From the first moment I contacted James, I knew I was going to be in for a good day. James was in the middle of his trip to Shetland when I called, but still took the time to talk to me about his hide and some of his rules he has put in place. He spoke with knowledge and enthusiasm about ‘his’ Martens and is obviously obsessed with these animals – a man after my own heart. The rules he has in place are simple and totally understandable. The amount of time James has put into this hide is obvious and could so easily be wasted by careless actions.
On the day of my visit, the excitement took over and I managed to arrive almost an hour early at our chosen meeting place, James was already there, and after a brief chat I realised my first impressions were correct, James really is passionate about the Martens and a great guy to talk to.
After a short drive James took me to the hide, giving me a few pointers and left me to it. The hide is small and not very tall, but with it all to myself I could stretch out in the chair and found that it was very comfortable. The camera opening is perfectly sized, unlike some hides I’ve visited, and gave the option of low down (through the heather) shots or a slightly higher approach (across the heather).
For a couple of hours Red Squirrels came and went, and as I sorted out my lunch a Great Spotted Woodpecker gave an alarm call, followed closely by the Squirrels alarming. Sausage Rolls dropped and I was ready when mother Marten appeared, at 11.30, on a post around 12ft away, she then had a quick run around the site before dipping into one of the feeders and disappearing into the heather.
Usually I don’t take many shots until my quarry is in the position I want, so I’d only taken 4 shots in the 60 second visit – shot No.1 was just perfect, so if nothing else happened I would have been happy. James’s words echoed in my head – she’ll usually come in and take the larger food item to stash, before returning to feed. Sure enough, 20minutes later the Squirrel alarm clock went off, my sausage rolls went onto the floor again, and mother Marten returned. Another quick run around the site and she collected some food and was off. This time the visit lasted approx. 2minutes and I’d added another 6 shots with 3 I was very happy with.
Time passed slowly, but I was kept entertained by the Red Squirrels, a distant Roe and picking pine needles out of my lunch. The odd text from James asking how I was getting on was answered in the same way – ‘still just the two visits’ and as the day passed I could sense he was a little disappointed for me but I replied I was a Happy Bunny, as my first shot was worth the trip from Newcastle.
At around 6pm I was thinking of packing up, but again James’s words of wisdom rang around my head – I had read one of his updates in which had said the Marten family turned up shortly after 8pm, so I texted him to say that I would be ready to leave at 8.30. Shadows turned into Pine Martens and an annoying Pine Marten coloured log, just in my field of view, kept moving, then at 8pm my squirrel alarm clock went off.
What followed was incredible. At 8.02 mother Marten turned up, followed closely by her two kits and mayhem ensued. For 20 minutes the 3 animals bounded around the site with me snapping away. My shutter count went quickly from 12(I’d taken a couple of the Squirrels) to 257 and then all was quiet. On cue, James texted me to say he’d collect me in 10minutes, I was still buzzing.
At 8.30 we made a quick exit from the hide and when we were at a safe distance James asked how I’d got on. His face would have made a great shot when I told him what had happened and he was genuinely pleased for me.
Following my visit, James has sent me a link to some of the video footage that was taken whilst I was there. A great touch, as I was so busy taking shots I had missed a lot of the action from the other Martens.
Things I would do differently. Take a 1.4 convertor for my 300mm, or better still, use a 200-400mm with 1.4 convertor. I missed one shot of mother Marten stood fully upright on her hind legs. They are large animals and at less than 10m my 300mm with 2x convertor on a full frame camera couldn’t get her in, although for most of the action this setup suited my needs.
Take a book, Candy Crush only has 5 lives and iphone battery life isn’t up to 11hrs.
Have my bladder removed and take more water. I thought I was prepared for a long stint, but after 11hours, 2l water, 1l of orange juice I was forced to drink Red Bull to quench my thirst. This, and reliving the events of the day had my head buzzing all night!
My regrets, only one. I wish I lived on the Black Isle as I would love to get to know James and his Martens better. Next year’s trip is already being planned and I will definitely be visiting James again. A real gent with a true passion.
Good things come to those who wait? It did for me but my 11hour stint is nothing in comparison to the time James has put into ‘his’ Pine Martens. Well done mate.