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In Search of a Pine Martin and an Encounter with a Goshawk

Updated on August 3, 2015

Elusive Pine Marten---

If you can see the mountains it is going to rain, If you can't see them it is raining. The words to this old adage can often ring true for Cumbria, but it is not always so. Some days are clear, the sun shines and all is well with the world. On one such day I ventured into Grizedale forest an area situated between the magnificent water bodies of Windemere and Coniston. This particular area is popular with visitors and can be particularly busy on such a fine day. However, at four in the morning the herds of homo sapiens can be avoided, making the effort of such an early rise a worthwhile experience.

The light of dawn grew slowly brighter and a thin veil of mist rolled around the trunks of the tall conifer trees. The only sounds came from the feathered fraternity, whose notes intermingled, each singer competing for attention. I could pick out the song thrush whose sweet repetitive lyrics reverberated around the canopy. the chiffchaff's familiar metallic notes could be identified, tumbling among the twigs of lofty boughs. At this early time in the morning there is a peaceful tranquility that is to be savoured, for in a few short hours it will be gone as more and more people enter this realm. Deep in the forest I happened upon a fellow naturalist making his way towards me. After exchanging pleasantries he conveyed to me that he had been in the forest throughout the night hoping to catch a glimpse of a creature that is predominantly nocturnal,shy and elusive--the Pine Marten.It is not, therefore , surprising that his night long vigil had not been rewarded with a sighting, however, he had proof that these rare animals were present in the forest, by way of recognising their droppings.

The droppings of the pine marten are long and black and usually deposited on a rock, a log or even upon a tall tussock of grass. They are deposited by the animal to inform others of its ilk that the territory is occupied. Outside the breeding season, Pine Marten's are solitary creatures. They are to my mind, one of the most beautiful creatures in the wild. A dark brown, almost cat sized creature with a bushy tail. Yet the body is long and sleek.%0-55cm long with the tail being 20-25 cm long.Unlike the cat, the pine marten has a long narrow muzzle and a creamy coloured throat patch, which is a salient feature. The ears are rounded and held erect, they too are of a light colour. At close quarters another prominent feature is the long claws which are sharp enough to help the mammal to scramble up the smoothest of treebark. As with many of our creatures, this mammal was persecuted in times gone by, almost to the point of extinction in much of England and Wales..They can still be found in areas of Northumberland and Wales, but their main stronghold seems to be in Central and Western Scotland.

Leaving my fellow naturalists to make his way to his bed, my foray continued.


 The path I walked was a torturous pathway that climbed higher into the heart of the forest. Above the trees white fluffy clouds floated across a clear blue sky. This pathway soon led to a clearing soaked in sunlight, the grass and flowers were still wet with sparkling dew.

A breeze whispered in the majestic pines and rustled the leaves of deciduous trees. this oasis of seclusion tempted me to sit with my back to a tree trunk to survey my surroundings. The feathery fronds of ferns enhanced the dappled woodland banks, the essence of summer was evident amid this natural beauty. Close by the Beck, a silver ribbon of water flowed by, glistening and twinkling in the sun light.

The plants that tenanted this location were impressive especially the numerous foxgloves, whose tall bell-filled spires attracted many industrious bees. Only nature's natural sounds filled the clearing. It filled me with contentment, an inner peace, impossible to find in the manic activities of everyday life. to really appreciate these feelings one has to be alone, the presence of another person, even the closest of colleagues, would somehow break the spell, and the magic would be lost.

A movement caught my eye in the canopy of the pines. I scanned the upper branches with my binoculars. The pines in the area I was observing were tall and many trees that grew together in close proximity formed a canopy mass that made a clear sighting of any animal almost impossible. I could make out that the movement, that had attracted my attention, was made by a large bird, but identification was proving difficult. Content with my position I decided to stay longer than I had originally intended, and to keep a keen eye in the direction of my elusive companion.

I was on the point of giving up the exercise when the bird took to the wing and identified itself  as a goshawk. What magnificent birds they are! They are superficially similar to the smaller sparrowhawk, but this bird of prey, is more strongly marked on the breast, leg feathers and head. They are dark grey-brown above, the wings are relatively short and rounded and the tail is long. Dark grey cheek patches give the bird a hooded appearance. The bird I saw was only in view for a matter of seconds before disappearing through the tightly packed tree trunks, but that view alone was worth the effort of my early morning start. To a naturalist a glimpse of this magnificent creature will make a memory never to be forgotten. As with the pine marten the goshawk has been persecuted to near extinction in the not to distant past, but now receives full legal protection the UK, and although numbers are still relatively low there are signs that the birds will continue to recover, wherever, there are dense stands of coniferous forest available to suit their requirements.

The remainder of my time was taken up by creatures that are far more common and can be seen throughout the region on a regular basis, but somehow, when they appear in this particular setting, they too, are a bit more special.

Remote forest. Middle Goshawk Bottom Pine martin



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Being the first to comment is greatly appreciated, more so when your comments are so complimentary thank you. Best wishes Dal

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Let me be the first to comment on this whimsical and wonderful piece that takes one right to the heart of the hunt. Beautiful pictures, too.