Ermine Tales

Michelle’s recent encounter with a short tailed weasel on the beach has recalled other encounters on and near our homestead.

Early birds reading yesterday’s post may have understood Michelle’s visitor to be a least weasel. Our assumption proved to be mistaken when we consulted our nature guides. Short tailed weasels have a black tip or ring on their tail, least weasels do not. Good luck checking that out on a tiny, lightning fast creature! In this particular case, because the animal came right up to her foot and studied her, Michelle noted the black on the tail specifically.

Our area hosts both least weasels and the slightly larger short tailed weasels, which are also known as ermine. Growing up, I understood that the animal is an ermine in its white winter fur, a weasel in its reddish-brown summer fur. A lot of nature guides refer to them only as ermines.

I have definitely seen a least weasel while moose hunting last autumn. Perched in a look out tree, sitting absolutely still, I actually heard, then saw the tiny creature hunt the forest floor beneath me for a while. A short tailed weasel can be almost the same size, and must be identified by the tip of its tail and a white streak down the back leg. Until my instantaneous identification abilities vastly improve, I’m going to assume all other weasels we see are short tailed/ermine. Photos? Pretty much out of the question.

The first one we saw here marched boldly across “the stage” in front of the cabin, the first Christmas we spent on the homestead. There’s a path through our wind break that used to have a wooden ramp running down the center, making what appeared to be a small theater stage.

The next autumn, well before the first snowfall, an ermine, already turned white, came down the ridge to watch Michelle and Aly hang laundry.

A year or so ago, while I sat in the outhouse, something darted under the door, then immediately sped out again. I thought it was a squirrel, but a tiny, bright-eyed face peeped around the edge of the door to look at me an instant before vanishing.

These are beautiful creatures! They’re so colorful, and so clean, with the brightest eyes. Michelle commented that they suggested all the curiosity in our cat concentrated in a body a fifth her size or less. That about says it all. Seeing one is, for us, a blessing.

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