Stoked on Stoat

A return from two months in the Arctic—Svalbard and East Greenland—ought to be brimming with epic tales of polar bear, muskox, blue whales, icebergs the size of apartment blocks. I can report shining moments with each of these wonders, but for now I’m here to introduce a creature, the first I’ve seen in my years of travelling to Greenland, best placed at the diminutive end of the scale. In North America these minuscule mammals, weighing in at ~200 grams, are called short-tailed weasels, while in North-East Greenland, where we spotted this little guy, they are named stoats (Mustela erminea).

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To track a stoat darting across a hillside is a bit like keeping pace with a fast-forward animation. When stoats stand still they are so well camouflaged in their summer coat that you could miss them altogether. In NE Greenland, stoats share their habitat with lemmings, an even tinier Arctic creature who, unluckily for the lemming, provides the stoat its main diet. If I could portal myself back to Blomsterbugten (Flower Bay), where I snapped this photo just weeks ago, you would see this stoat decked out in winter white, its summer coat moulted, only the tip of its tail black.

Greenland is a land of contrasts, where the mightiest of landscapes, seemingly barren from a distance, harbour lush tundra forests, their plants sized for a doll’s house, their branches of Arctic Willow and Dwarf Birch rarely high enough to meet your knees. Here, growing in a meltwater stream bed and bathed in Greenland sunshine, is Broad-Leaved Willowherb, the country’s beautiful national flower.

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