Near the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland is the charming town of Grantown-on-Spey, an excellent base for birdwatching at the coast, in the mountains, and in the cool pine forest. But it wasn’t birds that took us to the Rothiemurchus forest last night. It was badgers.
Loch Morlich near Grantown-on-Spey lies in the heart of a Scots Pine forest with the snow–capped Cairngorm mountains in the distance.
A captive red deer herd greeted us on our walk into the hide (blind) on the Rothiemurchus estate.
The first badger made an appearance about 10:30 pm, just as I was about to doze off in the darkened blind. Exterior lights don’t bother the animals that come for peanuts and raisins; its just enough light to photograph them.
European badgers in this area of Scotland are a rotund bunch (or maybe they are just eating a lot of peanuts). Although we think of badgers as carnivores in the U.S., these badgers eat a wide variety of food including earthworms, insects, small mammals, root tubers, fruits, and of course peanuts.
Peanuts and peanut butter can be found everywhere around the hide in the evening, so badgers crawl into some tight places to show off for us.
Some noise put them on alert and this pair dashed off under the rocks near the hide.
Mice made brief appearances to grab some of the peanuts before the badgers ate them all.
But this is the animal everyone was waiting for, and she showed up quite late to grab her share of the peanuts. The quick-moving, feisty Pine Marten is another member of the weasel family, like the much bigger badger.
Martens are about the size of a small house cat, quick on their feet whether on the ground or running about in the trees, and eat a wide variety of mostly animal matter, although they too love the peanuts.
Martens are agile climbers with retractable claws, so they can forage in trees as well as on the ground.
Pine Marten, like many other small carnivorous species (like red foxes), are exterminated by gamekeepers managing the grouse and other game birds for shooting. On this small area of the Rothiemurchus estate, which brings in lots of wildlife viewers, the martens are safe.
They rarely pause in their foraging, so with low light levels in the pitch black night, it’s extremely difficult to capture an image of them.
We left the blind at 12:30 a.m., happy to have seen as many as five badgers and two martens, as well as a Tawny Owl and Woodcock flying about the blind.