the summer and ski tourers in winter. We had mostly a separate little cabin to ourselves or at least a bedroom for just our group. All the cabins have a host, who runs a little store and makes sure that everybody that comes knows where the wood, water, etc is. Some of the cabins had sauna and connecting washing rooms, where you can wash yourself with hot water that has been heated on top of the sauna radiator. So on the days we had sauna we tried to have a wash and get clean before dinner, times in the sauna were allocated by gender.
Our last two days we got clear blue skies and sunshine and sledding on mostly downhill and flat and I could hear myself saying to myself, “This is what living life is about! This is quality of life!”
Sofia, The Nature Travels team
You can find out more information on the Husky Mountain Expedition in Lapland and see our full range of dogsled tours in Sweden and Norway on our website.
You can also read another account of the Husky Mountain tour here
Wolves have often been portrayed as the villains of fairy tales and folk lore, but are they really all bad and what should you do if you encounter one whilst walking in the forests of Norway or Sweden.
Where do wolves live?
The main wolf populations are found in Dalarna and Värmland in Sweden and in the bordering areas in south-east Norway
There are thought to be around 350-410 wolves in Norway and Sweden (based on surveys in Winter 2012/2013) with most of these being found in Sweden. Wolves are, in Sweden and Norway, considered an endangered species (though not in other parts of the world). In the past wolves have been entirely eradicated from Sweden and Norway; the current population are thought to be descended from a small Finnish-Russian population.
With such small numbers it is rare that you will come face to face with a wolf however you may see signs (e.g. tracks) or hear them at night; the sound of their howls can carry for over 10km.
What to do if you encounter a wolf
If you do come across a wolf, you will probably find that the wolf backs away from you as soon as you make any noise or speak. If the wolf starts to come towards you or you feel nervous then there are some simple things you can do:
- Back away slowly and loudly; shout, sing or talk it is not recommended that you scream in a high pitch.
- Do not run away; this is more likely to make the wolf chase you.
- Should the wolf start to follow you, stop and try and make yourself seem as big as possible (hold up your arms or backpack etc.). You should also take a step towards (rather than away from) the wolf.
- If the wolf does attack you kick and hit it as hard as you can (do not play dead)
If you are out walking with your dog and you encounter a wolf you should still follow the above advice however you may find that the presence of your dog makes the wolf less shy. It may even approach you (up to a few meters) however it seems that normally the wolf is mostly interested in the dog and will pay little (if any) attention to the human. If the wolf attacks your dog you should never get in between the wolf and dog; you should take off your dog’s lead (if possible) and throw something at the wolf.
Should you come across a wolf with food, as long as you remain at a distance and do not try to take its food away, there is no evidence to suggest that the wolf will be aggressive towards you.
Life in a pack
Wolves live in packs these can range in size from 2 individuals to 30 or more, in Europe packs usually consist of 2- 7 individuals. These packs usually are made up of an “alpha” male and female pair and their offspring though can sometimes have non related wolves in. The offspring usually leave the pack when aged around 1-2 years though some will stay with their parents for longer. Normally only the “alpha” pair will breed with the rest of the pack helping in the upbringing of the pups (or whelps). The pups (normally 4 -5) are born in a den where they spend the first few weeks of their life. When the pups are born they are both blind and deaf; their eyes open at around 10 -13 days and their sense of hearing is developed by 21 days.
Wolves and humans
In Norse mythologies wolves are often portrayed as being evil. One of the most famous mythological stories is about Fenrir who was the wolf son of Loki and who it was foretold would kill Odin, however the other gods manage to bind him up before he has chance to kill Odin using a special Dwarf made chain (in some tales in is a ribbon) although this was at the cost of Týr’s right hand which Fenrir bit off in his rage at being unable to get free.
Wolves today tend to live in remote areas so that contact with humans is rare and there have been no reported killings of humans by wolves since 1820 and the last reported death was caused by a half tame wolf. You should not feed wolves as this could cause them to associate humans with food leading to them entering into human populated areas more frequently and increasing the chances of humans and wolves coming into contact with each other.
Wolves usually feed on moose, however when food supplies are low or a wolf is starving they may well attack sheep and have been known to attack cows and horses. This leads to much animosity towards wolves from farmers who have had their sheep taken by hungry wolves.
Whilst wolves are shy and it is unlikely that they will attack you should you encounter them you should remember that they are a wild predator and you should not attempt to approach them or touch them even though they may seem friendly.
