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Slinky & Target
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

Working with Pine Martens and Remote Camera Triggers

by Keith Thorburn LRPS

Slinky & Target are two month old Pine Marten Kits

 

 

Working with Pine Martens and remote camera triggers for getting closer to the wildlife without getting in their way.

I am very fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of Scotland (Kinlochleven) which is situated at the bottom end of Loch Leven. I moved to the Highlands to be amongst nature and have this wide variety of wildlife and landscapes to photograph.

My journey with Pine Martens started the week after I moved in, and had purchased a trail camera, then decided to go for walks in the woods just up from my house and look for a suitable spot to set up the trail camera and see what’s about.

I set up the camera in the woods about 500 yards up the hill from the house, with some custard creams (hate sharing them) and jam, which I left for two days to see what the camera would capture. With heart racing, all the food had gone! I was very excited to see a Pine Marten eating away at the food I left out. It was so exciting, my first time hit of seeing the Pine Martens so near to where I lived, I got lots of Images and data from this trail camera for about six months.

Whilst out walking I met the Estate Manager for the Mamore-Jahama Highland Estates and asked if I could get permission to access the mountains with intention to set up trail cameras and hides to photograph the Birds and Wildlife. With access gratefully given along with assistance and advice, I now have a hide about 1200 feet on Mamore Estate, this was the highest trail camera I had, to my excitement over time I was lucky to get hit after hit of all the wildlife in the area, Foxes, Badgers, Pine Martens, Buzzards, Ravens and other bird life roaming the area.

After few months of getting all this data and timings of when the Pine Martens and Badgers we're coming to feed, it was time to do a nightshift. Armed with a coffee flask and flash guns, I trekked 1200 feet up in darkness and proceeded to patiently and quietly wait.

The set up as pictured below was done to try and avoid any harsh shadows and make it look as natural as I could. The Badgers that were being monitored had two Cubs the previous year. I sadly never managed any photographs of them but luckily plenty of trail footage.

Unfortunately I didn't succeed in capturing the elusive Pine Marten.

Flash & Badger

This year I determinedly started searching for evidence of Pine Martens in the woods of the Mamores and surrounding area. In January I found a location that looked perfect, so up went a couple of trail cameras with fingers crossed. Bingo! Straight away this Pine Marten started visiting the site in a regular routine pattern. I became so familiar with this Pine Marten it was nicknamed Grandad, because the bib when standing looked like an old man with a white beard (my wife's thought not mine).

By mid February I was getting an abundance of hits of Grandad Pine Marten as it went about his routine day. The enticing diet given to them was a mixture of nuts, (raw) meat, fruit and the usual Peanut Butter and Jam, this is all rationed and a record of what they get is all recorded to ensure that the fine balance between feeding and enticing was maintained, and set out every two or three days.

I was about to call the vet on Grandad one day as he came into camera with a badly scarred leg and limping. Following many conversations with experts we decided to let him be and hope nature cured him. Thankfully it did and within weeks he was back to full health. As to reason for the injury the theory from wildlife expert I had in contact with was, possibly a male to male fight or possible altercation with a fox.

Grandad

Lockdown came and for the first few weeks of it, it was pretty hectic, as I was a key worker. However whilst traveling to and from work I would take time to stop and maintain feed and check camera footage. This would sometimes be at 4am before I started my shift. This meant that I did not have to leave the house in between travelling to and from work, thereby not jeopardising the request to maintain lockdown regulations.

So while all through lockdown I started to consider how I could photograph the wildlife without actually being there? After receiving one of my email sign ups from a Wildlife photographer (Bernard Lucas) he happened to have a presentation on the camtraps PIR Sensor for capturing wildlife Images remotely. After researching further, I bought the whole set up.

It is amazing, the technology in this PIR sensor is beyond what I envisaged for video or still life trap photography. My plan was to leave my camera in the woods and try to get the Grandad Pine Marten to sit in front of it. I personally don’t know about anyone else but every now and again I get images in my head that I want to replicate in real life situations and I can be quite pedantic about it, I wanted a Pine Marten to sit (pose) about 10 inches from the camera and smile...LOL (not wanting much!).

I did a lot of practicing in and around my house with our chickens (often getting in the wives way!) and determined that the hardest issue was going to be the focusing and knowing that it was nigh impossible to expect wildlife to comply with my request of "and move your left wing forward please".

