The Chase: Pine Marten.
Pine Martens are beautiful, fierce and elusive.
They’re also also my nemesis.
If truth be told, I have a few wildlife nemeses.
As a photographer, I’m driven by the allure of what’s around the next bend of the road, the next bend of the trail. While some will spend hours perfecting the perfect landscape image, I’ll spend days waiting for the one second glimpse that might land me the perfect wildlife shot.
Of course, grizzly bears – as many readers will have deduced – are always my primary goal, but increasingly, I seek out the obscure: an animal, a specific habit, a unique backdrop.
But in attempting to capture the improbable, like any good chase, failure is the common result. Once a month (every third Friday) I’ll chronicle an elusive photographic goal, so you can laugh along with my (seemingly never-ending) follies.
And what better place to start than with the pine marten.
This is my one pine marten photo. Not horrible, but not great either.
When Jill and I first went to Yellowstone together, I received word that pine martens – rarely photographed, especially in the summer – were being seen on occasion at a picnic area in the park. We must have spent days – and I do mean days – waiting to find a needle in the proverbial haystack. Of course we failed.
But nearing the end of our trip, Jill’s eagle eyes spotted a marten dashing across the road close to Steamboat Point. It led to my imperfect shot posted above.
It was a teachable moment, as I learned two valuable lessons:
1. How many marten sightings have I missed over the years due to my bad eye sight? Jill’s eyes must always accompany me on future marten searches.
2. Never do landscape photography. Why? I stopped to take a lackluster panoramic and when I was done, I failed to re-set my camera to settings that would best enable me to capture a one-second-and-done wildlife shot. Hence the blurred, poorly composed pine marten in the image above.
It also whetted my appetite and launched the great pine marten chase (2010-?).
Jill’s eyes have picked up a few martens since that fateful day. (“Look! In that tree!” “Which tree – it’s a bloody forest!” “Sorry, it’s gone now.”) But all I have to account for the sightings are orange blurs and stunning tail shots. These buggers are fast.
Perhaps the most painful missed marten of all was while I was in Jackson Hole for work last spring.
My colleague, Jon Mobeck, and I, fed up with in-door meetings, decided to go for a hike around Grand Teton’s Jenny Lake to host our post-meeting meeting. And ever the prepared photographer, I strapped on my heavy camera bag for the excision. You know, just in case.
As we reached the halfway point of the walk, we stopped for lunch on the bridge over a creek that fed the lake.
While eating and engrossed in a deep conversation, Jon casually, mid sentence – like this happens a few times a day to him – points out a pine marten catching a ground squirrel, before carrying on with his point.
A point I never heard.
Seeing the marten, I whipped my camera out just in time to watch it disappear into some downed logs.
But wait! The lake curls around to box in two sides of the marten’s potential escape route. The trail cut off the other two sides.
This was my moment.
Quickly, I did a wide arc around where I had last spotted the marten and slowly moved myself into a position that I determined would give me the best chance of photographing the animal.
And then I waited.
As Jon waited with a look of complete puzzlement as to what had just caused my hyper-excitement, I realized this was a work meeting and I couldn’t wait for the marten forever. While I was convinced that I could hear movement from a few logs over, I also started to comprehend how ridiculously long the odds were for me to see the marten again, let alone photograph it.
With that, I turned my camera off and stood-up. Of course that’s when the marten also decided to look up from behind a log, not twenty feet away.
After a millisecond of shock, I looked down to turn my camera on and as I did that, watched the marten dash between – between! – my legs, like it was the game winning field goal to my losing team’s uprights.
It felt like losing the Super Bowl, I promise you that.
The marten was gone and I didn’t even manage a tail shot, it happened so fast.
Thankfully others were around to take in this sight and, according to Jon, the story is told and retold in Jackson as almost folklore. People will come up to me, having heard the story, and tell me what a good laugh my ineptitude gave them.
Now you can join in on the laugh, as I continue to search for the elusive, perfect pine marten photo.