Until recently you could have called me Ahab, and the American Pine marten was my white whale. I was, and still am, obsessed with these elusive members of the mustelid family.
That obsession has seen me follow countless martens into blow-downs and briar patches, across rivers and marshes, over hill and dale. It also had me spending much of the last winter trying to track down a particular marten that was a regular sight in a northern Minnesota bog.
In a place and season where temperatures were routinely -20°Fahrenheit, and sometimes -30°, several photographers I know got wonderful winter images of that marten. I failed, of course. “You just missed it,” was the common reply to my queries.
I know I should count myself lucky that I get to go to the extraordinary places where they live — not everyone does. But Pine martens give me fits. They are expert at showing just enough of themselves to give a photographer hope. Then they disappear into the shadows, leaving me to wonder on masochism and the meaning of life.
One clear shot is all I ask for, but martens usually don’t pause to consider my needs.
My marten obsession, however, was finally vindicated one recent day in the wilds of Wyoming.
This particular marten apparently decided that the species had tormented me enough. I do believe there was pity in her eyes.
Not only did she (yes, she) not play the usual game of hide-and-seek, but she actually approached me. And then, get this, she curled up on a sun-dappled stump a few yards from me and went to sleep!
Together we quietly enjoyed part of a warm, sunny afternoon. I had her for nearly an hour: 51 minutes from the first photo to the last.
Wildlife photographers always hope that we won’t change the behavior of the animals we photograph. We want to remain as inconspicuous as is humanly possible, or at the very least, not interrupt the critter as it goes about its life. When we can’t disappear, we try not to appear threatening.
But predators in particular often try to put some distance between you and them before they relax.
For whatever reason, however, this marten immediately decided I was no threat and subsequently gave me a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Believe me, I’m grateful!
High resolution versions of these photos and many more from the encounter are available in the gallery found at LodgeTrail.com
All images are copyright Keith R. Crowley and may not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed in any form without prior written consent.
©2015 Keith R. Crowley/Lodge Trail Media