Autumn in the Cairngorms is a good time to view the mammals from the hide, they now have their thick winter coats and come in to feed and stock up for winter. Badgers are now beginning to sleep a bit longer so sometimes the Pine Marten arrive before them, which is what has been happening recently.
The mammals are feeding up preparing for the winter when there will be less food available and so both Badgers and Pine Martens conserve energy by becoming less active. The food we provide is just a snack so that the animals do not become dependent on it but it is protein rich. The Pine Marten are also given fruit which, when it is available, makes up a large part of their autumn meals.
The evenings vary as we are never quite sure what we will see. We had one particularly good evening recently where we were able to watch not just one but two Pine Martens. The female Pine Marten arrived just a few minutes after we had settled in the hide. I say ‘arrived’ because to say she climbed the tree does not really describe it - in fact she seemed to smoothly flow up the tree and settled down to feed looking relaxed. Then she raised her head to her alert posture, the way she sniffed the air and then looked down made us aware that another creature was close.
I expected a Badger, but it was actually the male Pine Marten. He joined her for a few moments of mutual sniffing then jumped down to the ground and fed on what I had intended to be the Badger’s food. The fact that he was relaxed enough to feed on the ground was a compliment to how quiet all the people in the hide were. Of course, we were all in awe of the Pine Martens and so grateful that they were so close to us.
The male Pine Marten suddenly leapt nimbly up onto a long horizontal branch and ran agilely along it to the food at the left-hand feeding place. He settled to eat there so we then had both Pine Martens feeding one at the left and the other at the right, everyone had excellent close up views of these amazing creatures.
The first Badger arrived later, after the Pine Martens had departed. I was particularly pleased to see the Badger because the wind had increased so much, I thought it might put the Badgers off. Nocturnal animals like Badgers don’t rely so much on their eyesight but on their other senses like hearing and smell which strong wind disrupts. The Badger left after some time and while we waited to see if anything else would happen the wind calmed. A Badger - probably the same one came back.
Not everyone was focused on the Badger though, someone noticed a Tawny Owl perched in a tree at the edge of the lit area. The owl was bobbing its head up and down as it watched the Badger and the Wood Mice. Then the owl turned round it seemed to hear something below on the ground so flew towards it out of the light and out of sight.
Soon afterwards the solitary Badger was joined by two more members of its family. We watched the Badgers for some time, once they had finished feeding, we gave them a few minutes head start then we too left, smiling. When we got back to the car park, we spent a little time happily chatting about the Pine Marten and Badgers. It was too cold for us to linger long but it did increase our respect for the wildlife living out there at night.
Our Evening Mammal Hide near Aviemore is open all year round and further information is available here.