A One-Day Love Affair with a Pine Marten

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Written by Cassidy Barnes posted on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

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Back in the spring of 1999, Rockies.com photographer John E. Marriott had one of his most memorable shoots in the Canadian Rockies.

One of Marriott's first shots taken of the pine marten. (Photo courtesy John E. Marriott)

Marriott has been shooting wildlife for more than a decade, but it was on that memorable day in April that he fell in love with a coquettish little pine marten.

As love usually appears, it was unexpected. Marriott had been in Jasper looking for bears, to no avail. Dejected, on his drive back on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise he stopped near Castle Mountain.

He was desperate to shoot something, so squeezed off a couple frames of a ground squirrel on top of its burrow. It was then he saw the little pine marten bounding through the forest.

Following the pine marten, he crept towards it with his readied lens and tripod. He got closer and took a few shots just as the pine marten spotted him.

“For the next few minutes, she raced from tree to tree and hopped up onto each trunk to get a better look at me,” Marriott remembers. “I think she was trying to decide if I was dangerous or not and would warrant climbing up higher. For whatever reason, the marten quickly seemed to forget that I was even there and began to hunt again right in front of me.”

Snoozing under a spruce. (Photo courtesy John E. Marriott)

This feeling of invisibility if every photographer’s dream: to witness scenes without disrupting them. With people it’s hard enough, but wildlife is a whole other challenge. Marriott knew that this was a unique experience and stuck with his new furry little friend for the next five hours.

So there they were, happy as clams, the pine marten traipsing through the forest and Marriott photographing and talking to the little creature.

“I watched her stalk, catch and eat three mice and a vole and miss countless others in blurred flurries of action that I didn’t even bother trying to photograph,” he recounts. “She soaked in the sunshine on top of logs, she climbed trees for no apparent reason, she sat and stared at me for long periods of time (and would slowly close her eyes after a while as if to say, can’t you do anything more exciting than take my picture?).”

Marriott had even gained enough confidence to have the pine marten take a nap just a few feet away under a spruce tree.

“I was in the sunshine and so was she, so for an hour and fifteen minutes we basked in the warm sun together and I thought to myself over and over again that life doesn’t get any better,” Marriott fondly remembers.

Intimate portrait of the little pine marten. (Photo courtesy John E. Marriott)

When he finally decided to leave, the pine marten glanced up to see where he was going and stayed put. Two hours later Marriott came back and checked on the spruce tree napping spot, but she wasn’t there.

“I began to walk in a big circle through the forest to see if I could find her again and as soon as I started talking (which I had been doing for most of our encounter), she came bounding from about a hundred yards away up onto a log twenty yards in front of me,” Marriott said. “It was so unbelievable that I can’t even put it into words. If it’s at all possible, I would swear that she had missed not having me around.”

Marriott stuck around for another hour and saw her catch a vole, eat it and nod off to sleep less than 10 feet away. Before he left, he took a few more intimate portraits of the American marten and sadly parted ways.

To see more pine marten and other wildlife photographs by John E. Marriot visit his website www.wildernessprints.com.

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