Weasel Encounter

by Todd Sands

After spending the day in the Greenville area photographing moose, the day's end was a drive on an old tote road that stretched several miles between Greenville and Shirley. A beautiful area that sits at the base of Squaw Mountain. Here, along-side the road runs a stream and stretch of bog that offers a good opportunity for moose sightings.

Driving slowly along, with my windows down, so that I could swing my telephoto lens out the window, I sought to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, by diligently scanning the stream-side for any movement. I didn't see but heard the stress call, from what sounded like to me, a rabbit! I stopped, got out of my truck and worked my way through the thick brush from where the sound was coming and walked into an opening about 30 feet off the road. There I spotted a small baby rabbit that was perhaps a month or so old. As I approached closer to get a better look, it appeared that the rabbit had a broken leg as it tried to clumsily hop away. All the while this was happening, I heard some scuffling behind me.

My attention was immediately turned to a weasel that was running around in a chaotic manner, and I suddenly realized what was happening! I had encroached in on the weasel's dinner.

The rabbit had made it into some nearby brush in order to conceal itself from the weasel . What was about to unfold was a rare and unusual witness of nature. I watched the weasel circle me about two or three times as I stood still and it eventually realized that I was not a threat and simply went about its business, running back and forth, dodging underneath an old stump, sniffing and searching for the scent of the rabbit. Eventually the hungry little critter found what it was looking for in the nearby brush. There was about five or six squeals from the rabbit and then a sudden silence! As the scene unfolded, I was able to capture the action on film.

Being in the right place at the right time to record this small creature using it's skills in order to survive, was indeed a treat.

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Often there is not much thought about such a small creature and its everyday survival habits. The short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), but often referred as an "ermine" or "stoat" is one of the smaller species of weasels, with an elongated body and two colors of fur that can be seen during the summer, brown above and white below. The tail is also brown with a black tip. In the northern part of its range, the fur changes to white during winter except for the black tip of its tail. This weasel ranges in lengths between 7 1/2 to 131/2 inches with the male being twice the size of the female. This particular species can be found in open woodlands, brushy areas, grasslands, wetlands and sometimes around farmlands. In my case, it happened to be in a wet, but brushy area.

The Short-tailed Weasel is often active anytime of the day, common in its everyday routine, but under stumps, holes in the ground that might be hosting a mouse, meadow voles, shrews, snakes or baby rabbits. The weasel, reluctant in its pursuit, will and is able to climb trees in order to capture prey such as birds and will pursue prey into water. This weasel is quite capable of capturing prey several times its own weight, like that of a rabbit or something larger only if the opportunity arises without any danger or when food sources are scarce. It will pounce on its victim with all four feet and very quickly bite through the neck at the base of the skull to bring its prey down!

Being one the smallest living carnivores in the animal kingdom, the weasel kills everything that is available and stores the excess. Usually by the age of 10 to 12 weeks they start this behavior on their own.

"Ermine", the name often used to describe this species in its winter white fur,, is well camouflaged and blends in very well with the snowy environment, away from other carnivorous predators such as hawks, owls, and house cats. In the summer months, it blends in well with the forest floor in its two- tone coat.

When you venture into the woods and at any time ever come across one of these little weasels, take a moment and observe. It won't be often that you see these little creatures; they are a pleasure to watch! They move very quickly, so keep a sharp eye. If you like to carry a camera with you in the woods, be ready for some fast action!

If anyone has seen one of these weasels or see them frequently, I would love to hear your stories; call 207-941-0188 or write William T. Sands RR 2 Box 230 Bangor, Me 04401

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