Nature’s Camouflage

The Arctic weather of the last 24 hours is a complete flip-flop from the mild, snow-free conditions of last week. A couple of days ago I took a short mid-day walk on a misty, overcast day. The conditions were favorable for a deer sighting, so I had my camera tucked under my blaze orange/camouflage coat, the orange for safety during the deer hunting season.

A small flash of white, in sharp contrast to the snow-less terrain, soon caught my eye. A small animal was moving quickly, zig-zagging along a brushy, abandoned fence line at the edge of a Hemlock woodlot. It had to be a weasel, and the fearless, curious, nature of these small predators meant I might have a chance for a photo. I started a parallel stalk, keeping 20 to 30 feet between us. An observer  would have probably laughed uncontrollably at the scene, as I had to navigate through the understory; move quickly, but quietly, and only when it was behind a tree or log; adjust camera settings on the run to account for the rapid movements of both of us in terrible light; avoid loud cursing when time and time again it moved just as I steadied the camera for a shot; and so on. 🙂

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There are three species of weasels in New York State, two that turn white in winter – except for a black-tipped tail: the Ermine (Mustela erminea) and the Long-tailed or New York Weasel. (Mustela frenata). They can be very difficult to tell apart – a small, female Long-tailed Weasel and a large, male Ermine are similar. In this case, the photos indicate that this was a Long-tailed Weasel.

 

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The seasonal color change is a biannual molt, triggered mainly by photoperiod but also influenced by weather conditions. The change from gray-brown to white reportedly occurs in late October and early November. These photos of an incomplete molt were taken on November 22, suggesting that above-average temperatures and the absence of snow might have slowed down the transformation.

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PS: this wasn’t my first experience with weasels – see an earlier post for another weasel story: “Weasels in Our Midst” 3/4/13

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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12 thoughts on “Nature’s Camouflage

  1. Great shooting. Would have loved to see the stalking portion. The body looks much like a mink we had in our yard in Utah. It had taken up residence in an abandoned stovepipe out in the barn.

    • Thanks Jo. Good to know that there’s someone out there who really understands/appreciates what I was dealing with! The momentary pose on a mossy log, without interfering branches, was the shot I really wanted. I have it – but it’s a blurred streak – much like the Road Runner cartoon I watched as a little kid! 😦

  2. Great post, Nick! While I have never seen a weasel in the field, I loved your description of doing a “parallel stalk” to follow it. I have only done that once, with a coyote, and I’m not entirely sure which of the two of us was actually the stalker, and which the stalkee…

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