Our Howling with Wolves experience is a great way to learn more about these wonderful creatures and to spend an evening round the camp fire listening to their howls.
The Nature Travels team
It’s a clear blue day, the early morning sunlight reflecting off the water, so bright and clear that were it not for the forested islands breaking up the horizon it would be hard to see where the water ends and the sky begins. The gentle slap of water against the jetty completes the scene. I’m sat on the porch of our little summer cabin in the Stockholm archipelago having breakfast with my wife, looking out across the water to a small uninhabited island about 50 metres away. Uninhabited by humans, that is, but home to a breeding pair of Ospreys who this year have raised two large, healthy and boisterous chicks. They are surprisingly vocal, the chattering cry of the parents carrying loud and clear across the still waters as they circle above the trees, like irate parents berating their lazy children for sleeping in.
Breakfasts are the best part of the day here – a chance to indulge ourselves with all the traditional trappings of a Swedish breakfast that my wife grew up enjoying here and that I too have come to love, and that we both miss terribly in our everyday life in the UK: filmjölk, räkost, tunnbröd, Kalles caviar, the words themselves are enough to make my mouth water.
Mornings are also a great time for wildlife watching on the island, from the hares nibbling quietly on the grass to the roe deer which peer out shyly from the forest. The island is small, but extraordinarily rich in animal life. A couple of years ago, I was sitting quietly on a log in the woods when a pine marten came up almost to my toes. Take care to remain quiet when making an evening trip to the outside loo and you may see a badger snuffling for plums beneath the fruit trees. You may arrive by boat to find an elk standing in the potato patch watching the world go by.
Today was a day for raptors. As the whole family of Ospreys took suddenly to the skies, it was the first time I had had the chance to watch all four Ospreys in flight at the same time – they were heading purposefully straight for us and they passed so close that you could see the outline of every feather.
They seemed agitated, flapping and screeching, and a few seconds later it became clear why. Watching a buzzard at home in the UK being mobbed by crows as they try to defend their nests is a fascinating sight. Seeing an enormous adult White-tailed Sea Eagle being chased off by a squadron of Ospreys in hot pursuit is nothing short of spectacular.
It seems wrong to apply the image to such a graceful and majestic sight, but the first thing I was reminded of as the huge eagle passed overhead was the opening sequence of Star Wars, where an Imperial battle cruiser makes its seemingly neverending progress across the screen. The aerodynamic, sculpted forms of the Ospreys diving and wheeling around it stood in stark contrast to the imposing, solid bulk of the eagle, like rebel X-wing fighters on the attack.
It seemed that the Sea Eagles had also bred successfully this year, as later that day we would watch enthralled as a young eagle landed on the grass just a few metres from the house, looking out across the island with a quiet self-confidence like a young nobleman surveying the lands he would one day inherit.
White-tailed Sea Eagles are Sweden’s largest bird of prey, 70-90cm long with a wingspan of up to three metres. They have a square, “barn door” profile in flight and can live up to 25 years. They form a species pair with the American Bald Eagle.
As alpha predators, White-tailed Sea Eagles suffered severely in the past from accumulation of pollutants from their prey and were also subject to persecution. Between 1800 and 1970, populations declined steeply all over Europe. Numbers in Sweden are recovering well thanks to intensive conservation measures, including legal protection, habitat and breeding site preservation, winter feeding and a sharp reduction in the use of harmful chemicals. While still a rare and thrilling sight, White-tailed Sea Eagles are expanding their territories once more, and their recovery in Sweden and in a number of other European countries is a true conservation success story.
White-tailed Sea Eagles are able to breed from around 4-5 years of age and mate for life. Their mating display is spectacular, ending with both birds locking claws together and cartwheeling towards the ground. They nest in a huge eyrie of sticks on coastal cliffs or in trees, and often reuse the same nest for many generations. Nests may become so large and heavy that the trees collapse under their weight. Mating pairs produce up to three eggs a year between March and April each year.
In the UK, wildlife enthusiasts travel many miles and wait for hours for the sights we were enjoying at our leisure from the breakfast table – yet another reminder of what a special place Sweden is when it comes to nature and the outdoors. The day after tomorrow it will be time to return home to Dorset – but the cries of the Ospreys echoing across the water, the shadow cast by the Sea Eagle as it glided off into the distance, the scent of the birch trees swaying in the breeze, are vivid memories I will take back with me to England and treasure until my next visit.
