Thief in the night!

Forsinard Flows

Forsinard Flows
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Forsinard Flows

Thief in the night!

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What lives in the shed by the volunteers’ house at Forsinard, comes out at night and avidly devours peanut butter? The answer is, of course, a pine marten, and this blog entry will report on the recent antics of Forsinard’s friendliest mustelid.

The pine marten first made its presence felt by the less than salubrious activities it got up to in our shed: pine martens are certainly not house trained, and, in the last few weeks, the wise warden or volunteer has carefully watched where they put their feet upon entering the shed. As if this wasn’t enough, the volunteers would find a nice, fresh present right outside their door upon leaving the house each morning....

At least this was excellent evidence that we had a pine marten living in close proximity to people – the next step was to see it!

Since we knew the shed was its favoured spot, Paul the Warden set up a series of motion-activated cameras around the building, which quickly produced some great pictures of our resident Martes martes.

While the cameras were doing their thing in the shed one evening, I was in the house, relaxing next to the radiator after a busy day on the bog. Outside it was as dark as you’d expect a January night in Sutherland to be, but from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something moving next to the sitting-room window – something dark, with a white patch underneath. It disappeared almost immediately, but it could only have been the pine marten!

After that, I kept my eye on the window, and was quickly rewarded. The following night the pine marten walked right along the windowsill and back again! This was obviously another popular location for the marten, but unfortunately, it wasn’t staying long enough for a photo.

However, there are ways to remedy a restless pine marten, and luckily a previous volunteer had left several half-eaten jars of peanut butter in the fridge upon departure. Pine martens are known to have a weakness for peanut butter, so I slathered some over a slice of bread and placed it in front of the house, where the light from the windows illuminated it – and hopefully anything that came to eat it too...

The volunteers lined the window, peering out into the darkness, hoping to sight this little-sighted animal. With our eyes focused on the bread, we were all therefore surprised when the marten once more walked along the windowsill mere inches from our faces! Again, it didn’t hang around, but once it had gone it soon reappeared at the light, grabbed the peanut-buttered bread and trotted away into the night.

This was better, but we still had no pictures! The following night, therefore, we revised our peanut butter deployment. This time, we cut the slice of bread into smaller, bite-sized chunks and scattered them along the length of the windowsill.

Once more, the marten appeared between 6 and 7pm. It sniffed along the windowsill, found the first piece of bread, grabbed it and ran off to munch it in peace. We crouched ready with our cameras for its return. Minutes passed – and there it was! It snaffled the next lump of bread as we clicked away happily with our cameras. Success! We’d seen and photographed a mammal that most people will never see in their lives! We were quite pleased!

The next evening, however, we revised the plan still further. The marten hadn’t been posing for long in front of the window, preferring to remove the bread elsewhere. So we smeared a blob of peanut butter partway up the window frame, hoping it would pause there and rear up on its hind legs to eat it. Did it work? See the photos below....

By Ewan Munro

 

So needless to say the volunteers are quite happy at getting so close to this elusive mammal. It should be pointed out that pine martens have quite a varied diet which would also include nuts and berries. So while peanut butter is not necessarily their usual dinner-time snack, it certainly won't be doing them any harm. To add to the amazing photos taken by the volunteers above, have a look at some that the camera-trap captured and see if you can spot Ewan?! ~ Paul