Looking out on the view just outside from where I am writing, I recall many encounters with wildlife that share this land I call Flower Hill Farm. These chance meetings recorded in photographs continue to morph into my Bestiary . . . tales from a wildlife habitat.
Down below a serpentine Black Cherry canopy, dramas unfold daily within the shrubberies, hummocks, fields and forest and I am certain to miss most of them. I am extremely fortunate when stepping into the right place at the exact moment another beast is moving about its day.
One day in early June, when entering the middle meadow garden, I nearly do step right onto a little beastly body. It is a mystery to me as to how this unfortunate critter comes to his or her demise and ended up in the path. That is . . . until I catch a flash of another furry beast.
My Bestiary continues with the winsome and quick-witted weasel. I believe this particular pint-sized predator to be a female Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine) Mustela erminea. In the winter, its coat molts into an all-white, fluffy fur . . . sadly prized by hunters . . . during this period the tiny beast is known as an ermine or stoat. They are fascinating mammals . . . you can learn more by visiting the link above.
So, back to the tale before me . . . a dead vole lying feet up in the middle of the middle garden path . . . I stop and peered into the frozen fright and soon realize there is another character in this drama that is filled with fright as well. My presence must have terrified the weasel into dropping her prey in haste to get away. Giving the situation a second thought she considers how to reclaim her catch. It takes me a few seconds to understand and I move away from the vole . . . encouraging the weasel to come out of hiding.
Sure enough . . . my distance gives the teeny timid weasel courage to move towards the vole. The iris seedpods mark the probable area the vole was caught, for they are often found among the iris beds. Voracious eaters, voles carry on with their tunnels and destruction . . . killing many of my treasured plants, shrubs and even trees over the years.
Weasels do not build their own dens or tunnels but often take over their prey’s domain. I will have to be more careful in closing off tunnels when I see them in future.
Seeing how protected the weasel is by the taller grass, I am glad that mowing has ceased due to the Monarch butterflies return. Weasels have very short legs and yet they move with great agility and speed.
It seems she will reclaim her quarry now.
Sensing my company, though farther away, she decides she would rather not. Yet, as quickly as she leaps away . . .
She leaps back again.
This time she pluckily carries it off. I note how large the villain vole appears when held within the tiny jaws of our cherished carnivorous creature.
Weasels are very beneficial predators of gardens and fields. Voles, mice and rabbits are their preferred prey but opportunist hunters, equipped to climb, will also indulge in avian treats.
Perhaps the woodcock and other ground nesting birds have more to fear from these skilled hunters. Meaty mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and voles offer more temptation in this habitat of transitional open blueberry fields between wildflower fields and forest, with plenty of streams and even a spring. I am deeply grateful for the weasels that frequent the gardens and their help in keeping a balance of pesky beasts.
The little weasel slips away and out of my view. It was another joyous encounter with a wild beast and I hope to chance upon one of these critters up close again.
I think this weasel is a male for they are much larger – twice the size of the female. Perhaps it is a different kind all together . . . there are Least Weasels (North America’s smallest carnivore without the black tipped tail) and Long-tailed Weasels here in Massachusetts. This fellow is rather far away . . . down in the blueberry field climbing up a Gray Birch. He was being chased by Catbirds.
This very faint photograph is the next day after the encounter I share above. I believe it is the same weasel and though blurred it shows the full body and tail.
There are some who think it kind to feed feral cats and that they might help with Lyme disease by hunting mice. What people fail to see sometimes is that there are other natural predators, who help maintain a balance just fine when allowed to. I once rented apartments here and sadly agreed to having a male cat move in along with his humans. I was told he was gentle and that he never killed anything. Well, the carnage here became catastrophic and the worst to suffer was the weasel. One day I found three corpses all neatly laid out in a row. Clearly the cat had gone into a den of weasels . . . he was a large cat. Before that time I never had trouble with rabbits . . . my veggie gardens flourished and we never saw ticks. Since that time rabbits are rampant as are ticks.
I do hope that the weasels are on the come back and that they will live long and prosper here at Flower Hill Farm.
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