While hiking along the Kings Creek Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park (CA), Leonard and I noticed several tracks crossing the dry dust of the trail. We speculated that the prints might be those of an American marten (Martes americana), but were uncertain. I saw a marten only once, many years ago at Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA). Before long we did see a marten. I was very excited. The marten moved so quickly I barely had time to lift my camera before it was out of sight. Shooting without focusing and using the wrong lens, I managed to get a poor picture of this carnivore.
Martens inhabit mostly isolated areas in deep coniferous forests or large rock-slides in high mountains. They are widely distributed throughout much of Alaska, Canada, New England, the Rockies, the Sierras and the Coastal Mountains of the West Coast.
There are at least fourteen subspecies of American martens. Slightly larger than a grey squirrel, martens have brown fur, a bushy cylindrical tail, short legs, five toes on each foot and large cat-like ears. The fur at the throat is orangish-yellow while the feet and tip of the tail are blackish. In winter, the underfoot is so covered in hair that the toe pads do not show.
Martens can climb trees as well as squirrels and are often mistaken for squirrels. They prey on Douglas tree squirrels and a variety of other small rodents. In addition they eat insects, fish, pine nuts, berries (ash, blueberries, Oregon grape, and Ribus species, among others) and carrion. Martens will bury their excess food.
Females choose dens in tree cavities or in rocky banks, occasionally underground. Breeding takes place in mid-summer. Embryonic implantation is delayed until late winter. After about a month of active gestation, one to five kits are born in late March or April. The young are weaned after 42 days and emerge from the den at about 50 days. The kits will remain with the mother until the end of the first summer.
American martens are also commonly called pine martens, American pine martens or simply martens.
Seeing an American marten was an added bonus to a hike on a lovely autumn day.