Good things come to those who wait…..
Those of you who follow my facebook page will be familiar with my Daily Marten posts, which give a day-to-day update on how things are progressing at the marten site. It's fair to say that some days are better than others but you'd expect that with any wildlife? Martens are such hard work and it's taken me along time to get to this stage. I've lost count of the miles I've driven and the hours I've put in at various sites across The Black Isle.
I have been working on the current site for about 4 years now and like other sites, I discovered that martens were visiting my squirrel feeders through the night. They've always visited in daylight through the summer but they must've known when I was in the hide and rarely came to pose for pictures. That all changed in 2015 and I was able to run a few hide rental days with all but one of the visitors getting images of the marten.
I've kept at it through the winter of 2015/16 and the female marten has kept coming to the squirrel feeders and to the other food I leave for her. It became obvious through her behaviour in May of this year that she had kits and I soon had them visiting the site through the night before getting my first daylight sighting and photographs of the adult and her kits on June 24th.
So far this year all but one of my hide clients have left with images of either the mother marten or the entire family. I was genuinely gutted for the guest who never seen her as he decided to leave a wee bit early and in typical photography style, she arrived 30 minutes after he'd gone! I have offered him a free return visit and hope he will take me up on the offer.
At the time of writing, the marten/s continue to visit on a daily basis although rather frustratingly, there is no set pattern to her arrival. Recent days have seen her arrive at 10:25 am. 11am. 2pm. 5pm. 8pm and so on and so on! I have several booking from this point forward and I will continue to spend as much of my own time in the hide as possible to keep things going.
It's important to me that everything is done in an ethical manner making sure that the marten only gets natural food. It's also important that they're not overwhelmed by too many visitors and too much disturbance and that the food I give them is only supplementary to ensure that they have to hunt for themselves. I now know that the marten visits local gardens where, along with other martens, she gets another meal and brings joy to the people who watch her through their window.
Everyone who has visited the hide this year (and last) has been very understanding of my 'rules' and I send out some very basic T&C's before I take a booking. I will do the same next year and have hopefully learned a wee bit more about martens and how best to operate the hide.
If you'd like to book for next year then please get in touch.
I've been trying to write a new blog post for a while now. I've a few half hearted, uninspired attempts on my desktop as I write this one on my phone. I'm good at starting them off but not so good at finishing them.
I'm attempting to write this blog whilst sitting in my pine marten hide looking out toward a backlit scene, which should, according to my weather app, be shaded and wet! I've decided to share whatever I write. If it ends abruptly then I've either spotted the marten, fallen asleep or given up!
Blackbirds, Robin, dunnock, a grey wagtail and three red squirrels have kept me company so far although I did fall asleep for 40 minutes and may have missed the sight of pine martens posing perfectly or roller skating a 'strip the willow'! I'll never know! I was eventually woken by the sound of a squirrel gnawing on a nut. They're so helpful as well as cute!! I almost missed lunchtime!
It's bright. Annoyingly bright but just like the wildlife, I've no control over the weather so I'll just get on with it. I'm waiting for a pine marten. Feels like I've spent the last 8+ years doing that and often without success! They're addictive! Hard work but worth it and my patience and perseverance has paid off. It's pleasing to have made positive progress with pine martens.
This year has been great as the marvellous mustelid has visited the hide, in daylight, for well over a month now. She's stunning and has a very distinctive bib which makes her instantly recognisable. I've met her before, last summer, but she's much more relaxed this year. I've watched as her pattern has changed over the past month.
Add that to the list as a male GSW just stopped my progress!! He's just flown off. A nice interruption!! No photos but a nice sighting. Bonnie birds!
Anyway, back to the marten. As I was saying, I've watched as her pattern has changed from super shy to a wee bit bold. She just appears. As if she's been teleported from another world. Always arriving at the exact same spot without warning. She's fast. Agile and she's very alert with senses as sharp as tack.
As the weeks have progressed, her newly found boldness means that she'll now arrive from a different direction. Often showing herself from the distant gorse in front of the hide. Her den is over there. Somewhere behind the gorse you can see in these pictures. It could be a mile away, closer but I'll never know for sure.
Chuck, chuck, chuck! There's a squirrel outside the hide!! Tailswishing, ears twitching and stamping her feet! I guess she's trying to tell me something? It's a cute we thing. Lovely red coat, bushy tail and a wee hint of ear tufts too. They always make me smile.
