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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A charismatic micro-vertebrate

It came a few minutes before midnight on July 9th, and paused next to the mountain beaver burrow when the camera powered up. There was a quiet whirring sound inside the camera trap about three feet away. It took the picture as the weasel peered at the camera's silhouette in the thicket. Hallelujah -- the camera didn't fail me.

My camera traps are a bit slow to catch weasels, which are mammals of perpetual motion, but this time I was lucky. For 3 seconds the weasel's attention was riveted by the sound that usually scares away the coyote.

I was thrilled. Seeing a weasel is always a treat. Their movement is lyrical. You are lucky if you catch a fleeting glimpse, but you are blessed if you can watch them for several minutes.

I've had my best weasel viewing experiences in northern California'a coastal scrub and near timber line in the Colorado Rockies. Pure serendipity.

Now, if you want a real treat, go here and download this video of a family of long-tails playing at the entrance of their burrow here at Point Reyes National Seashore, where I took this picture. (You will need Real Player to view it.)

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to the National Park Service, for permission to conduct a camera trap wildlife survey in Point Reyes National Seashore.


Anonymous said...

The weasels are a HOOT! Many thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing a weasel early one morning out in front of the Cal Academy in Golden Gate Park when we were waiting to go on a field trip. Were you there that day? He managed to get into the courtyard and was a bit trapped, but bounded around and eventually found his way out as if nothing had happened. I think that was the last one I saw.

People here, or in the south, keep ferrets as pets. They seem to be quite tame and they handle them without getting bitten and they let them go to
catch rabbits and they seem to come back. Odd little cuties.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Yes, I remember that incident well. A few of us wanted to catch it, but by the time we had hatched a plan we were ready to board the truck and get going.

But what I want to know is if Australia has any "ferret leggers". That's the British entertainment sport of putting a live ferret into your trousers (sans knickers, mind you), buckling up and tying your pant legs, and seeing how long you can hold out without becoming a falsetto. (Maybe it's not as risky with those calm Ozzie ferrets.)

Anonymous said...

Depending on the temperament of the ferret, that "ferret legging" you talked about could range from cozy to crazed. The two domestic ferrets I raised had extremely different attitudes and personalities, with one curling up in my arms and preening my knuckle hairs while I scratched him and the other barely deigning to be picked up. Still, sweet as Pippin was, I don't think I'd ever want him trapped in my trousers (nor can I see how any sane human would if they ever took a look at a ferret's teeth). Russian roulette crazy if you ask me, even with a nice, tame, domestic ferret.
But, ferret legging aside, I was struck by just how much these weasels reminded me of my ferrets. Domestic ferrets are as far removed from their wild cousins as our dogs are from their, but the way that weasel comes leaping out of the burrow at the end of that video reminds me very much of the way my ferrets would leap at a towel thrown over them during our games of "bullfight". I remember hearing somewhere that ferrets leap at towels this way is response to an instinctual memory of fending off attacks from birds and other critters that tower over their streamlined frames. Sort of similar to the way that automobiles can trigger the "chase" instinct in some dogs. I'd filed that away as an interesting tid-bit and not thought much more about it until watching this video, but seeing the way that weasel leaped reminded me so much of the way my ferrets used to play that I'm a little more inclined to lend it some credence.