The Elusive Ermine

Look at that soft little face! This past week in the White Mountain National Forest, I discovered the dwelling of what I consider to be one of the most fascinating creatures to ever make its home in New Hampshire’s forests: the snow-white ermine. To my delight, I was able to capture the most detailed picture I’ve ever taken of one.

Most people will never see an ermine in the wild, but they live throughout New England to Alaska and all the way to Siberia, and they’re incredible predators. This one, which I believe is a female, had delicate bits of dirt speckling her face when she came up out of her den beneath a mossy birch tree. I waited quite a long time to capture this moment, when she peered up at me from the forest floor and then went bounding away to hunt. Rather than trying to describe how they run, here’s an entertaining short video about ermines (sometimes called stoats):

All I can say is that if you ever have an encounter with an ermine in the wild, it will likely leave an impression on you: there’s no other creature quite like them. Tiny, but with bright, intelligent eyes. Soft and cute, but skilled enough to kill large rabbits, birds, squirrels and fish. Delicate ears, furry feet, pure white fur, and a black-tipped tail. They climb trees and they swim. They scamper about the deep forests with a leaping, “trouncey” style that catches your eye from a distance in the winter. They camouflage with their surroundings, changing color with the seasons and living much of their lives beneath the snow in winter. This one already had its white coat, but is still waiting for the blizzards that will transform its world and allow it to hunt more effectively through the winter. What an animal! I don’t plan to go back (and it was a good hike up the side of a mountain to get there anyway). So I hope you enjoy this fleeting glimpse into the life of the ghostly silent, whiskered and ferocious, swift and quirky, pearly white and beautiful ermine!

Here’s a closer look at the ermine’s intelligent little face:



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