Fame was once a rare commodity, often not sought but commonly bestowed upon heroes and heroines, stars of screen and stage and great political figures. These days however, increasing numbers of folk seek fame in ways, which just a few decades ago, would not have been possible. The all encompassing eye of the camera however, be it by television, these days by means of the internet, or indeed by the actions of those who have become known as the paparazzi, has changed all that. Indeed, in some respects, social media in its many forms, has turned such things utterly upside down. And, in addition, talent programmes seem to have become not only an easy way of filling two or more hours of TV programming but also an easy way for ordinary folk to seek and find exposure; to become famous, if for most of them, all too briefly!
So, suddenly a small, furry creature finds itself on front pages and beamed across the world via the internet, for hitching a lift on the colourful back of another, this time, feathered creature. The sharp-eyed photographer who snapped the weasel taking a ride on the back of a green woodpecker, has himself achieved sudden notoriety whilst unwittingly, the aviating weasel has also suddenly accomplished a totally unexpected level of fame. It was a remarkable example of opportunism on the part of the snapper and of course, on the part of the weasel too.
Green woodpeckers, despite their reputation as tree climbers, spend a high proportion of their time on terra firma, scavenging for the likes of ants. There was a time in this airt when the chuckling of these attractive red and green birds was a familiar sound. However, in recent times, green woodpeckers have been pushed out by increasing numbers of great spotted woodpeckers, which seem to more assertive by nature. There is, whenever I watch these black, white and red woodpeckers, always a sense of animosity towards all other birds. When such a woodpecker is on the nuts for instance, nothing else it seems, dares to venture there.
Therefore it must be assumed that the said woodpecker of front-page fame, was scouring the ground for ants when its path crossed with that of the weasel. Weasels are ambitious little creatures, the ‘mighty atoms’ of the natural world, always looking for feeding opportunities and never afraid to take on the role of David in confronting Goliath! Despite its minuscule size, a weasel will not hesitate to attack a fully-grown rabbit despite the fact that Brer Rabbit is several times the weasel’s size and weight. Thus I’m sure, the weasel saw in the woodpecker, a meal … of gargantuan proportions!
What the weasel clearly did not bargain for, was the flight of fancy it was about to take. I can only presume that its experience of flight was something of a shock and that it very soon decamped. Thus that first flying lesson would in all probability be brief and perhaps painfully learned. Perhaps it would be wise for any weasel with aeronautical ambitions in future, to ignore any impulse to repeat similar attacks!
Weasels – and stoats for that matter – are creatures that attract a variety of reactions. Our very language is of course, not very kind or complimentary towards them. A person described as being ‘weasely’ or ‘a stoat’ is generally perceived to be someone not to be trusted; a person of very doubtful pedigree and reputation. Indeed, such is the reputation of both weasels and stoats that stories abound of them launching attacks on people. Keepers certainly don’t like them and kill them at virtually every opportunity as part of the defence of their precious pheasants. And this despite the widely known fact that both stoats and weasels account for the destruction of many small rodents, widely regarded, especially by farmers, as pests!
However, like my farming friends I have a soft spot for these amazing wee creatures. Thus when a farmhouse dwelling friend asked me what she should do about a weasel she found in her house, I told her to leave it be. I had been aware that my friend had for long waged war against invading mice and suggested that she now had a key ally in her struggle to keep these small rodents at bay in the said weasel. Sure enough, the sound, so familiar to country living folk, of mice chewing at skirting boards or rustling about within the ancient walls of their houses, has in recent days, in this instance, gradually diminished. The weasel has not been seen again and I suspect it has done its job, consumed the mice or at least sent the majority of them into panic-stricken retreat and thus has since moved on to other rodent territories. Silence tells its own story.
Small rodents are the main food source of food for both weasels and stoats and with their exceptionally slender bodies and short little legs, they are able to access rodent runs and dens easily. Stoats are also extremely efficient rabbit hunters too. By reputation both are relentless in pursuit of their victims and that utter determination is communicated very quickly to those victims. Indeed such are the powers of a stoat for instance, in its pursuit of a rabbit, that its intended victim is eventually seized with such terror that it slowly grinds to a halt, ending up a quivering, stationary wreck, often screaming pathetically, as its inevitable fate approaches. Both stoats and weasels are relentless hunters, once on the trail of their victims, sticking inexorably to that scent until their target is reached.
Perhaps the victims become almost hypnotised? After all, both stoats and weasels are familiar practitioners of the ‘dark art’ of hypnosis. I have on many occasions been amazed by the gyrations of both of these exponents of a hunting skill, which seems to be their particular prerogative alone. Theirs is, as far as I know, a unique method of enticing potential victims to their deaths and of course, into the hungry jaws of the perpetrators. A weasel for instance, that conducted, before my very eyes, an intricate square dance which took it across a track down one hedgerowed side of it, back across the track and along the opposite hedge bottom … repeatedly! As the performance continued so the birds roosting in the hedges became more inquisitive and slipped their way down through the branches. One was persuaded to leave the safety of the hedge altogether and immediately became the weasel’s next meal as the performance came to an abrupt halt.
And a stoat which similarly began to perform a complex series of acrobatics, somersaulting, chasing it own tail until it was whirling round and round like a dancing dervish, putting on a real virtuoso performance. Like the aforementioned weasel, this performing stoat similarly so entranced the birds in the shrubs and trees around it, that they too let down their guards and came ever closer in order to get a better look at this extraordinary caper. One of course, came too close and instantly the curtain came down to close the act. Dinner was served!
Such antics are all part of the stoat and weasel armoury designed to satisfy what at times appears to be a ravenous appetite. However, the weasel propelled into the air on the back of a woodpecker had perhaps bitten off more than it could chew. Yet, for a moment it was famous!