Saturday, January 29, 2011
The Year of the Weasel
It seems we get a glimpse of a weasel about once in every five years …. And very occasionally we see more than a glimpse. Dale was with me on both of the two really good encounters I have had in years past.
We were alerted to the first encounter by a loud cawing near the entrance of Lagoon Campground on the Oregon Coast. Any crows that noisy must have something on their mind. Much to our surprise we found a weasel had just killed a little ‘brush bunny,’ a small cottontail. The rabbit was still on the asphalt, and was too big for the weasel to drag…… so he pushed. He pushed one end of the cottontail a few inches, jumped over, and pushed the other end a few inches. Gradually he inched his treasure over a couple of feet of asphalt. Pushing it on the gravel shoulder wasn’t any easier. The rabbit was fresh and provided a quick drink of blood between every few pushes. Finally the little weasel reached the dense salal bushes growing along the roadside. Now he could drag his bounty over leaf litter. He soon disappeared into the undergrowth, but not before coming back to stand right at Dale’s toe and glare up at him.
My second weasel came as an interruption. It was a Monday following a three day art show at the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Dale and I had a few hours to enjoy the Klamath Basin’s bird life before heading home. We went to Miller’s Island, a small wildlife area near town, to see if any migrating snow geese were still there. I was tuckered out and the sun-warmed ground looked so inviting. I found a spot free enough of goose poop to meet my standards and stretched out on my belly for a few minutes of springtime bliss.
But wait! Something was watching me. About six feet from me peered a weasel. I hardly dared breathe. Dale caught a glimpse before it disappeared into a hole. In a moment she popped up again, spun around in mid air, landed in the opposite direction, and then back into the hole. I know where the expression “Pop goes the weasel” comes from. It happened so fast I felt I had imagined it.
She was back up in a moment, this time carrying a kit in her mouth. Off she whisked, and disappeared down another hole not far away. We didn’t mean to disturb her, but it was done. We watched her carry one baby after another to a new den, then quietly we left her to get settled in.
Almost twenty years passed before another weasel sighting amounted to more than a lucky glimpse. Three times during our Yellowstone trip this spring we watched a weasel for several minutes. All were hunting, so I’ll relate just one of them.
I’d been sitting in the car for too long. I needed exercise, so I grabbed a camera and head down the road. Soon I find Joe Conrad, a good friend, sitting on a rock drinking his morning coffee and keeping half an eye open for mountain bluebirds and Williamson’s sapsuckers. As we chat I suddenly I realize I am facing a weasel! He is hunting right where I photographed a vole last spring. It is a little male with enlarged testes, typical of roving Romeos at this time of year. His upper parts are a rich, reddish brown, and his under-parts a creamy yellow. He fur is shiny and looks silky and soft. Bright black eyes briefly look at me, but he is much more interested in his search for prey.
The weasel floats from one rock to another; then freezes while he looks and listens. Maybe his nose helps him too. Off he goes again. Sometimes he disappears for a moment in between the loose tumble of talus. I’m amazed at how quickly he moves …. and how quickly he stops. He is frozen now. Every fiber in his body seems to be wired; the hair on his tail is electrified – hairs standing on end. He relaxes and bounds off to a new spot.
I found him checking the toe of a rocky slope. He flits from one rock to another for at least a hundred feet along the bottom of the talus slope. Nothing. When he loops back he takes a higher route, through pika territory. The pikas are in hiding too. He comes back to where I first saw him, to check the toe of the slope again.