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A month of filming a pine marten


Pine martens are kind of amazing. They are rare, hard to spot, cute, and tough. It never even occurred to be that there might be some nearby, and I only found out about it by using my trail camera (which I wrote about before here).

This is quite a long post, but I thought it was best to talk through all the stages I went through, and all the failures and all the successes. I know there are a lot of naturalists in the UK who would really like to film a pine marten too, so I hope this helps. There are a lot of videos but they are mostly very short. If you love nature, you HAVE to read this post !

First pine marten sighting: 9th November, 5am

After I finished the last film in my previous post (the one with the pheasant), I moved my Bushnell trail camera up to a tree to try and film some roe deer which I know live in the woods. 

I got lots of footage of roe deer, but I also got this strange creature on it as well:

It was definitely weasel or stoat like, and it was filmed close to the place where the stoat killed the rabbit last year .But when you put a frame of it next to a frame of a roe deer for scale you could see it was cat or otter sized, and far too big to be a weasel or a stoat.

It was time to ask on Twitter:

I wasn't expecting that !

So what is a pine marten ?

Pine martens are from the same family (mustelids) as stoats and weasels (which they look like), and otters and badgers (which they don't). Mustelids are hardcore and are very tough. Badgers are pretty much solid muscle, and otters have very strong arms and legs to help them swim. They can eat pretty much anything, from eggs to voles to berries to other dead animals.

They are also rare. They didn't use to be, but they were hunted almost to extinction in the UK because of their fur, but they are slowly coming back. Their main natural predator is still man (including car accidents) but also foxes and golden eagles.

Here's how their fur looks, with a pine marten at top, and a beech marten below. You get beech martens in Europe but not in the UK.

I have a beech marten skull kindly sent by Psydrache. It is very similar to a pine marten skull. Here it is next to an otter (middle) and a badger (on the left) skull. Remember they are all from the same family.

Here's the beech marten skull by itself. It's very similar to a pine marten skull:

When she saw the video my mum asked why I knew it wasn't a squirrel or a stoat. It's just something that you can see easily but it's difficult to explain. It looks too solid and muscular to be a squirrel, and the tail was too thick. The difference between it and a stoat or weasel is the size (pine martens are bigger), pine martens' ears are white on the inside, and pine martens' tails are much thicker. Here's a red squirrel (grey squirrels are bigger) and a stoat:

I really, really wanted to see it again. It was time to set up a camera trap !

The camera trap

About 20 yards from where I saw it the first time was a fallen down pine tree, where the main trunk was about 7ft off the ground. I read a lot about pine martens (including this really good book by the Mammal Society) and read that they like to feed off the ground. That also meant that food left out for them wouldn't be eaten by foxes or rabbits.

I didn't want to build a platform, so this place was perfect. Here's the camera:

I was told that pine martens like peanut butter and berries, so I put these down, and tied the grapes to a branch:

Now I waited !

Second sighting: 19 November

And looked what we got a couple days later sniffing at the peanut butter. You can see him looking at the camera !

This was brilliant, but I wanted to keep the camera up for more.

Third sighting: 20th November 

Then the day after, we got him again ( I call it him, but I don't know whether it's male or female). You can just see it at the left for a second then it runs off again!

Looking for clues

It was another eight days before the next sighting which was frustrating. In that time I went up and looked for more clues. I found this bird egg that looked like it had been broken open by something. It might have been a pine marten, but it might have also been a bird.

Pine marten like to live in high up places away from predators like foxes.  The corner of the wood had five nests or drays (squirrel homes) where it might have lived.

The bark is too hard to get scratch marks, but their were signs of damage where the bark had been peeled away on one tree. I think this tree is the most likely for where it might be living, but I can't check any closer because it is illegal to bother pine martens at their nests.

Pine martens mark territory with their poo ! Just like deer or cats that have scent glands in their heads, pine martens have them near their bum. That means the poo smells of the scent of each pine marten so they can mark their territory.

