17 July 2011 ~ 1 Comment

How To Identify Stoats And Weasels

look out for dangers
Creative Commons License photo credit: markus.hoppe

The mustelids are a group of mammals which in the UK include badgers, otters, polecats, stoats and weasels. Of these the greatest problems with identification seem to be how to tell a weasel from a stoat and so I thought a few pointers may come in useful.

Fortunately once you know the differences between these otherwise superficially similar animals it is actually quite easy to tell them apart though of course you have to remember which one is which!

Weasels

Alaska Weasel
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cecil Sanders

Weasels are surprisingly small mammals despite their fearsome reputation as talented hunters of small rodents. They typically reach a body length of around 8 inches long and in cross section are rarely larger than a mouse. The general shape is one of a small, long, wavy mammal with a short tail.

Weasels are carnivores like stoats and will eat anything they can catch which often means small rodents like mice and voles. Their small body means they struggle to catch anything larger but it also means they are able to follow their prey into tiny holes where a mammal like a stoat would struggle to fit.

Weasels may be seen in a range of habitats including woodland and wild meadows and I even saw one last year hiding under a bush in a National Trust garden as dozens of visitors unknowingly walked within a couple of feet of it.

Stoats 

Stoats are much larger than weasels and may grow to become the size of a small adult ferret with a body length around 16 inches. The tail is also a very useful tip for identification because unlike the weasels it typically has a black tip on it.

In my experience, while I have seen both mammals on many occasions the stoat, being rather larger and bolder, is far more likely to be seen.

In addition the stoat’s larger size means it is able to take correspondingly larger prey with rabbits being well within it’s reach. This means they may be seen hunting on open grassland sometimes and if you are downwind of them you can watch their amazingly quick and acrobating hunting technique.

In photographs these two mammals appear very similar indeed but remember the old adage of a “sizable stoat and a wee weasel” to remember that the stoat is much larger and keep an eye out for that black tail. Those two elements combined are normally enough to safely identify these mammals even at a glance, such as when one ducks across a footpath in the countryside some distance ahead of you.

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24 April 2010 ~ 2 Comments

In Praise Of Slow

On the lookout...
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

For many people, getting out and seeing nature involves a lot of activity. Packing bags, planning routes, choosing perhaps a nature reserve to visit, and then once you arrive spending the day walking around to see what is around.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.

However I would like to take a minute “in praise of slow”. You see, many wild creatures can be quite shy and I personally have just as much success seeing nature by just finding somewhere quiet and sitting still. Find somewhere that cyclists, walkers and, worst of all, dog walkers are unlikely to be encountered, take your binoculars and camera and just sit quietly.

If you’re lucky, and stay reasonably still, many creatures will go about their daily lives barely paying any attention whatsoever to you and you can often see far more wildlife in this way.

As an example, when I lived in Hampshire there was a bench in a local wood that I knew of. If I sat down there quietly and just waited I was almost guaranteed to see a roe deer wandering nonchalently past.

Another time last year simply sittig in the countryside enjoying the view, a weasel came out to play not far from me and I got one of my best views ever of the creature.

Just yesterday, two common lizards came out and sunbathed no more than 6 feet away from where I was sitting and I got a perfect view of them, in contrast to flash of a tail one normally sees when walking past (and disturbing) a lizard in the wild.

In other words, when it comes to seeing wildlife, don’t always try to be “active”. Instead, try being still for once – I think you’ll be quite impressed what you see if only you’re patient.

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