Wildlife Holiday News

Pine Marten vigil on our Scotland's Mammals Holiday by Caroline Northcott

Caroline Northcott travelled on our 'Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Pine Marten by Alain Verstaete

Ardnamurchan, on the west coast of Scotland, is where the Scottish Highlands slide into the sea. This remote and sparsely populated peninsula is a haven for birds and some of the more elusive UK mammals. On our drive up, Tom Mabbett from Naturetrek asked which animal was on the top of my ‘wish list’.  Hoping not to jinx things, I said it had to be the nocturnal Pine Marten.

Our base for the next seven nights was a standalone building surrounded by woodland. Viewing windows at the back overlooked a patio with two tree stumps in the middle and a feeding table to the rear. Whilst birds fed here by day, we were told Pine Marten were known to visit some nights. Therefore, after our first dinner together, we settled down with coffee to stare hopefully out of the windows. Tom had placed out peanuts and jam and bread in the hope of enticing a night-time visitor. Alas, wildlife-viewing is never that easy and in turn we all surrendered to tiredness.

The next morning, despite staying up until 11.30 p.m., I wished I had stayed on longer seeing that all the peanuts had gone. 

Our days were spent driving and walking around the peninsula or out on boats on the loch and sea encountering many different daytime species. Evenings slipped into the routine of dinner then the viewing windows. 

On our second night we sat and waited once more and could not believe it when at 10.15 p.m. a Pine Marten appeared. It ate nervously on the feeding table at the rear before slinking back into the woods. It was a dim, distant view but I was addicted.

The third evening, despite being a late one again, passed without seeing a marten.  However, waking spontaneously at 4.20 a.m., I decided to go for a peak out of the windows. I was so excited to see a Pine Marten on the feeding table again. I could see many sleepless nights ahead! When a camera trap indicated three visits that night it confirmed I had to stay up longer. 

By our fourth night, Tom had been inspired to construct a ‘Pine Marten run’ consisting of planks running from the rear feeding table across the tree stumps to a picnic table nearer the windows. With a new run to test we waited, but again, one by one, admitted defeat. 

Inspired by my previous early morning encounter I set my alarm for 4.00 a.m. I was the only one up, unsurprisingly, when a Pine Marten scrambled around the floor, made its way towards the door, looked up at the window and then stretched up the door towards the window. ‘My’ Pine Marten had looked at me. Surely it could get no better? But Tom had other ideas and now extended the run with the aim of seeing a Pine Marten on the window sill! As night five passed with only a distant hurried visit around 4.00 a.m. I sat wondering how long I could keep going on three hours sleep a night. 

However, on our sixth night, at 10.57 p.m. a Pine Marten jumped onto the plank leading to the window sill. Unfortunately a noise made it leap off immediately but this tantalising close glimpse made me determined to keep my night-time vigil.

We expected a return visit that night but only two of us were still up at 12.50 a.m. when a marten jumped straight onto the window sill and walked along eating peanuts so close we could have reached out and touched it. We just wished the others could have shared the moment, especially Tom who had constructed the run. 

Too soon it was our last night and we obviously wished for a good sighting.  Everyone was determined to stay up but many could not last.  In the early hours only four sat dozing and fidgeting with tiredness. We could not have predicted what happened next. 

At 1.07 a.m. along the Pine Marten run came not one but TWO Pine Martens!  Together they ate the peanuts and jam off the planks and picnic tables. One jumped onto the sill. The other walked up the plank towards the window, at one point jumping agilely around on the spot. We shared their lives for 15 precious minutes before they both dropped to the floor and disappeared. 

With a mix of huge satisfaction but unbelievable tiredness we put down our videos, moved forward leaning our elbows on the inside window sill, our heads resting on our hands and faces against the window. Suddenly one Pine Marten jumped back up onto the outside window sill. Our faces were just inches away from it. It lasted only moments as it walked across the sill eating peanuts but suddenly all tiredness and sleepless nights were forgotten!

Read more about our 'Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands' holiday.