Pine martens are hard work so I use a Bushnell trail camera to monitor their movements when I'm elsewhere. Trail cameras give an invaluable insight about what comes and hues and when. Badgers, bats, fox, roe deer, owls as well as squirrels and martens have all put in an appearance at my hide and some amazing behaviours has been recorded thanks to those clever little gadget.
Ok. That'll do for now as my phone battery is low. 10%! How did we ever managed before we had mobile phones? Socialising and communicating by talking to folk is so-o last year!
Part two will follow later.
I've just finished two sold out winter wildlife tours based here on The Black Isle. Our twelve guests were treated to fine Highland hospitality, typically wintry Highland weather and a long list of sightings and photographs. The highlights of the trip were red squirrels and crested tit at our own forest locations, red deer stags in the glens and marvellous mountain hares!
We also had great sightings of golden eagle, buzzard, red kite, sparrow hawk, geese, swans, forest birds, dippers and so much more.
The 2017 tour is now open for bookings with only four of the six places remaining. Please contact me for more details on how to book and have a wee read of what some of this years guests made of the trip.
Helen W... "Your winter wildlife tour was absolutely wonderful - the opportunity to see and photograph such beautiful animals and birds was incredibly special. Yourself and Terry were very helpful and supportive (and, of course, entertaining!), going that extra step by setting up our trail-cams to give us the added bonus of pine marten footage. Your taking the time to ensure I got good views of the mountain hares was so very much appreciated. The hotel was very comfortable, the food delicious and the staff very friendly and welcoming. There is honestly nothing that I would change about it and I certainly hope to return next year (armed with a joke book!)..."
Neil N. "...I would like to extend my personal thanks to both yourself and Terry for the warm hospitality, help and quality of the Winter Wildlife Tour we received from you.I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it even when Storm Henry put a spanner in the works we saw first hand what a harsh and unforgiving environment it is for the wildlife up there.
Everything you guys arranged for us ran seamlessly and I actually thought that you had been working with larger groups for some time instead of that being your first, larger group tour, very professional indeed.
The accommodation, food and service was also excellent and also its location, just couldn't fault it at all!
Photography wise, again couldn't fault it, That woodland setting for the squirrels and cresties is just beautiful and I can see the huge amount of work that has gone into making it so productive,
All target species were achieved by all of us and that alone says the quality of the tour was top notch.
As you probably guessed that day on the mountain with the hares was the absolute highlight for me personally, It's taken me four years to get what I have been after so again a massive thanks for helping me achieve that..."
Tracey L described her day on the hills saying "...that Golden Eagle certainly was a superb finish to what was the best photography day I have ever done (and thats a lot)...what a great week..." Tracey also sent me this superb hare image.
I'll write a full blog on the tours soon and hope to include further images from our guests.
Happy New Year folks, let's hope 2016 is a good one for everyone.
I avoided any new years eve celebrations and went to bed early as i had planned an early rise to get on the hills to photograph mountain hares! This all went to plan although I missed a nice display of aurora whilst i snored the night away! Oh well, there will be other chances!
Mountain hares are stunningly beautiful and the area I visit is pretty well know amongst photographers and guides so I tend to avoid it as much as possible until this time of year. Photographing mountain hares will be high of the list for the guests on out 2016 winter wildlife tour so it's important that I get back up there an familiarise myself with the hares and where they are located.
Past winters have been fairly good for hares and they can often be found sitting in the same form for days on end making them easier to locate and today was no exception. I estimate that I encountered at least 30 hares within three hours although many of the sighting were of hares running off at high speed. Oh well, you can't win them all and every encounter no matter how brief is a privilege.
I will confess to being (or trying to be) a bit of a frame filler when it comes to photographs and I love a close portrait that shows the features of an animal. That's all good but what about the habitat? Wildlife doesn't live in featureless 'studio settings'. so I plan to go wider in 2016 and as you can see from the image above, I'm off to a good start with an image that hopefully shows some of the environment and adds context and a bit of a back story. Imagine being high on the hills, -2 with a wind chill making it feel much, much colder, you, the sound of the wind and mountain hares. Nothing else. Just you and mountain hares. Perfect!
I'll be back at the hares soon as part of the preparation for the winter wildlife tours so check back soon for more images.