Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Brief encounter

If you haunt the woods on a regular basis you get to recognize the sounds animals make when they're disturbed by your presence. No need to turn your head at the light bounce on dead leaves: that's a grey squirrel. Deer, naturally, make a heavier sound, chipmunks a lighter one, generally punctuated by an alarmed "cheep," and predators, designed for stealth, may be all but silent. But when I heard the animal shown above darting along a stone wall, I knew instantly that I was in the presence of something else. I turned and saw a brown form, squirrel-size but unmistakably not a squirrel. In a flash it disappeared and I didn't expect to see it again, but I clicked on my camera just in case, zoomed onto the last place it had been visible, and after a few seconds it popped out and looked in my direction, curious to see what I was about.

Weasels get a bad press; we speak of "weasel words" and "weaseling out" and none of these terms is intended as a compliment. But I think they're admirable creatures, even if I wouldn't want to be one of their prey animals (they are quite fierce). They aren't uncommon but they're rarely spotted alive; I've only ever seen one other in the wild, and that was decades ago. There's some question about which species this one is, but it's evidently either what the Brits call a stoat (and we might call a short-tailed weasel or ermine) or a long-tailed weasel.

Coincidentally or not, I spotted this one just a day or so after watching an enjoyable BBC documentary entitled Weasels: Feisty and Fearless, which may be available in some regions for online viewing. If not, here are a few seconds of video of my own, all I could take before the creature vanished from sight.

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