Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Carnivorans’ Category

Bounding weasel

Weasels bound, so they make tracks that look like two little feet. But what really happens is they put their front feet down and then move their back feet into the same place where their front feet were as they bound forward.

My guess is this was a least weasel, because it was awfully small.

057

This weasel likely came through just before it started to snow yesterday, because its tracks are nearly filled in. There was a whole line of tracks just like these going from one side of the access road to the other.

 

Read Full Post »

DSC03165

In late October 1999, my grandpa, also named Scottie Westfall, was out squirrel hunting. While staking out one of his favorite stands of hickory,  he heard brush cracking and a rabbit screaming.  Suddenly, a cottontail rabbit came running down a game trail. The rabbit stopped at little copse of brush, just a couple of yards from where my grandpa was staking out the squirrel trees.

Usually when one sees a rabbit running down a trail, something is pursuing it.

In this forest, the rabbits get pushed hard by the red and gray foxes, and the coyotes do take more than a few.

So my grandpa waited with his eyes trained on the trail from whence the rabbit came.

Just a few minutes later, something small and white came jumping along. It followed the rabbit’s trail perfectly and then went into the brush where the rabbit was.

The rabbit bolted before the creature could come near, and after white beast sniffed out the little copse of brush, it began to sniff around to see if it could pick up the rabbit’s trail again.  It soon did and started hunting again, and as it came along it happened to raise its head above a log.

Which created the perfect shot opportunity.

My grandpa shot the animal and realized it was some kind of weasel. However, it was quite a bit larger than the common least weasel that he knew so well, and what’s more, the weasel was almost entirely white.

My grandpa thought he knew all the animals of these woods pretty well. Weasels were the bane of the chicken coops when he was a boy, and he told me about trapping a few of them for their fur.

He also told me of how he illegally ferreted with an albino ferret, using him in groundhog dens and abandoned pipe to drive out cottontail rabbits that sought refuge from extreme cold or barking dogs.

But he’d never seen a white weasel before.

I vaguely knew that there were white weasels in the United States. I had read all about ermines and something called “Bonaparte’s weasel” that turned white in winter.

But teenage me just decided it was an ermine, and we left it at that.

He did a informal survey of all his hunting buddies, and none of them had ever heard of an ermine or a white weasel.

It’s been in the freezer ever since. I knew there was something odd about it.

I’ve written about it on the blog before.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a long-tailed weasel.

I don’t want to make this confusing, but in the Eastern US, there are two weasels that turn white in the winter. The ermine or short-tailed weasel is the one that Old World readers might know as a stoat. Most stoats from the British Isles don’t turn white in winter. This species is found throughout Eurasia and North America, but it has never been recorded in West Virginia. It comes only as far south as Pennsylvania. An old name for this weasel is Bonaparte’s weasel.

The long-tailed weasel is found in North and South America.  It does turn white in winter, but not all of them do. The Maryland/Pennsylvania border seems to be the geographical separation between weasels that turn white in winter and those that don’t. And in Pennsylvania and Ohio, not all weasels turn white.

Last week, I was contacted by a researcher from North Carolina State University, who is working on a study of snowshoe hares in the High Alleghenies. One of their research questions involved West Virginia’s long-tailed weasel population and their perennial brown pelage.

If you look up white weasels in West Virginia on Google, you wind up at my blog.

So I met with this researcher in Elkins, and it turns out that this weasel is a real weird one.

If you look at the logic of the two potential winter white weasel species I suggested, there are two main possibilities about what this animal could be.

It’s either an errant long-tailed weasel that doesn’t realize that just happens to have the genetics to turn white or it’s the first documented ermine in West Virginia.

I think the former is more likely.

But that’s not where it gets really bizarre. This weasel was not killed in the Allegheny Highlands, where the snow cover lasts the longest every year. It is certainly true that some of the higher elevation places in West Virginia are more like Maine or Eastern Canada, and one would think those places would be full of weasels that turn white in winter.

