Long time readers of this web site might recall that there are a few animals that haunt my dreams. And, for whatever reason, most of my animal nemeses appear to be members of the mustelid family.
What you might not recall is that while I can’t find a weasel (long tailed weasel, least weasel, whatever) to save my life, Jill can spot them with her eyes closed. Or at least while driving.
This strange little talent of hers hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Jill has become known as something of a weasel whisperer amongst photographers in Yellowstone.
Point and case, while photographing a grizzly sow and yearling nursing in Yellowstone this summer – a sight that would have most people focused on their camera’s viewfinder – Jill managed to look away long enough to spot a weasel running around the very spot where us photographers were standing.
What irritates me and most photographers is the casual way she’ll announce her sighting: a very monotone, non-plussed “there goes a weasel”. And she has to know that any wildlife photographer worth their salt will freak out immediately when hearing the word “weasel” and start tripping over themselves to find the fast little bugger.
And up until this past August, that would be me tripping over myself trying in vain to find Jill’s ho-hum sighting before, inevitably, Jill would utter those fateful words: “Sorry, it’s gone.”
But what was increasingly becoming a source of friction in our relationship became yet another reason why I’m lucky to marry Jill: She finally found me a weasel that decided to hang around long enough to photograph.
Well, let me back-up.
Jill and I were killing time at Kananaskis Country’s Rock Glacier, photographing pika and waiting for a grizzly to show up, when I heard an odd noise that I couldn’t place.
The resident weasel whisperer immediately found the culprit and alerted me to the presence of the devil creature, dead pika in mouth. I snapped one decent shot as it darted away, out-of-sight.
Out of pity for this face, Jill didn’t quit on this weasel and became determined to find where it took its meal.
At Rock Glacier, there is a small line of trees that jut out of the forest near the base of the ‘glacier’ and it appeared the weasel was somewhere within this small space.
I walked around and around like a chicken with its head cut off as Jill used her weasel eyes and found its hiding spot.
Though she desperately tried to tell me where to look, it became like a bad game of charades. I couldn’t find the weasel.
I took the camera off of my tripod in the hopes of handholding my equipment would give me a better reaction time. My tripod fell over in the excitement and out popped the weasel. Onto my tripod. Of course I was too close, but I got one shot on its escape.
Up the rock glacier the weasel went.
And up I went after it.
Higher and higher I climbed on the precarious rocks I ran, carrying my extremely heavy and extremely expensive camera gear. Not only could I not find the weasel, I also finally stopped and noticed the dizzying height that I had reached.
Thankfully I was eventually rewarded with a few shots of the weasel. Not great, but heck, at this point, I should be happy.
But I wasn’t.
Carefully (this time) I navigated my way down to the base of the ‘glacier’ with a feeling that I completely blew my best shot of getting that dream weasel photo.
The feeling didn’t last long.
While I was rock running like a maniac, Jill was discovering the weasel’s den. And not just the den for one weasel, but at least two.
I remember swearing repeatedly at Jill and no one in particular. I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it. I didn’t know how to believe it.
But a believer I became.
I once again set-up my tripod, locked my camera’s focus on the entrance to a small hole and tried to calm my panting – and sweating. I waited.
And the wait didn’t last long, for, once again, out popped a weasel and down went my trigger.
The noise of my camera, unfortunately, startled the little guy, but only for a minute as it became increasingly curious. Jill and I stayed stock still – I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing (which couldn’t have been a good plan given I was teetering on a heart attack) – and watched the weasel run around and around our feet.
It posed on a stick.
It stood by a flower.
It gave us curious look…
…after curious look.
It ran forward…
…it ran backwards.
It was exceptional. It might have been even better than seeing a cougar. Okay, maybe not quite, but very, very close. (Give me a situation like this with a pine marten and the cougar will most certainly be de-throned.)
What was truly amazing though, aside from having the unique chance to watch the weasel hunt, eat, play and interact with its family, was that even when you knew for a fact where the animal would go, it was still nearly impossible to freeze it within my frame. Of the thousands of images I took, fewer than 50 worked out. Not that I’m complaining.
The chase for a weasel photo is finally over.
Thanks Jill! Love you!
Okay, I lied. I have one small complaint. We discovered the weasel den with less than 48 hours remaining on our summer photography expedition. Bad weather and a deadline to return my rental lens forced us to leave what very well might have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience far too early. That being said, the Weasel Whisperer says she now knows how to find dens – and there are at least a dozen photographers in Yellowstone waiting for her to make good on this promise.
Okay, one more complaint. Recently, a friend of Ghost Bear – photographer and writer Kerri Martin – found a weasel within the city limits of Calgary. In its winter coat. I’m not saying I would trade the experience we had, but how can you look at her photos and not want an image of the weasel with white fur surrounded by snow?! I think a new chase has started.