Saturday, May 26, 2007

The weasel vs the Prairie Dogs (and Ground Squirrels)

We've spent the last couple of days at Walden, Colorado to visit the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. Today we got out close to dawn and started making our rounds. We had just done some bird photographs and had gone back where we had seen some baby prairie dogs. I had dug out the big lens and was trying to catch the babies. I think we've been seeing two species burrowing near each other - the white tailed prairie dog and the Wyoming ground squirrel.

I was keeping my eyes peeled, when I realized that the head I was seeing poking up was NOT a ground squirrel or prairie dog. Nope, it looked predator, moved like a predator, yep, it was a predator. I'm not always immediate with my ID on small predators . . . we don't have many black footed ferrets, weasels, mink, ermine, etc near Hutto. Another photographer drove up and asked if we had a weasel . . . my answer: I think so.

After the fact, I've looked it up, it is a long tailed weasel.

But for the next hour Henry and I and the other photographer and his wife watched that weasel go after the babies. He was fast - he darted here, darted there. We'd see him bring dead baby after dead baby back to his den. I think we counted at least 5 babies that he killed.

We watched the ground squirrels chase the weasel away from their den. I watched two ground squirrels almost run into and fight each other when they were both on the trail of the weasel. At one point I saw a prairie dog bounce up in the air - the weasel was there as were some adult ground squirrels.

We watched and heard the larger prairie dogs note the weasel and give the classic barking alarm. We heard the smaller ground squirrels also shout out a higher pitched alarm.

But that weasel could outrun and outthink the prairie dogs and ground squirrels. While they were giving chase, he was sneaking around and heading back to their dens. He was not worried about the humans that were trying to watch his every move - he would cross the road right in front of us.

Some of the mother ground squirrels would look for their lost babies or they would start calling.

It was an amazing sequence to watch, but sad at the same time. Yes, I did enjoy watching how efficiently the weasel provided food for her family, but I also grieved for the cute babies that will never grow up.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Interesting post, Mary Ann. The weasel is quite a predator for being such a small mammal. You got some terrific photos of the ground squirrels and the weasel.

I recently came across a long-tailed weasel as well. It took some consideration before I decided I had seen a long-tailed as opposed to the short-tailed (ermine). The naming conventions are kind of confusing here (because our weasels turn snow white in the winter), the long-tailed and short-tailed, and the least weasel are all referred to as ermine.