Last week naturalists Tessa Olson, Dan Hnilicka and I ventured down behind the science center to explore a low-lying wetland and set up a trail camera. We scrambled over a snowbank (almost getting stuck in the giant drift!) and made our way toward a white cedar grove. The snow was up above our knees and we forgot to bring snowshoes, so the going was strenuous and slow.
Tessa spotted snowshoe hare tracks in the snow and Dan pointed out the hopping prints of a red squirrel. We trudged on, hoping to find signs of a predator. We crouched under a fallen tree that had created a small snow cave, sheltered from the wind. Underneath was a highway of small mammal activity; tiny footprints raced back and forth, revealing the scurrying patterns of deer mice, voles, and shrews. Nearby we spotted some larger bounding tracks — a pine marten! We followed the tracks and traversed deeper into the wetland and back out into a mixed deciduous forest of aspen and maples and some evergreens.
Dan was getting tired and would periodically pretend to faint and play dead in the snow drifts. “Okay let’s just follow for a few more minutes” I said, reading his body language. It was curious to think how much easier and faster this little weasel could travel through the 27-inch deep snow.
The marten led us to a large fallen white pine where he neatly had placed some scat and urine and then evidently hopped up 3 feet from the ground to balance on the log. From reading the many tracks near the tree, we could tell that the Marten enjoyed this spot. The three of us paused to listen to the forest and feel the cool winter air on our cheeks. The sun shone brightly through the canopy of a nearby old-growth white pine and sprinkled us with warm rays. Tessa passed me part of a deer leg (it had been hit by a car) that she had been carrying and I tied it to the log to use as bait. I strapped the trail camera to nearby tree and we headed home. We’ll check the camera in a few days to see if that pine marten came back.
He’s back for a snack. You can see him feeding on the deer leg Tessa, Dan and I tied to the tree.
Pine martens have beautiful coloring. And check out that deep snow! For reference, the marten is about 2 feet long from head to tail. Learn more about pine martens on the Minnesota DNR website.
Stay tuned – I’ll keep adding pictures if he returns!