Wildlife encounters behind the wheel

I saw an ermine earlier this month and, as usual, it showed
itself when I least expected it – as I drove just outside a little
hamlet in Franklin County, heading to visit a popular local fly
shop in the dead of winter.

At first, I misidentified it as a weasel; even told the fly shop
owner that’s what I’d seen. But the more I thought about it, it
was, in fact, an ermine. The little white critter darted in front
of my pickup, raced across the road and dove into a hole in the
snow near a speed limit sign. Pretty neat stuff and, ironically,
the sighting occurred not a real long way from where I’d last seen
one. That time, I was heading to a local lake for a morning of ice
fishing when an ermine leaped off a snowbank and frantically
tumbled across the road like a Russian gymnast to avoid my pickup.
I’m kind of surprised I haven’t had one in the backyard, but that’s
a good thing: it would most likely mean bad news for our
chickens.

It seems so often that’s the case; plow your way through the
woods for miles and see little in the way of wildlife, then
encounter all sorts of neat stuff on the drive home. When you think
about it, it does make some sense. You’re covering a lot more
ground while driving than when you’re kicking around the
backcountry, and the speed at which you’re traveling can often lead
to sightings of animals not quite quick enough to avoid
detection.

When I tally up the sightings of wildlife fairly unique to New
York state, or at least a little less visible than most species –
ermine, otter, mink, fisher – more often than not the encounters
came while I was cruising down the road. Some of my closest
encounters with black bears, too, occurred on the road – once when
I had to lock ’em up to avoid a sizeable bruin while driving a
brand-new pickup.

These are usually not the kind of sightings that gain you any
style points. Watching an otter while listening to Brad Paisley’s
“Online” isn’t quite the same and watching one slither along a
stream in mid-summer, searching for the same trout you’re trying to
locate.

But you take what you can get, especially in the winter, when
everyone, including wildlife, is pretty much in survival mode. So I
chalked the ermine sighting up to pure luck, and was happy to have
the experience. Even if I did misidentify it for a couple
hours.

 

Categories: New York – Steve Piatt

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