Have we got a resident pine marten?

Walking around the back garden yesterday, I came upon the gruesome remains of the hapless white chicken from next door. Only its head seems to have been eaten. I didn’t go too closely. M says a fox would have eaten the whole chicken. Hmmm… the field is narrowing down on the identity of our mysterious night creature. A friend had some interesting suggestions — pine marten, badger, or wild boar. I doubt a wild boar could have come in through our fence and gate. And it would have made more noise. A badger is also plausible, but it also would’ve left some marks of digging, as well as grunting noises. The pine marten, true to its name, lives in pine forests, which our hamlet is surrounded by. Here is the recorded call of a European pine marten from the British Library of sounds. Its does sound remarkably like what I had described as a squeezed rubber toy.

Another sure sign, according to this site, is scat or droppings. And the description of pine marten scat seems to tally with the two black droppings, rather prominently left on the gravel, speckled with seeds. They were about 1 – 1.5 inches long and about the diameter of a finger. In the past two months of living here, I’d never come across such, or indeed any droppings, on my walks around the garden. Pine martens are noted to be berry and fruit eaters, and at this time of the year, the brambles and wild blackberries, as well as some arbutus, are all ripening fast. That could account for the speckling in the scat, which I took to be fruit seeds. To further distinguish pine marten from fox scat, one is advised to have a sniff. Fox scat is rather pungent — almost like burning rubber. Pine marten is not as unpleasant. (Thank you, but I’d rather not.) Amongst the rock terraces and at the foot of some of the older olive trees,  there are dug-out holes — most likely burrows.

Ergo, our number one suspect is the pine marten. Perhaps we do have a resident pine marten. And that could explain why we haven’t been seeing the red squirrels for some time now. I’ve been wondering where they’ve all gone. Apparently, pine martens prey on squirrels as well. I’m rather disappointed not to be able to see the antics of the red squirrels chasing each other up and down the trunks and branches of the tall pines. But it’s a fair trade-off — the pine marten is such a beautiful creature, and I’ve never seen one in the flesh before.

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