About 200 yards west of this wood is a smaller strip of trees where dad found this poo. I read somewhere that pine marten poo can smell of palma violets. He smelt it and screwed up his face and said that this one did not. I'm not sure what it's from. It could be from a weasel instead.

Here was another, which was on open land about 100 yards north of the wood, and about 200m away from the camera trap, on open ground with heathers:

It looks like there is fur in the poo, perhaps from eating voles.

A fourth sighting ? (26 November)

When I saw opened up the trail camera I was very happy to see this. You always get at least two videos, when you set the camera and when you come back, but five videos is quite exciting, because the only thing could have set off the camera would be an animal on the tree trunk, and there are only a few animals that could have climbed all the way up there.

But the five videos were of this mouse (dad thought it might be a vole, but I don't) which was eating the food left out for the pine marten ! (including some left over chicken from dinner)

You can see the nibble marks on the edge of the peanut butter made by the mouse:

Pine martens seem not to give much of a toss about peanut butter but mice certainly do. I put some wet cat food in gravy on the tree to see if the pine marten liked that instead.

The fourth real sighting: 28th November

After eight days of nothing, the pine marten came back on the 28th November at 2am in the morning. He stayed on that branch for a while, so I got a full minute of film.

He has a good sniff around the some of the food including (at 30 seconds) some grapes and berries I had tied to a branch with string, but doesn't seem to take any of it. It was a good video, though !

At the weekend I changed the position of the trail cam to one of the branches on the trunk itself. You can see the tree it used to be on at the back on the left.

When we checked it that next day we had 34 videos ! That is a LOT.


Five of the videos were from setting up, and the other 29 were mice, like this one:

The night of the mouse (1st December)

Dad thought it would be better if the camera was further up the trunk, where the camera would get a better view without branches being in the way. That DEFINITELY changed things. This is what I saw the next day.

122 videos ! At first I thought the camera must have been triggered by a swaying branch during the night, but they were ALL of one mouse - at least, I think it was the same mouse, and you could only ever see one at once.

Here the mouse is taking a chunk of cat food, but most of the time it was eating the peanut butter at bottom right. This mouse is going to have stomach ache and bad cholesterol problems.

And since then....

I left the camera out on that tree on the night of the 2nd and 3rd December in exactly the same spot. And this is what happened: 

1,247 videos ! That means 20 hours of solid footage !

The problem was the batteries had worn low, so after the first 50, it just recorded the start of the file and then switched off. So of those 1,247, only 50 were recorded, and all of those were of the mouse !

Putting the peanut butter out was a mistake. The pine marten didn't eat it, but mice did, and kept coming back triggering the camera.

I put in fresh batteries, and chose a new tree nearby, and put out raw turkey. Hopefully the mice won't trigger it now, but it's still close enough for the pine marten to find. The other problem is that the wood is on a moor and we had a 100mph storm last night, so hopefully the trail camera is still there and undamaged when I go back for it !

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Jake said...

Ha, brilliant ! I thought I was lucky to see mine but you are much further south than me !

Psydrache said...

Dawwww, that marten is just too cute <3 And I really love your videos of the trail cam. I never expectet that the pine marten is a rare animal in your country. But I never saw one in my live bevore, too. Only beech martens crossed my ways so far.

Jake said...

Thanks again for the beech marten skull !

Jack N said...

Cool, I've always wanted to see a pine martin but can't see them where I live. I love your new title heading thingy-I'm so going to buy the book!

Jake said...

I'm trying to make it so the website looks a bit more like the book since they have different colours and logos !

Sarah R said...

That pine marten is ADORABLE! The way he moves around reminds me of our little cat. She's old enough to be all sleek, but she's young enough that she's kind of hyper. Always sniffing around and poking at things... And she knocks things over on purpose just so she can watch what happens and what we do. I wonder if pet martens would do that... They seem smart, from the little bit I know about them, so I bet some of them would.

Gotta say, those are cute mice! Hmm... You know, I bet videos of wild mice are sort of unusual...

Jake said...

Not here. I've got thousands of them.

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