Bob, The Nature Travels Team
Sweden’s vast forests and rolling mountains are home to a huge diversity of animals, few as elusive and mysterious as the Brown Bear, perhaps the most magical of Sweden’s Big Five predators and a timeless symbol of the wild.
What kind of bears are there in Sweden?
The bears which inhabit the forests and mountains of Sweden are Brown Bears, Ursus arctos. In the wild, a male can weigh as much as 350 kg and a female up to 240 kg.
Are there any polar bears in Sweden?
No! The nearest polar bears are in Spitsbergen in Norway, almost 1000 miles north of Stockholm.
How many Brown Bears are there in Sweden?
The Brown Bear is a shy, secretive animal, and very rarely seen. Most Swedes, even those living in the areas most densely inhabited by bears, will go their whole lives without ever seeing one in the wild. Population estimates are therefore extremely difficult. However, there are a number of ongoing research projects aiming to better understand the Swedish Brown Bear and plan effectively for its conservation and management. A 2004 study by the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project put the Swedish population at somewhere between 1635 and 2840 individuals, with an annual rise in population of 4.7%.
Which parts of Sweden have Brown Bears?
Brown bears are widely distributed across the northern half of the country, with particular concentrations in certain areas. There is some evidence to suggest that their range is increasing. The Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project survey in 2004 yielded the following distribution data:
What do Brown Bears eat?
Brown bears are omnivorous – they eat a wide range of foods from berries to bees to voles. Brown Bears may also hunt and catch larger animals, including moose. In the summer, their main food consists of ants, which they dig up from the large anthills found in the forests. They also eat the roots, shoots and buds of a number of plants.
Do Swedish Brown Bears hibernate?
Yes. During the autumn, Brown Bears fatten up on the raspberries, crowberries, cloudberries and blueberries which carpet the Swedish forest floor in preparation for hibernation. A good year for berries is also a good year for bears! Once they have built up sufficient fat reserves to see them through the long cold winter ahead, they then collect moss and twigs to make their hibernation den, which may be in a disused anthill or perhaps a spot at the foot of a large fir tree.
When do Brown Bears have their cubs?
Brown Bear cubs are born in the den during the winter, in litters of 1-4. Though naked, blind and helpless when they are born (weighing just 300-400g), they grow quickly on a diet of rich milk and by the time they are 6 months old are ready to leave their mother and make a life for themselves.
Are Brown Bears hunted in Sweden?
In the past, bear hunting was common, but today the Brown Bear is a protected species in Sweden, though licences can be granted to hunt particular individuals.
What should I do if I meet a Brown Bear in Sweden?
That depends on where you are (and where the bear is!) when you see it. If you are in a car or other vehicle, then simply relax and count yourself incredibly lucky that you are enjoying a rare and privileged glimpse into the life of Sweden’s largest predator.
Bear cubs are irresistably cute, but if you see a cub, resist the urge to approach it or try to take photos – the protective mother will be close by and may not understand your friendly intentions!
If you are camping in an area where there are bears, don’t leave food waste around your campsite. Bears have a keen sense of smell and it is important that Sweden’s bears remain shy and wild – associating the presence of humans with food would be catastrophic for Swedish bears and potentially dangerous for campers.
Brown Bears mate between May and June, and during this period bears are active both at night and during daylight hours. Young males are searching for females at this time and cover long distances in their search, while last year’s cubs are making their first independent forays into the world.
Young bears, like all young animals, are very curious creatures, and may not have learnt to be as wary of danger as adult bears. Make sure they notice you by talking loudly, and then slowly withdraw from the area.
There is a very slim chance you may meet a bear if you are out in the forest picking berries (as the bears love berries too!), though the chances are that they will have heard or smelt you and decided to leave long before you arrive. If not, once again, talk loudly to show your presence and leave the area slowly.
If you find a bear at rest or perhaps eating a kill, it is important that the bear does not perceive you as a threat to its food. Stand as tall as you can, speak loudly and retrace your steps slowly. Do not run.
Almost all dangerous incidents with bears happen with wounded animals (for example, when a hunter has accidentally encountered a bear whilst out hunting for elk and shot at the animal). Like any animal, fear and pain will make it aggressive. Contrary to the images in films, standing on hind legs is not an aggressive posture for a bear. It simply allows the bear to have a better view of the surroundings, and to confirm what their senses of smell and hearing have told them.
If the bear starts to come towards you, then it has perceived your presence as a threat. It may be protecting a cub, or perhaps a carcass nearby. Perhaps the bear had no opportunity to hide when you approached or has just emerged from its hibernation den. If you have a dog with you, the dog may have provoked the bear. Talk loudly and leave slowly, but do not hit or threaten the bear, and do not run.
Whatever the reason for the bear’s approach, an attack is unlikely – the bear is probably just “faking”. Confrontation for any wild animal is a dangerous thing, as it may result in fatal injury, and many animals, including bears, gorillas and elephants, employ this tactic of “fake” charges to avoid the need for a real fight.
In the very unlikely event that you are attacked by a bear, try to distract its attention away from the attack. Place an object (such as a rucksack or fishing equipment) between you and the animal. If this fails, lie down on the ground in a foetal position or face down on your stomach. Cover your neck with your hands and protect your head, and “play dead”. Making yourself as small as you can and behaving as passively as possible will help to persuade the bear that you are not a threat.
What Brown Bear signs can I look out for?
In some areas you have a good chance of seeing signs that bears are sharing the forest world with you. You may be lucky enough to see their tracks in mud or snow, or perhaps to see hair caught on fencing or scratch marks on a tree trunk.
There is no reason to be afraid of meeting a bear when you are out canoeing, hiking or wild camping in Sweden – the chances of encountering a Brown Bear in Sweden are extremely low. In the whole of Scandinavia, there have been only four known cases in the last 100 years where a human has been killed by a Brown Bear.
So make the most of the peace and tranquility of Swedish vast tracts of wilderness, and enjoy the uplifting sensation that you may be travelling through the homeland of one of the world’s most fascinating and much misunderstood creatures – the Brown Bear!
The Nature Travels Team
If you are travelling to the forest farm for either our Summer Fun on a Forest Farm or Winter Wonderland on a Forest Farm experiences, you may like to visit the nearby Järvzoo, which is home to a wide range of Swedish wildlife, including Brown Bears, with large enclosures and semi-natural surroundings. Visitors use a walkway to move through the park which takes you above the animals, allowing excellent views unencumbered by fencing and wonderful photo opportunities.
We also offer dedicated wildlife experiences giving you intimate encounters with two of Sweden’s other elusive forest dwellers, the wolf and the moose. For further details please see Elk Safari Adventure and Howling with Wolves.
Is it an elk? Is it a moose? If you’re in Sweden, the answer is “BOTH”! The iconic, majestic forest dweller Alces alces is known as a moose in North America (actually the sub-species Alces alces americana) and an elk in Europe. The word elk, like the Swedish word älg (pronounced /elj/), is taken from the Latin alces. To make matters even more confusing, elk in North America is used for an entirely different animal – a kind of deer, Cervus elaphus, otherwise known as a Wapiti, which looks like this:
The European elk (or moose), on the other hand, looks like this:
Elk are widely distributed throughout Sweden, from the giants inhabiting the wilderness of the mighty Sarek National Park in Lapland (hunting restrictions have meant that large bulls have been better able to survive and reproduce) down to the lower regions of this vast country, but the forests of Bergslagen are a particularly wonderful area for elk watching in Sweden. As home to the traditional royal hunting grounds, hunting pressure on the elk in this area is lower than in some other parts of Sweden, and as a result the elk population far outnumbers the human population! The area surrounding our log cabin holidays in Varmland also have high moose populations and offer very good chances to see elk in Sweden.
Elk may be fairly common and widespread in Sweden, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to see, especially at close range. Elk are shy creatures, and will retreat into the cover of the deep forest at the slightest disturbance, loping off with a slow-motion gait that uncannily resembles a giraffe running on the savannah. While it is not unusual for a commuter returning from a day’s work in Stockholm to see an elk standing motionless on the edge of a field in the setting sun, similarly a hunter may wait a week in a hide in the woods and not see a single elk!
During a recent visit to Sweden, the Nature Travels team had the opportunity to take part in an evening elk safari with local elk expert Marcus, who has been running elk safaris in the Bergslagen area for a number of years now and has never once returned home without a sighting. Hundreds of nights spent patrolling the forests, hills and dirt tracks of Bergslagen have given him an in-depth knowledge of the best places to find these beautiful animals, and all elk safaris now come with an “elk guarantee” – though Marcus says he still worries that one night they might all be hiding!