Hens
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

Using my Camtraptions set-up and a Sony A77ii with an old Minolta 28mm prime lens, I set about getting prepared to put the camera and camptraptions PIR sensor to the test of capturing Pine Martens at close range (approx. 1ft), I built a waterproof box for the camera and sensor to sit in. The camera settings being set for variable light and weather conditions, the camera was set up and saved in user 1 setting so I had the same settings each time which made it easier to fix any problems. Speed set to 1/500 sec @f7.1 and auto ISO limited to: 100-1600 to try and give the best results, and the focusing was set using the nearest point focus tracking on my Sony a77ii which gave me the best results.

The waterproof housing that I built for my camera and PIR sensor went into position where I thought it would maximise a good chance capturing the Pine Martens up close. I left it there for a few weeks for them to get used to its presence, I watched them with the trail cameras, sitting on it, walking over it, and even sticking their nose in it. Once I was happy that it would not upset there movements and they were comfortable with the box, it was time to capture that sought after image.

PIR Setup
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

I set up the remote sensor and camera for the first time at 4 am and hoped for the best.

At approx 3pm it was time to check the camera. I was excited and nervous with the anticipation of getting great close up images of the Pine Marten. I wanted smiles, posing, and stance…. well that’s not exactly what I got (LOL). What I got was 945 Images of the rear of a Pine Marten and some out of focus shots, there was approx. 20 below par images of the Pine Marten with one usable shot. And the rest was trees in the background blowing in wind. It transpired that I had set the Luminosity Sensitivity value to high and it was capturing everything that moved. Ah, well, back to the drawing board for this one.

After much fiddling with the settings on the sensor and camera I attempted again at 4 am to leave the camera out on the wall and hope for better results second time.

Again at 3pm I quickly headed to my camera, hoping for some great results. This time I was not disappointed. Whilst flicking through the shots I found images that got my heart rate increased. Like a kid at Christmas, I could not get home fast enough to review the footage.

I was so chuffed to see some really up close shots of the Pine Martens going about their business and being curious towards the camera. Below are some of my first shots of the Pine Marten.

Pine Marten x 3
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

I went on to get more shots and each day has been a learning day, not just on photography but on these beautiful animals. It was following on from these shots that I decided to input my next idea for the PIR Sensor.

I considered setting the sensor up at the post where I began to also watch the Buzzards and Hooded Crows. It has been a good year for these birds. This year the Buzzard had one chick, Hooded Crow had two and Raven also had two. I’d like to assume their success was a result of nature getting a break from Mankind.

Below are some shots of the PIR Sensor set up for the Buzzard (a young one), One week before it was on this same post with its mother being fed, good to see it feeding itself, growing and thriving.

PIR Birds
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

On the 6th of July I visited the Pine Marten set up, with a cup of coffee and a hope of seeing the Pine Martens maybe get lucky with some photographs using my normal wildlife camera the Nikon D750 with the Sigma 150-600s. I arrived early evening and it was not long till I heard the distinctive call sound of the Pine Marten, but it was intermittent with higher pitched squeals it sounded like it was young Kits that were whining away in the woods, then an hour later two Kits jumped up onto the wall where I had set up some feed, my wee heart was racing at seeing these cute little Pine Marten Kits bouncing along the wall. I was buzzing with delight. I had just got over the sudden joy of these new arrivals when they sat side by side. What a chance timing! As the camera made its click they were a little startled and Slinky bolted, which left Target, being the more confident and curious of the kits to bravely move up closer towards me (approx. 20ft max)

The kit (Target) climbed on to the wall for a few more pics, I was in my element, and it so funny to see the shots close up, of Target on the wall with no teeth yet, very cute.

The names were given through my FB page, I placed the picture below on my FB page for my followers to suggest names for them and receive a free print of the two of them together, I got loads of cracking names but the winner was Joy from East Sussex, who gave them their names Slinky and Target. Target being the one with the dot on its bib.

Target & Slinky Together
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS
Two Pine Martens
CREDIT: Keith Thorburn LRPS

I continue to record and follow them from the location set up, and watching them grow up is such fun, It is a privilege to watch and learn so much from these Pine Martens in their habitat.

Thank you for reading and stay safe.

 

Facebook Page: KWTImages

Intstagram Account: keiththorburnlrps

My website: www.kwtimages.smugmug.com