Pine Martens and more

Pine Martens and more

A friend and I were in Scotland to complete missing sequences for a film about Salmon breeding in small Scottish burns.

We had been fortunate the previous year, with exceptionally low water levels and near perfect conditions to film. Involving a mixture of underwater and surface shots, we just needed a few more vital clips to show the detail of the mating process for a documentary that was already in edit.

All started well:
Little did we know that the highlands were about to experience one of the wettest winters on record and our little burn was going to be full to overflowing.

The initial site visit was not promising; the sun was shining and there was a chill in the air, but water levels were high and there was little trace of Salmon where last year there had been plenty.

Our only Salmon sightings:
Halfway through the recce, the heavens opened, and with only a few minutes of respite, there was a continuous mix of rain, sleet and snow for the next two days. The burn burst its banks, the main river became a raging torrent.

Spectacular, but deadly:
When anyone asks about wildlife film-making, they may be aware of the long hours, but rarely the frustration and wasted trips. Filming speculatively, as Andy Jackson and I often do, is particularly hard. No-one gets paid until the project is complete, yet up front are all the costs of transport, accommodation and food. A sequence will often take several days to get, sometimes a week or more, and that may spread over more than one year. Such was the Highlands Salmon story.

Icy rain, snow and floods were not conducive to filming, forcing us to spend unexpectedly long periods in the rented bungalow. Which is how we discovered the other locals.

We wondered why the bird food was going so fast, and when the feeders were discovered spread across the grass, we figured there were other forces at work.

Many people have seen Pine Martens on Springwatch and other wildlife productions. Very entertaining, but having them outside your window is a whole other ballgame.

Pine Martens love bird food, peanuts in particular. Not delicate in their manners, the general approach is to use their agile paws to prise off the lid off feeders. Failing that, throwing the feeder on the ground will usually do the trick.

Such was our introduction to the Pine Marten family; initially timid, they quickly habituated to having the outdoor light on, rapidly escalated to an LED movie light, giving us the perfect conditions to film them, albeit through a window.

We quickly discovered that they were almost immune to sound, but fled at the slightest movement or reflection on a lens element.

Bad weather forced a premature abandonment of the project for the year, but we enjoyed our all too brief encounters with the Martens: charming, intelligent and fun - unless you happen to have feathers or fur.
Well know Scottish writer and photographer, John W MacPherson describes them as “a set of scary teeth, propelled by a body”.

'The Teeth' and a couple of other stills from the trip: