Pine Marten

Pine Marten (Mew Lake, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Pine Marten (Mew Lake, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten tracks

Marten Sitzmark (?) (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Sitzmark (?) (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

I watched the Marten from the above photo leap from a branch into the snow and then pounce into a neighbouring tree.  This mark was left behind and it resembles a flying squirrel’s “sitzmark”.

Marten Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

I am curious about marten tracks in a 2×2 pattern.  I often see one foot registering slightly ahead of the other.  Can a marten be right-foot or left-foot dominant like a human?  The foot that plants first would be the dominant foot.  As a marten moves, this would be the track that falls just behind the most forward track.

Pine Marten tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Pine Marten tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

I was amazed how similar this marten’s bounding pattern is to the snowshoe hare’s bounding pattern.  We followed the marten’s trail along the Highway 60 corridor in Algonquin Park and noticed that the marten was in fact following a snowshoe hare trail.  One difference that I noted is that the marten’s front feet registered a much larger imprint than the snowshoe hare’s front feet.  The snowshoe hares also have a “leading toe” to help differentiate the two mammals.

Snowshoe Hare Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Snowshoe Hare Tracks (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Trail

Marten Trail (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Trail (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

A beautiful 2×2 trail pattern of the Pine Marten.

Direction of Travel?

Dan Gardoqui Blowing into a Marten Track (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Dan Gardoqui Blowing into a Marten Track (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

During a week-long tracking course with White Pine and Earth Tracks, I learned that you can dig up a whole track to help determine the direction of travel and the weight of an animal.  If you can blow out the soft snow that has collected in a track, you may find that the floor of the track is angled.  A track will angle downwards in the direction of travel.  Digging up a track also helps determine how heavy an animal is.  A marten weighs between 1 and 3 lbs.  In comparison, a fisher weighs between 8 and 13 lbs.  By looking at how densely packed the snow under a track is, one can estimate the weight of the animal who made it.

Marten Story

In July, while canoeing to the western arm of North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, I heard the distress calls of a bird.  The bird alarm was coming from the north shore of the meandering Amable du Fond river.  I stopped paddling to get a closer look at what was going on.  A red-winged blackbird popped up from the shoreline vegetation and then I saw some movement nearby.  The red-winged blackbird disappeared again into the grasses, captured once again by a mystery animal.  Suddenly the culprit – a Pine Marten ran up a dead conifer and looked at me while holding the red-winged blackbird in its mouth.  I remember the bright orange fur on the chest of the Pine marten.  On that warm day in July, I noted the marten’s proficient cat-like skill in hunting its prey.

Marten Burrow

Marten scats accumulate at den sites and piles are common at the entrance to a marten burrow.  One of my tracking friends found this marten den accidentally while looking for a place to pee.  We called this magic moment “intuitive urination”.

Marten Den and Scat (Chit Lake Trail, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Den and Scat (Chit Lake Trail, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Well-used Marten trails led to and from the burrow.  Our tracking leader, Alexis, suggested pouring water over the scat to bring out the detail.  This is what we saw:

Marten Scat (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Marten Scat (Algonquin Park, February 2015)

I wondered if the Marten had eaten the previous occupant of the tree burrow (a red squirrel?).  Perhaps the latrine site was an accumulation of red squirrel remains?

Marten Urine

Marten Urine (Algonquin Park, January 2015)

Marten Urine (Algonquin Park, January 2015)

Marten Scat

Pine Marten Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Pine Marten Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

We found this scat along a trail near the Wildlife Research Centre in Algonquin Park.  We were headed to an old Ranger cabin.  There were at least four scats spaced in 50 metre (approximate) intervals along the trail.  I noted a colour change from one scat to the next (dark to light) and I wondered if this related to the digestion process?  Could the scats be from different martens marking their territories along the trail?

“Marten scats vary depending on diet.  Fur and bone scats are extremely twisted, tapered ropes with very pointy ends.  Fruit scats are tubular with little or no twisting and often have pointy ends (next photo).  All mustelids mark elevated surfaces such as stumps, bridges, logs, or other surfaces over water or forest debris.  Martens eat large amounts of fruit.  They often post scats along trails and small roads.  Martens also roll on and mark trees.”* (Sourced from: North American Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 478).  Their scat has a distinct musky scent.

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

August 2014 049

Pine Marten Scat with Sarsaparilla Berries (Algonquin Park, August, 2014)

While wandering the forests around the Wildlife Research Centre in Algonquin Park, we found several purple scats filled with mystery seeds.  What were these animals eating?  This question inspired a quest to discover the mystery seed’s identity.  We opened up raspberries, cherries and bunchberries but could not find a match.  Finally, after several hours of searching, we came upon a lone sarsaparilla berry.  Upon opening this purple gem, we gazed eagerly at a perfect match to our tracking mystery.  Hurray!  Alexis shared that it had taken him a year to learn the identity of the mystery scat seeds.  I am grateful that he didn’t give away the answer, deciding instead to let us solve the mystery for ourselves.  I felt connected to this little plant and thankful for its willingness to offer insight into what the animals are eating in early August.  I set an intention to find a sarsaparilla plant with berries so that I could take a photo.  However, most of the berries of the sarsparilla plants were gone – eaten voraciously and efficiently. I learned that they are edible (with caution) for humans as well.  During the next day’s outing in a hilly section of deep forest, we did indeed find a patch of sarsaparilla plants with berries. I tasted one of the purple berries to learn intrinsically about this little treasure.  A feeling of contentment came over us as we enjoyed the sweet taste of mystery-solving success in berry-form, with a very bitter aftertaste, but it was worth it.

*Interestingly, a week later (in August) after all the sarsaparilla berries were gone I noticed that the orange bunch berries had also disappeared.  Do sarsaparilla berries become ripe earlier than bunch berries?  They both looked ripe at the same time to me. Maybe the animals can detect a difference with their sense of smell? Perhaps sarsaparilla berries are preferred over bunch berries as a food source for Algonquin wildlife?  The interdependence between animals and plants is fascinating.

Sarsaparilla Plant (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Sarsaparilla Plant (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Sarsaparilla Berries (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Sarsaparilla Berries (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

 

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2 thoughts on “Pine Marten

  1. Have you ever seen marten scat that looks as if the marten had dug a little and put the scat there (similar to what a cat does before they bury it)?

    • Hi Anna,

      I have not seen that yet but it makes sense. Martens seem very much like “tree-climbing cats”. In fact, their close relative, the Fisher is also called “The Fisher Cat” because they have semi-retractable claws. So cool. I wonder how closely martens and fishers are connected to cats in their ancestral lineage? Thanks for sharing!

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