My week in Scotland was unusually good for seeing interesting mammals. This time last year, I’d had a futile time in Argyll hoping to see a pine marten – not having realised how elusive they actually are. Thus, when I realised that there was a wildlife hide near Aviemore run by Speyside Wildlife, I decided that I had to go.
They put out food each evening, but can’t guarantee what will turn up. I joined about 8 others around sunset, and we walked to the hide while it was still light enough to see the way, and then waited. Just as the light faded, a large herd of red deer went past in search of lower pastures for the night.
Some time after it was fully dark, a badger appeared and snuffled along the ground for peanuts. As it did so, a pine marten bounded up and sprang onto the table, and then sat down to consume the meal put out for it.
Unusually, there’s a female kit that has remained from last year’s litter. So far this spring she has been a frequent visitor. Her dad also occasionally visits. They have very different tastes: she likes peanuts and honey, he prefers raisins and peanut butter. It’s curious that such a notoriously elusive species will eat so readily from food put out for it – but that’s part of the mystique of pine martens.
One of the stars of the night wasn’t rare at all and weighed about an ounce – a characterful wood mouse, which hid among the tree roots and would occasionally dash across the grass for a peanut when the badger wasn’t looking!
The following day I visited Chanonry Point, a sliver of land that sticks into the Moray Firth. It’s the best mainland site for seeing dolphins – especially at this time of year, when they assemble for the salmon run.
It’s quite extraordinary to be on land so close to the dolphins: I watched for about an hour, and they were still pursuing lunch just as avidly. (I did feel a tad sorry for the salmon though: if they survived the dolphins, they had the seals to contend with next!)
On the Thursday I visited the RSPB’s Forsinard Flows site. It’s a magnificently bleak landscape of windswept peat bogs, but I chose the wrong time of day for the bird life! After I finished a late packed lunch, I had a careful look round before continuing – to see a herd of red deer that thought it could slip along the fence line of a forest without being disturbed.
After they saw I’d spotted them, they slunk behind a hillock, and disappeared for so long that I thought they’d all hurdled the fence. I went a bit closer and found the herd sat in the grass, clearly content to wait until the human departed, with only some rather fine antlers giving them away!
That evening I went back to the Speyside wildlife site. This time there were three badgers that showed exceptionally well – and the pine marten returned and hogged the limelight while it was there!