KIMBALL – As noted elsewhere, August was an interesting month, weather wise.
Also interesting is the fact that I was once again surprised to find August gone and summer fading so soon. Each year it seems that September sneaks up on me. And just as with every September, while I’m glad to see the heat abate and the evenings become crisp, I’m also slightly disappointed to realize that there’s no way I’m going to complete all of my summer projects. If the weather cooperates I’ll finish about a third of my cross-fencing project. Ah well, something to do next year.
I spend a lot of time outdoors in nature.
Although it’s probably more time than many modern, first-world humans spend, my exposure to nature is sharply limited. During the time of easy living -- those months of late spring, summer, and early autumn -- I may put in 14-16 hour days outside, however, I spend much more time indoors in the winter. All in all, my year-round average daily outside time is probably more like four to six hours.
Location-wise, my exposure is also sharply limited. Nearly all of that time is spent on a few square miles of the ranch. I know the ranch pretty well, and some might say I know it intimately, but that’s not really so. I’m very familiar with the geology and topography and surface biosphere and climate, but I know next to nothing about what goes on beneath the surface, or indeed, above the surface. I occasionally visit at night, but more than 99 percent of my active outside time is between dawn and dusk.
I see a lot of stuff and I think about a lot of stuff and over the years I’ve developed a solid general understanding of the seasonal ebb and flow of the place, of the wide variation that makes every moment distinctly unique within the framework of seasonal and annual norms.
But that’s just general knowledge and experience. I’m anything but an expert.
The other day I observed what I believe to be a long-tailed weasel. I took some pictures and shot a bit of video.
This weasel appeared to be quite different from the one I saw last spring, which was the first weasel I’d ever seen in the wild and the first one I’d ever seen on the ranch.
That’s perhaps not as surprising as it might be. The ranch is large, weasels are small, and they seem to tend toward nocturnal behavior. Badgers are much larger, and I see evidence of their presence all the time, but I only see them very rarely. Like once a
decade or so.
The weasel I saw this week was a third again larger than the one I saw last year, and it’s coloration was darker.
I did a bit of study and came to the conclusion that the one I observed last year was a female, and the one I saw this week a male. I also think that the one I saw last year may have been near the end of it’s winter color change, for it was lighter overall and had a good bit of white on its face. Many North American weasels change to white during the winter, you see, and this includes the long-tailed weasel. The one I saw this week was wearing a full summer suit.
Something didn’t seem right though, so I did a little more research and a little more digging.
Any number of publications confirm that the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) is native to Nebraska. Any number of publications also confirm that the stoat, or short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), also called the Ermine, is absent from Nebraska.
The only real similarity between the two is the black-tipped tail. The Ermine is much smaller and has distinctly different markings.
Most of the range maps for Ermine distribution follow the border of the Nebraska Panhandle precisely. They are present and secure in Wyoming and Colorado, yet absent in the Panhandle, somehow barred from access by a man-made and invisible line.
It’s impossible for me to say for sure. I’m going by images only. But I’m thinking that last year’s weasel may have been an Ermine, while this week’s weasel was almost certainly the long-tailed weasel.
It’s an interesting puzzle.