DEVILS IN OUR ROOF ON OAK HILL
Martens martens (Latin)

One balm summer night as we were going to fall asleep some kind of muffled sounds strained our entire attention. The bedroom windows were wholly open and a gentle summer breeze hardly stirred up the curtains. Our house is on a knoll enclosed by several old oak trees. Few of the 12 trees on our plot stretch their branches over the roof that was covered with the old type of corrugated AC sheets.


The old roof on Oak Hill with few larger ventilation caps at both ridge ends. The later ones were replaced when renovating the roof cover with new corrugated sheets.

When wind blows it happens often that dead branches drop with a loud bang onto roof and in some cases cut a hole in a sheet too. Late in autumns we do get a real barrage of acorns falling and the sound of it is being amplified by roof shell too. Now, there was not even a slightest breeze on this tranquil midnight that would cause such sounds. One could discern the traffic sound from a nearby motor way which was all.

Now, we could discern quite some clamor coming from the roof itself some of that was more suppressed too. Even certain noises sounded more like coming from roof's interior. It must have been some animal but certainly not a single one in the roof shell itself. The running soles were ascending at one moment followed by another ones descending soon after. Suddenly, something rolled down and hit the gutter with such a bang making us fully awaken at once. What could make such a commotion over and inside a span roof?

I got up fast taking a torch went to the window. I pulled the curtains back noiselessly and blazed through the railing. The pandemonium has stopped instantly. In the beam light I could barely check a swift movement or a shadow racing down nearest oak tree trunk. It must have been something rather slim and elongated but swift too. I was sure that it was not a squirrel, as they never make such uproar. After a while, we have decided deferring further investigations until next morning. We went on drowsing with some slight apprehensions about our unknown night visitors.

The tree marten viewing his likely prey from a nearby branch.

Next morning, we avidly wanted finding out WHO were the last night's racket makers. Firstly, my wife has surveyed around the house but could not find any sign of the yet unknown last night's visitors. We did find feathers in the gardens and dead birds at times either caught by roaming cats or when they smashed into pane. My wife does feed birds at several places around the house all year round so we have quite a lot of them coming to them. These places are on sills or birds' feeding trays placed so as to give us a good view from few rooms.

Thereafter we decided to perform a rather meticulous roof inspection. I placed a long ladder close enough to the place of last night's clamors. My wife climbed at it being more apt than bulky me. Soon she excitedly called out: "I found a safe duck's egg in the gutter. Let me investigate more!" And off she was onto the roof to inspect ridge caps with aeration slits on. After a while and more examination I heard her exclaiming: "It smells ghastly here. It's a cadaverous stench!" She traversed the ridge and soon she shouted back: "What a dreadful reek!" Returning hastily my darling told me what she found there: several eggshells, feathers and gnawed bones too. All of the a vile smell came from that vis-a-vis gutter where this ghastly catch some unknown "hunter" has left obviously since some considerable time.


A tree marten (Latin: Martens martens) climbs using the long and bushy tail for balancing.

After some heated discussion about our dilemma we resolved asking a counsel from the Chief District Hunter who lives just opposite of the main road. Just like that he said: "So, you got THEM nested in your roof too. We have had so many cases of chewed cables or pipes on parked cars recently. It's a rock marten's family that has found shelter within your roof. No wonder with so many oak trees around." He had promised to place few traps for which we would need fresh eggs only. Further he advised we should also check for any scratching traces on tree trunks or footprints behind bushes or along fences. He also asked if I could get out with a flashlight at night finding out from which of the ridge cap martens do come out frequently?

Thus we were enlightened about giving shelter to rather voracious mammals made us aware of many commentaries published in newspapers recently. These ones were mostly about damages caused by martens on motorcars and that were not covered under insurance warranties. There were several suggestions how to protect parked cars in open from these monsters. The most ludicrous proposal consisted of placing a glass full with urine under parked cars for the night. Accordingly one could see full or overturned glasses at parking lots for several days after. However, all proposed protections of martens have not produced much of it at all. The martens have moved into urban areas and the only way getting rid off them was their elimination. Traps using poison or spring locks are forbidden in Austria. Thus, one has to catch them first alive and removing to woods afterwards.


A 3 to 4 weeks old young marten can catch and slay a prey alone by itself.

 The trap our neighbor brought was a meter long hardboard box with a wire mesh fixed at one of the openings. Inside one places fresh eggs on a seesaw board raised end next to a wire meshed side. When the prey crawls over the seesaw's pivot to reach the bait that swing board rotates around and closes the entrance. Handling traps and baits must be done with gloves preventing potential human's scent. Placing of traps along marten's trails shouldn't change much the natural enclosure there. Do you know that bristles from marten's tails are very much wanted for painter's delicate brushes?

During next days, marten's family felt really homelike between corrugated sheets and timber boarding underneath. One could hear them running up and down in attic's rooms at day and night. My wife's fine smell perception got whiff of some stench in garret's chamber too. One night, I opened a roof window in advance and cautiously climbed a ladder placed there beforehand when the martens' gambit was in full swing. First what I've sighted in the beam of my torch was the glare of two iridescence eyes watching me intensely. They were gleaming out from a triangular furry visage with two long whitish teeth jutting out. This feature could resemble to be the Devil's appearance itself! Quickly I got down the ladder making sure to shut down that window and secure it well instantly.


The very watchful eyes of a tree marten

Two traps have been placed at prospective marten's routes soon after which we have been controlling regularly. Such baits could lure a hedgehog or cat too. And on of the next days close to the midnight IT DID happen at last! Suddenly we heard some grinding and scratching noises from a trap nearest to our bathroom window. We switched on lights and run out founding the swing board up firmly locking the entrance into trap. At other side, in the beam's light we saw a seething fuzzy SOMETHING through mesh. After securing board's swivel legs, we retreated inside happy about that one of THEM got trapped at last.

Our neighbor came to inspect what was in the trap next morning. To all of our surprises there was NOTHING in it. The mesh has been torn open. A marten must have pulled out several wires making a hole big enough to squeeze out. All of us were baffled by marten's mastery gnawing through a wire mesh. The Chief District Hunter decided to reinforce all traps meshwork for future usage instantly.

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Epilogue: We have NO martens anymore. Several have been caught during the next months or some have moved somewhere else. On our roof we have new ridge caps with narrow mesh wired slots now. The acorn's barrage will start soon as usual anyway!

Note: Pictures are from "Faszination Tier & Natur" by Meister Verlag GmbH, München, IMP B.V.


DISCLAIMER : On URL: http://www.cosy.sbg.ac.at/~zzspri/ published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.

Email Zvonko Springer at : zzspri@aon.at