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Pine Marten

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

April 25, 2017

Standing in hip deep snow while watching the sunset over the snow covered mountains, I could hear the howling of 4 wolves in the distance. Yellowstone in winter is a magical place. Filled with all the animals that a healthy ecosystem should possess. From the top tier predators such as wolves, bobcats and mountain lions, right on down to the smallest mice and shrews, and everything in-between.

As the last of the light drained from the sky, I could see where the wolves had bedded down for the night. It was a full moon so there was a good chance they would be hunting during the night, but I figured I would be back in the exact spot the next morning to see if the wolves would be still around.

About 2 hours before dawn, I started heading back to the wolf location from the night before. Keeping my fingers crossed that they would still be around. I slowly made my way across the valley arriving at the exact spot just as the eastern sky began to brighten and the stars fade.

The overnight the temperatures dropped to about -10 F. A respectable temperature for this high elevation during February. Standing there in the cold, waiting for enough light to see, I strained my ears to listen for any sound at all. With no wind, it was completely silent. The kind of silence that comes only with a wilderness environment. No cars, no planes or trains.

After several hours of waiting and watching, it was obvious that the wolves have moved on during the night. Of course I was more than a little disappointed but that is how it goes in the wildlife photo business.

Trying to figure out what to do next, I grabbed something to eat out of my pack and spun around looking in all directions. Nothing but snow covered mountains. Making my way back to my truck I drove around for a while regretting the sunshine. Wildlife usually isn't active on bright sunny days.

I pulled in at one of my regular spots thinking I would take a break and rest. I was going to take a short hike but just 20 yards from my truck I spotted a Pine Martin. I was caught empty handed. So I ran back to my truck to retrieve my camera and tip-toed back. Sure enough the martin was still there and I was able to capture some decent images.

Pine Martens (Martes americana), which are also called American Martens are a slender bodied critter in the weasel family. They are slightly larger than a Gray Squirrel. The live in conifer and deciduous forests of the Rocky Mountains of the western states and across Canada and Alaska. The northeastern corner of Minnesota and parts of New Hampshire and Maine are another good place for Pine Martens.

During winter martens are not as active as they are in warmer months. But they still come out and hunt every couple of days when the weather is good. They are well adapted to hunt in the snow and are well known for being able to travel and hunt under the snow (subnivean). They search out small mammals such mice, voles and shrews under the snow. They also hunt larger prey such as squirrels in the trees and rabbits and hares on the ground.  

One time I watched a marten chase a Snowshoe Hare for 30 minutes. There was about a dozen times I thought the hare would get away, but in the end the marten prevailed and didn't go hungry.

So even though I struck out with the wolves I was fortunate enough to spend some time with a wonderful marten. It just goes to show you that you never know what you will find in nature. Until next time...

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photography wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook and twitter. He can be contacted at his web page at www.naturesmart.com.



Photo by Stan Tekiela

The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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