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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.