The days are drawing in here in the heart of Speyside and change is clearly afoot. The bright purple on the surrounding hills is ageing to a subtler hue, birches are dappled with yellow and fruit adorns the Juniper, Rowan and Sloe. Fungi of every shape and colour line the roadsides and woodland tracks, reminding us of their presence and key role in our eco-systems.
Preferring darkness, Badgers, with their poor eyesight, are nocturnal. Pine Marten are crepuscular – tending to be active between dusk and dawn. With the cover of darkness falling increasingly earlier, the habits of these animals are changing in response and consequently the meeting times for our evening mammal watch have now been brought forward – it must really be Autumn!
At the hide no two evenings are the same and never has that been more the case than this past week. One evening of almost constant Badger and Pine Marten activity, leaving guests dazed and probably seeing Badgers in their sleep, the next a female Pine Marten and Badger cubs, the next a tree climbing Badger and a young Pine Marten, another night the young Pine Marten, several Badger cubs, and lo and behold a male Pine Marten! It’s been a week of frenzied activity and absolutely wonderful to see the whole Pine Marten family, if not altogether, still looking extremely healthy and typically sleek and beautiful.
Until quite recently the female Pine Marten would accompany her kit to feed, often remaining anxiously in the long grass while the kit fed, or sometimes also coming to the feeding table. Now there is a noticeable change – the kit comes alone, with no sight of the mother, who often comes later in the evening. Similarly, with the Badgers, the young feed, often together, much earlier than the adults who arrive when their offspring have headed off to party elsewhere. Thankfully their keen sense of smell and stubborn determination to find the very last peanut ensures the adults also get breakfast.
Badgers and Pine Marten share several common properties and one of these is that in both, the young become independent in the Autumn. This is now what we are seeing at the hide – the small cubs and kit we watched emerge in the Spring, nervously watching their mother and clearly thrilled to be faced with a whole new world, have now become strong confident animals, no longer dependent on parental protection and ready to make their own way in the world.
Funny that this coincides with so many young people heading off to University or College for the first time, finding their feet and having to feed themselves, setting up new territories and the rest! In this respect it’s quite nice to think that our yearly calendar is, in some way, aligned to that of our wildlife!
So as Universities all over the country have started their new sessions, it’s an interesting thought to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, thousands of Badger parents are suffering a little from ’empty sett syndrome’, experiencing a sense of achievement along with a heavy heart, an empty wallet and not a peanut in the fridge…
Our Evening Mammal Hide is open all year and bookings can be made online