Due to time pressure we took the “express” version of the elk safari – a whistle-stop tour of some of the best local elk-watching spots – but nevertheless managed to see 9 elk in just over 30 minutes, including some wonderful close-up views of mother and calf and a large male with full antlers. The full safari takes a number of hours, and combines an exploration of the local forests on foot with observation from the minibus (as in Africa, vehicles can sometimes be less threatening to wild animals than a human presence on foot). Typically in recent tours it has been possible recently to see at least 30 animals in one evening, including some very close encounters indeed. The trick to getting close, says Marcus, is to crouch down in the grass until the elk bends its head to graze, then creep slowly forward. As the animal looks up, crouch down again and remain still, then creep forward again as it returns to graze. After a few minutes of patience and quiet, you can get closer than you would believe possible!
Elk safaris are available between May and September and include an atmospheric night in an authentic charcoaler hut! [Update October 2011: Elk Safari Adventure is no longer featured as part of our standard portfolio of wildlife holidays in Sweden, but can be arranged on request. Our wildlife experiences currently focus on Sweden’s wolves.]
As well as being home to thousands of elk, two of Sweden’s most exciting, most threatened, and most controversial predators roam the vast forests of Bergslagen – the wolf and the lynx. Reconciling the interests and opinions of conservationists, farmers, hunters, local people and politicians is never an easy task, and the presence of large predators in Sweden has always been a sensitive issue. But Sweden is tackling this question with typical foresight, compassion and practical skill. The research station at Grimsö, deep in the Bergslagen forests, works with radio tracking on local predator populations in an attempt to learn more about their movements and behaviour and develop management plans for their conservation and future survival, while at the same time working hard to maintain the trust and goodwill of those who may feel less than positive about the presence of wolves and lynx in the area. A recent initiative has been the introduction of special fencing, similar to an electric fence but with strands much closer to the ground, which has proved extremely effective in reducing livestock deaths due to lynx and wolves.
Photo: Andrea Barghi
Having grown from just two individuals, the Swedish wolf population is in something of a genetic crisis. It is estimated that to keep the population genetically viable, new blood needs to be introduced at least every 15 years or so. Recently, there was great excitement when a new wolf appeared in the Dalarna area. Analysis of dung has identified this wolf as being part of the Finnish-Russian population, and it represents the first new blood for the local wolf population since the 1980s. Worryingly, there has been some conflict between this animal and local livestock populations, and its future remains uncertain, but with luck the animal may be able to breed with local wolves and provide a much-needed boost to the gene pool of the Swedish wolf population.
Since 2006, Marcus has been working together with the researchers at Grimsö to offer evenings of wolf tracking and wolf howling. To find out more about this spine-tingling adventure, see our Howling with Wolves experience.
Bergslagen is a fascinating area for wildlife watching, and the images of elk frozen in the torchlight are still fresh in our memories – we’ll make sure we plan a little more time for elk watching on our next visit!
The Nature Travels Team
The Rovdjursföreningen (The Predator Society) in Sweden works for the interests of all large predators in Sweden: the brown bear, the wolf, the lynx, the wolverine, and, of course, humans, with a very informative website that is unfortunately only currently available in Swedish. However, for non-Swedish speakers they also have a wonderful collection of images – see http://www.de5stora.se/galleri/galleriDe5/ and click on “Öppna galleriet”. In the UK, Tooth and Claw operate on similar principles – see http://www.toothandclaw.org.uk/.
The lynx is Europe’s largest wild feline – the ”tiger of the north”! In Sweden, the lynx is the third most common large predator. Population estimates vary, but out of a total Scandinavian population of around 2000, approximately 1500 are thought to live in Sweden. Second is the brown bear. Top of the list? Humans of course!
Despite the fact that lynx roam over an extremely wide territory, there are relatively few people in Sweden who have ever seen one in the wild. Lynx are shy and elusive creatures. However, slowly but surely, lynx populations have begun to increase and the distribution of the species across the country is widening. Hopefully, more and more people in Sweden will one day have the opportunity to see this beautiful and majestic animal in its natural habitat.
Lynx are currently found in many areas of Sweden, especially in the northern and central regions. The lynx is now once again expanding its territory southward to colonise its former homelands in the counties of Småland, Halland, Västergötland, Sörmland, Uppland and Östergötland.
Are lynx dangerous to humans?
Olof Liberg, a researcher responsible for lynx research in Sweden, has this story to tell: “Over a period of years we have regularly been in areas where adult lynx females have had cubs, without the lynx attacking us. In these circumstances the mother can be extremely fearless and aggressive, growling and pacing back and forth just 10 metres away. It is hard to imagine a more provocational situation for a lynx, and despite this the animal did not attack, which should be convincing proof that lynx are totally harmless to humans.”
