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Meet the Moose Whisperer: wildlife-spotting secrets from Swedish Lapland

Mikael “Micke” Suorra has become somewhat of a local legend in Swedish Lapland, known to both villagers and the animal kingdom alike for his friendly conversations – learning to call hazel grouse from his father at the age of eight, Micke went on to speak moose, fox, bear, and deer over the years. Here, he tells us (in English, not moose) more about life as a nature conservationist, and conversationalist, in Northern Europe’s last remaining wilderness.

Micke and his family have lived and worked in the Unna tjerusj (Sörkaitum) Sami Community for generations, originally from Sandträsk and now happily settled in the small village of Svartlå just outside Harads. As a trained wildlife, fish and nature conservationist, Micke has worked within the Sarek, Muddus and Padjelanta national parks, on three fish farms in Norrbotten County, and as a forest conservationist in both northern and southern Sweden. Together with his wife Anna, who hails from Småland and bakes lingonberry buns and wilderness wraps for their guests, Micke founded experiential wildlife company Hide & See in 2012 to make the natural environment and wildlife of Swedish Lapland accessible to everyone.

More recently, Micke has been working with the newly-opened Arctic Bath as one of the hotel’s specialist wildlife guides, offering guests moose safari sessions and ice-fishing experiences, with the chance to cook your freshly-caught Arctic Char and Redfin Perch inside a Sami grilling hut beside a warming fire. “Arctic Bath is like a family,” says Micke, who has also been known to collaborate with the Arctic Bath chefs after a day on the ice, “When the ice-fishing guests catch Arctic Char with me, the restaurant takes it to another level by making magic in the kitchen and serving the guests their own fish for dinner.” The floating wellness retreat not only introduces travellers to the local community and surrounding landscape, but immerses them in the cultural heritage of the place many of the hotel staff call home.

Tell us about your most memorable moose experience…

It’s always fascinating to interact with wildlife, and especially to share it with guests who are truly interested. I have met many moose since I was a kid, and started to call moose in 1984 as a teenager. One beautiful story was when a family with an autistic son went out with me on moose safari. The son’s biggest dream was to see a moose, so when we finally spotted one he yelled at the top of his voice, “MOOSE COME HERE!” and the moose ran away terrified. But afterwards the boy said that these were the best few seconds of his life and gave me a big hug. During moments like these, you really feel that you do something good for the guests to share our natural wildlife and make dreams come true.

When is the best time to visit Swedish Lapland for wildlife spotting?

It depends on what kind of animals you are interested in seeing. It is easiest to call moose during their mating season (between September-October) to attract the bull moose with the moose cow’s calling sound. During the summer, you also can get the one year old calves to come on the mother’s contact sound, though it’s a bit sad sometimes when they come running believing that the mother who pushed them away are back again. But in general, you can see moose all year round. This winter we have many moose from the mountains migrating through our area.

In the summer time we go bear spotting, and where we feed the bears you can also see golden and sea eagles, foxes, badgers, marten and different types of birds.

What is the best way to explore Swedish Lapland?

With a car you are free to travel and you can go wherever you want. To find the local hot spots a private guide can be a great help. Sometimes I go with guests to show them things they are asking for, like unusual birds that happen to show up a few days here, or to the Sami Museum to tell more about my heritage, or beautiful waterfalls or nature scenery you cannot find on a tourist map.

What should we pack for an Arctic Circle adventure?

Image by Lars Lehnert

A credit card and a big smile! Jokes aside, you will need a camera and binoculars if you are interested in wildlife, and all-weather clothing. Our subarctic climate can see summer days of 30 degrees and the possibility to swim in the Lule river, whilst during the winter temperatures can drop to below -30 to -40 degrees. Listen to the locals – we will tell you how to dress. The fancy jacket from New York doesn’t work that well on an ice-fishing tour – winter clothes must be big and fluffy with air between the layers and two to three pairs of wool socks in high insulated boots. And definitely wear thumb gloves, not finger gloves, and a hat is an absolute must during winter so you don’t lose too much heat from your face and head.

Tell us a story from around the Sami campfire…

I have many stories from generations back in my Sami family who are originally from even further north than we are here in Harads. My mother grew up as a nomad until the 1950s, as a single mother with nine children. My grandmother was a really small but very strong woman. She bought the first snowmobile model that came to Sweden in the 1960s and raised her children on fishing and reindeer herding. My grandmother lived to be almost 100 years old, and she taught me how to read nature in many ways. The Sami people have more than 100 words for snow, describing different kinds of snow quality and texture. In the summer, you can see rain is coming on the bumble bees, birds and flying insects, and in the winter the animals are drawing maps in the snow with their foot prints, so you can read how they move in the environment. It’s extra exciting to see the first bear tracks in spring towards the end of April.