Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Stoat's Christmas Dinner

On Christmas morning, while our dinner was cooking in the oven, we walked out over the local farmland and spotted this stoat, about 100 metres away, racing across the snowy pastures. It soon became clear that ...


.. it was out hunting its Christmas dinner - as the rabbit that it had spotted broke cover. The panic-stricken prey raced towards us, with a head-start of about 30 metres on the the stoat ... 

... but stoats are light, fast movers over snow, bounding across the frozen surface in a series of leaps ... and they are relentless in the chase.
 
As the rabbit approached us its lead was reduced to just a couple of metres and the stoat was almost close enough to pounce.

If you have a sensitive disposition, you may want to surf the web elsewhere at this point.....

The heavy rabbit's fate was sealed when it plunged into the deeper snow drift that had piled up in the lee of the hedge......
 
... allowing the stoat to get close enough to make the fatal leap.
 
After a short struggle the stoat stood over the apparently lifeless body of its victim ...

... and its first thought was to have a good look around, to make sure that nothing was going to take its dinner away.

Then it spotted us....
 
... and instead of running away it wriggled through the snow towards us.....






















.... right up to the fence, where it paused to have a good look at us. It's hard to believe that such a cute face belongs to such a deadly hunter.

What happened next was an even bigger surprise, because it hadn't killed the rabbit .... which began to crawl away...
 
... but, quick as a flash, the stoat turned, raced after it and leapt onto its prey again.
 
There was a short struggle and this time there was no mistake....
 

48 comments:

  1. Phil, what a treat to see on Christmas morning, they are beautiful. Little devils for pinching eggs or is that Weasels.

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  2. Wow. Post of the year that one Phil. Brilliant to see it let alone catch it on camera. Look forward to the boxing day sequel...what happened next? Allan

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  3. Cracking post. Right place at the right time and camera to hand. Have you checked your lottery numbers yet?

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  4. Great series of photos. Boom & Gary of The Vermilon River.

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  5. Wow! Now there's something you don't see every day. Love the shot of the weasel (oops - stoat - what can I say, I'm from the States) with its front feet on the fence.

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  6. Perfectly designed for what they do. It's just a pity it didn't dispatch the poor rabbit first time round. I hate the thought of ANYTHING suffering. Amazing images.
    John

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  7. PS. The difference between professional and amateur. You used the camera. I stand and watch. All the best for the new year.
    This has got to be the years best post. has my vote.

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  8. An excellent post Phil. All the drama, and you caught it all on camera. Great stuff.

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  9. Hi Adrian, I think weasels are particularly guilty of stealing eggs. I once saw one pushing a hen's egg down a slope with its nose, until the egg broke open.

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  10. Hi Nyctalus, we were lucky to be standing in the right place and at the right time. The rabbit could have run in any direction, but it chose to head our way...

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  11. Hi PCF, once in a lifetime chance, I guess..

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  12. Hi Fleetwood Birder, I can't quite believe I saw it happen, let alone got some photos..

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  13. Hi Boom and Gary, thanks to the wonders of autofocus - never would have got any of the chase pictures in focus otherwise..

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  14. Hi Ellen, stoats and weasels have such amazing curiosity - totally fearless and investigate everything (not a bad philosophy of lige I guess!). Thanks for the mention on your blog - much appreciated, it has put me in touch with some new blogs too..

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  15. Hi John, I was always under the impression that stoats killed their prey quickly and that it often died of sheer fright, but since yesterday I've read several accounts that say that stoats take quite a while to kill prey like this, that's much larger than they are.

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  16. All the best to you too for 2011, Adrian

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  17. Hi Keith, when we first spotted the stoat all I expected was a distant shot of it bounding over the snow, then events unfolded.....

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  18. I like the photo' of the stoat gazing through the fence.