Robert Franzén, of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, says, “There have been number of tales of lynx attacks, but no documented cases, since lynx keep themselves at a distance if not directly attacked.”
A lynx paw makes a clear round print if compared to a canine track, which is more oval. Lynx tracks are often mistaken for wolves. A sure way to tell is to look at the relationship between the pads. In clear lynx tracks one can see that the toes lie asymetrically, that is to say they project different distances forward. Lynx tracks are usually 7-10cm in size, with the front paws being somewhat larger than the back.
With a little luck you may hear lynx calling to each other during the mating season, especially during March and April, though sometimes also in January. The calls come in a series of twenty to thirty hooting sounds not unlike an owl, beginning weak but becoming louder. While running the female may also cry out like a fox to maintain contact with a partner.
On the whole lynx are generally quiet animals, but may growl when angry. They may also produce mewling sounds like a domestic cat when afraid. Mothers communicate with cubs by means of birdlike piping sounds. Both young and old lynx also purr just like domestic cats.
The Future of the Lynx in Sweden
While populations are increasing and expanding slowly in Sweden, not everyone is on the side of the lynx. With careful conservation and improved understanding of this wonderful predator, we very much hope that the future of the lynx in Sweden will be a bright one!
The Nature Travels Team
After centuries of persecution, the wolf was finally driven to extinction in Sweden in the 1970s. But, for this most resilient and wild-spirited of animals its Swedish story was not over, and in 1977 wolves again began to appear in Sweden. DNA analysis has shown that these wolves originally crossed over from Finland and Russia. Since then they have gradually increased in population, especially in central Sweden.
The Scandinavian wolf population grew by around 25% in the 1990s, and in 2005 Sweden’s wolf population was put at around 150 – more wolves than there have been in Scandinavia for almost 100 years. The wolf is an animal that inspires strong feelings on both sides, a symbol of the wilderness and untamed natural forces, but through careful conservation measures and ongoing education, the future looks much brighter than it did.
Photo: Marcus Jonson
Wolves are social animals which live in a nuclear family – perhaps one reason why humans throughout the ages have had such a special relationship with them: they remind us of our own social groupings: two parents, often known as the alpha pair, together with their offspring from one or more years. The majority of cubs leave the pack before they reach sexual maturity, but some remain, and may act as babysitters for new arrivals.
The well marked-out territory is defended passionately against invaders – fights between rival groups are not uncommon and sometimes result in death. The size of a territory is generally between 800 and 1000 sq km – access to food seems to be the most decisive factor in determining territory size. Dung, urine and scratch marks are used to mark boundaries, but it is only the alpha pair who take part in territory marking.
Howling at the moon?
Wolves have been the subject of many myths and legends throughout history – one of which is at they love to howl at a full moon. In fact, there is no evidence that wolves prefer a full moon, but perhaps one explanation could be that sound carries further in cold, clear weather. Or perhaps that humans also prefer to be out and about on moonlit nights!
A wolf howl is a song full of meaning and function – and each wolf has its own distinctive voice. When wolves howl together it is often very difficult to estimate numbers, in the same way that a human choir often sounds more than the sum of its parts. Howling clearly helps to bond together the members of a pack, but also serves as a signal to other wolves, an announcement that ”We live here and this place is ours”.
Photo: Andrea Barghi
The howl of a wolf is both an extraordinarily emotive and at the same time emotional sound – should one of the alpha pair die, the remaining alpha wolf may come to the place of its death to take up what sounds, to human ears, a particularly mournful howl. The pack also howls together to ready itself for a hunt, like a sports team ”psyching itself up” – and this sounds very different. The wolf vocalises for many reasons – a short barking may signal a warning, for example. But, perhaps ironically, wolves are for the most part very quiet animals.
Howling with wolves – a unique experience deep in the Swedish forest
Many words have been used to describe that unique sound, the howl of the wolf: spine-tingling, spiritual, awe-inspiring, thrilling. Whatever adjective you may choose, one thing is for certain: the experience of hearing the howling of a wild wolf pack echoing through the forest around you is unforgettable, a memory to be cherished and the stuff of dreams for many years to come.
Our Howling with Wolves experience takes you into the depths of the Bergslagen forests for an educational and uplifting adventure and a magical encounter with these beautiful and misunderstood animals!
The Nature Travels Team
Listen to the sounds of the wolf recorded during one of the wolf tours in 2006.