I don’t have many pictures of wildlife.

Wildlife photography is kind of its own thing. To generalize, the closer the picture gets to the animal’s nose the better it is. But wild animals don’t like people coming near them– and when they do tolerate it, that doesn’t justify further habituating them to human presence.

Responsible photographers close this distance with powerful technology. So to a certain extent, the bigger the lens, the better you’re going to be. Not only do I not have the type of camera that could compete with “wildlife photographers” (I want to call it an arms race, because 12″ lens look a lot like weapons), I don’t like the thought of intentionally running my wildlife encounters through digitized screens.

So! In spite of all that, I’d now like to share a couple pictures of one of my favorite animals to see in the wild: the pine marten.

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Yellowstone Park, April 2016

The marten is a member of the weasel family, a close relative to the Asian sable. Both are prized for their fur, both have been overhunted. I think of martens (and other weasels) as tricksters in the grand tradition. They are elusive, unpredictable, and often curious. A curious marten will stare you in the eyes, bounce around, freeze, duck a log, pop out somewhere else, stare again.

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Gallatin Range, January 2014

In winter, marten tracks are an absolute fixture of mature forests with deep snow. Moving constantly, they leave paired footprints, slightly off-set, then mix it up into sets of three or four. Strangely, I’ve only seen a marten once in the winter, despite all the tracks. It makes me think they take up nocturnal tendencies during that season–which would help to explain why they retain dark coats while long and short-tailed weasels turn white.

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Beartooths, August 2014

The marten is carnivorous and known as a ferocious predator of rodents. All this is hard to keep in mind when you see one; no stuffed animal has improved upon their ‘cuteness.’ I couldn’t have been more surprised to see this marten at around 11,500′, but there were plenty of pikas up there, so why not.

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