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  19. Quite a series of photos. Stoats are in the weasel family, it looks like? Are they a bit like Pine Martins? The forests here are filled with fishers, BIG weasels that are quite intense hunters. They are the only predator of the porcupine. They, too, have very sweet faces and are incredibly viscous.

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  20. An amazing series of images, Phil!! I'd heard that stoats preyed on rabbits, but assumed that it was young rabbits. I find it astounding that they can kill something so much bigger than themselves - and I'd no idea that they were so fast!!! Thank you for sharing this with us.

    We also had a great Christmas day, although not quite as exciting as your own. We usually have a picnic lunch in the countryside (and then a big meal in the evening!). This year we went to Cannock Chase (about 30 miles from here). It was a 'winter wonderland' We'd only been there five minutes when a fox came foraging round the car. We had masses of birds coming for the food that we put down, and a herd of fallow deer came wandering through too - will be on my blog later today.

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  21. Hi Lesley,the can be amazingly tame and if you make a noise like a mouse, by sucking air through your teeth, they'll sometimes come within a few feet.

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  22. Hi Valerianna, pine martins are very rare around here but I'd love to see one. A lot of people keep ferrets (domesticated polecats) for hunting rabbits and sometimes these escape and become feral.

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  23. I was amazed at the size difference too Richard. I guess when the weather is like this carnivores will go for whatever they think they can catch. I think the size difference explains why it takes such a distressingly long time for a stoat to kill a full-grown rabbit.

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  24. Being there at the right place at the right time...a fabulous sequence of shots.

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  25. Truly amazing pictures. I can't stop returning to the post to look again. Stoats were introduced into New Zealand in the 1800s to control rabbits and, instead, decimated the native species of ground based birds.

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  26. Hello Graham, thanks for visiting. I can imagine the damage that this deadly little predator has done to NZ birds. I'm glad I have discovered your blog - my daughter is in NZ at the moment (Waimate, last time she phoned) and it gives me a bit more of a link with where she is at present.All the best, Phil

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  27. I'm so grateful to Adrian for providing the link to this post. I agree with him - this surely is the Post of the Year! Fabulous!

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  28. Thanks Pauline, it certainly made it a very memorable Christmas Day. Kind regards, Phil

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  29. Hi David, I count myself very lucky...

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  30. Amazing photos Phil. I agree they must be the photos of the year. Pauline H.

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  31. Hi Pauline, It's amazing how much wildlife there is within a mile radius of home!

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  32. Wow...what a winter story!
    Indeed not for children...ha ha...but amazing!
    Did you have time to run away?...ha ha

    Have my best regards from Romania and thank you to Adrian, also!

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  33. Absolutely stunning! You're very lucky to have caught such an amazing display. Have a happy new year!

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  34. ... and a happy New Year to you too James...

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  35. Hi Toffeeapple, definitely a privilege to witness, although it was tough luck for the rabbit!

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  36. Hi Melanie, thanks for visiting...

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  37. Hi Mark, That's exactly what I said at the time! All good wishes for 2011, Phil

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  38. Your photos are absolutely impressive. The predator is really small but strong and powerful.

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  39. Stunning series of photos, which I'd heard about from a colleague. That behehavior of leaving its prey and watching you was fascinating.

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  40. Hello One, yes they really are savage little hunters - absolutely relentless...

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  41. Hi Wessex Reiver, thanks for the kind comments. That really was strange behaviour by the stoat - I think it must have been torn between an urge to start eating its prey and concern that naybe I was an even larger predator that had come to steal it.....!

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  42. Almost 12 months on and I've just seen a similar sequence, but in the Waveney Valley on the Norfolk/Suffolk border (minus the snow - and a camera!). Minded of the phrase `It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog`.

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  43. Hi Hogdayafternoon, there was a similar sequence of photos (in the snow) taken by someone else and published in BBC Wildlife magazine about a month after I took these. This was one of the rare occasions where I've been in the right place at the right time with a camera and events have unfolded slowly enough for me to keep pace with them!

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