Dolphins, red deer and a pine marten

Badger and pine marten at the Speyside Wildlife hide

Badger and pine marten at the Speyside Wildlife hide

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!

This wood mouse ended up getting the most attention!

This wood mouse ended up getting the most attention!

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.

Bottlenose dolphin from Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth

Bottlenose dolphin from Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth

Dolphin pursuing salmon at Chanonry Point

Dolphin pursuing salmon at Chanonry Point

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.

Red deer near Forsinard in Sutherland

Red deer near Forsinard in Sutherland

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!

Two of the badgers showed very well

Two of the badgers showed very well

Pine marten at the Speyside wildlife hide near Aviemore

Pine marten at the Speyside wildlife hide near Aviemore

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