Black Isle Blog
Stories, misguided and uninformed rants and other bits and pieces.
It has been at least 10 years, hundreds, maybe thousands of eggs and a pot of honey so big, that even Pooh Bear would be stuffed, since I saw my first ever pine marten. Since then, I’ve driven a ridiculous amount of miles. Sat in hides for days, weeks and months of my life that I’ll never get back and spent a small fortune in the process, and often without success. Mostly. Not often.
To be fair though, I just adore these little animals. It was dolphins before that. Celtic FC before that (still is COYBIG) and I’ve also had fleeting ‘love affairs’ with a few other species along the way including red squirrels because let’s be honest, everybody loves a red squirrel. Right?
Below. Pine marten with one of her three kits. Summer 2010. JM
The good thing about squirrels is they come out in daylight. Sometimes early but still in daylight. They come out in daylight and are quite happy to sit on a mossy log gnawing a nut without a care in the world whilst camera shutters run off 7 FPS. They’ll do that for a good few hours. Sometimes.
Pine martens are different. They’re nocturnal. Crepuscular in summer. How rude of them not to be like squirrels and to be such hard work! Do they know who I am?
Our marten hide is now in its third season and I had such high hopes for this year. I’d convinced myself that our resident marten (Nadia AKA Betty) would be more used to the noise and smell coming from our hide. I’d also convinced myself that she’d have at least three kits this year and they’d all visit on a regular basis, standing proudly in pretty poses to provide photographers the opportunity to get perfect pictures.
She, Nadia (aka Betty) and good old Mother Nature had different ideas. She had one kit. Just one. How inconvenient of her not to have three just as I’d hoped but what can we do? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Other than panic, fear the worst, throw the baby out with the bath water, nail crooked pieces of wood across windows and doors, run to the hills, throw the towel in or maybe, just maybe, get on with it? Yes, let’s just get on with it!
Above. Mirror mirror. Two members of our support act. JR
Below. An early season Nadia (aka Betty). JR
Nadia (aka Betty) had been showing well throughout March, April and May. Her kit was growing fast and required a lot of feeding. She was out and about in daylight just like last year and the one before and we’d photos to prove it.
Time to open for bookings. Time to share the experience with others. Bookings came in, travel plans were made and Nadia (aka Betty) continued to visit. My colleague James Roddie was up and down to the hide every day. More eggs. More honey. More miles and more hours that he will never get back. Thanks to Nicole, James’ better half for her understanding, coffee is on me next time! Cake too?
The opening weeks of the 2017 pine marten season were slow. Very slow in comparison to last year and the year before that. She was around; clients were getting images but not all of them. I don’t like when that happens! I lose sleep over it! We were seeing her on the trail camera but for some reason that only she knows, daylight sightings were not as frequent. It’s likely that she just didn’t need to be out in daylight. She’d still be nursing the kit and getting by under the cover of darkness. If she had three kits, or two, she’d be out at all hours as Its hard work being a single mum. Respect to the single mums out there. Single dads too!
My anxieties were dealt a blow when a friend found a road kill marten fairly close to my forest site. Not uncommon in the Highlands although always sad to see (slow down folks) so that never helped. “An adult male” I was assured. Ah but my marten has a kit? “..an adult male… trust me…it’s a f*@*ing adult male…hung like a baboon”. I wasn’t totally convinced but the return of Nadia (aka Betty) along with little ‘Maybe’ (first seen in May… maybe a male…maybe a female…clever or what…) brought a huge sigh of relief. Not because I had bookings. No, it’s bigger that that, much bigger. Nature first at my hides. Every time. I was just pleased that Nadia (aka Betty) and little ‘Maybe’ were alive and well.
I was also relieved that the folk who had made a commitment to visit the hide would have a fair chance of seeing a marten. Not a guarantee! I can’t provide a guarantee but I can provide a very good opportunity based on regular, daylight visits. There aren’t too many places in the UK where you will get to see martens at 09:37. 10am. 11am. 2pm. 3pm and so on and so on. I’m not saying that my hide is the only place to see martens. It’s not but it’s as good as any of them. Did I mention that you also get red squirrels?
Above. Little maybe. JM
Below. Nadia (aka Betty). Client pic. KH
Below. Nadia (aka Betty). Client pic. PP.
The 2017 pine marten season was a roller coaster. We had more successful hide days than unsuccessful. We had sleepless nights but we had huge smiles on days when a text message arrived at 09:58 (hide session supposed to start at 10) saying “…She must have been waiting for you… straight in 5 to 10 minutes after you left…” That and many others like it make it all worthwhile.
One thing I’ve learned about the world of photo tourism is how to manage expectations. How to manage my expectations. Pine martens are rare. Very rare. As I’ve said, there aren’t too many places when you can photograph wild martens at 09:58. Yes there are plenty of gardens and holiday cottages across the Highland’s that attract martens. I’ve seen them. Hand fed them but forest martens are a different ball game.
I fully expect clients to come to my hides and photo days with high expectations. I share those high expectations and aim to provide a great experience but I always remind myself that expectations need to be realistic. They need to be informed by knowledge of the subject. Of the rarity. Of the behaviour of an animal. Wildlife doesn’t just show up because we want it to. Because we paid money. Drove hundreds of miles. Lost hours, days, weeks and months of time that we’ll never get back. For me, every encounter with a pine marten is a special one. It’s as good as the first sighting all those years ago. That goes for red squirrels too. For dolphins. Sparrows. Nature is there for us to enjoy but it’s not ours.
‘My martens’ come for breakfast. They den close by and I know this because they turn up dry in the pouring rain. Have you ever seen a pine marten with an umbrella? No, me neither so lets assume they den close by. I only feed them natural food. No jam sandwiches for my marvellous mustelids and their fine looking coats prove it. They’re worth it! I only feed them supplementary food. Over feeding a marten kit on junk food (or any wild animal) is likely to kill it during the first winter. They need to hunt for themselves so it’s breakfast then off to hunt. Off you go little one…
Above. Little maybe and her distinctive three spotted bib. JR
So. That’s it for 2017. The door has closed on the marten hide for this year with the exception of some personal hide time and maybe a return visitor. It’s been a blast. I think!
A huge thanks to everyone who has visited and enjoyed the experience with or without a sighting. A HUGE thanks to James Roddie and the very patient Nicole. Thanks also to the swearing friend who has provided advice and reassurance for many a year. I will continue to ignore it.
If you’d like to join us the 2018 season then drop us an e-mail through our website.
It’ll be a blast!