This weasel was killed in the Allegheny Plateau, and in the late 90’s, the winters were so mild that there was virtually no snow cover at all in this part of the state.

So why would a weasel turn white?

These woods where this weasel roamed are full of barred owls and red-tailed hawks that would love nothing more than have weasel to eat. A white weasel on the forest floor would just be advertising itself to the winged predators.

So this weasel raises many questions.

Soon, I’ll be setting out weasel gland lure with my trail camera to see if there are other weasels like this one in the area. Maybe there is an anomalous population of weasels in this part of West Virginia.

Or maybe this one was just a fluke.

Whatever it was, this weasel is a mystery. Some may give my late grandfather hell for shooting this weasel, but if he hadn’t shot it, we wouldn’t have this specimen, which might be the first record of a weasel molting to white in a population south of Pennsylvania.

Charles Darwin got into natural history as a recreational shooter. He traveled around the world on the Beagle killing unusual animals left and right.  He killed the South American fox species that bears his name with geological hammer.

If Hornaday had not killed the “big old ‘gator of Arch Creek,”  we wouldn’t have known that crocodiles lived in Florida.

My grandfather was pretty well-versed in natural history, and I think that if he were alive today, he would be impressed that this animal he killed while squirrel hunting would raise so many questions– and be such an anomaly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Visiting raccoon

raccoon visitor

A raccoon came by to inspect my new trail camera set-up.

I took the squirrel head and guts and buried them six inches deep. Then I piled some logs on top of the burial site. I topped it off with a bit of red fox urine to make it really interesting.

The location is just off a well-worn game trail. I’m not really trying to get raccoons on the camera, but once they start coming the more wary carnivorans should come soon.

That’s the hope anyway.

Read Full Post »

running bear

All over the world, we hear the story of bears. The polar bear may die out due to climate change. The grizzly bear lives only in tiny pockets of its former range in the Lower 48. The spectacled bear is not long for this world, and the giant panda is an avatar of the movement to save endangered species.

American black bears are not among the endangered or threatened, though.  They are doing well in such densely populated states as New Jersey.

They are also doing quite well in the wild and wonderful land of West Virginia. When I was a boy, my grandpa loathed bears. If anyone mentioned a bear popping up near his land, he would always go “There isn’t room enough for me and bear in these woods.”

I don’t know where this bear hatred came from, but his ancestors were small farmers who may have lost hogs or sheep to the odd roving bear.

I remember one year that something knocked over his 200-pound deer feeder. It obviously had to have been a black bear. At that time of year, a bear would have been in hyperphagic mode, and the taste of cracked corn in the deer feeder would have been a pleasant repast on a balmy October day.

He never caught the bear in question, but I knew that he really wanted to. He wanted to shoot it for daring to be in this civilized world.

The reason that bear never got killed is because its kind learned long ago to live with us.

And the best way to do that is to avoid our kind at all costs.

By the time I was born, there were only about 500 bears in the state of West Virginia, and now there are about 10,000. Those 10,000 descend from those 500 survivors, who taught their cubs how to thrive in a land where the guns are loaded.

If you see a bear in West Virginia, well over 9 times out 10, all you’ll see is a black form charging into the timber to get as far from you as possible.

The bear that thrives is the bear that knows that the best thing to do when encountering one of us is to run away.

I know that other black bear populations where they sometimes hunt people or, at the very least, tear up garbage.

But not here, they survive only because they are afraid. Fear makes them good neighbors.

And that is the only way a bear can thrive.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Old Charlie comes by

But doesn’t stick around.

12230018

With this red fox photo, I have now captured all three of West Virginia’s wild canids on trail camera.

 

Read Full Post »

Bobcat on the prowl

I’ve been wanting to get one on the trail cam all summer. Finally paid off!

Read Full Post »

Maybe a little too close! His butt almost took down the camera!

Source.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,032 other followers

%d bloggers like this: