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Bandita the White Stoat in my Garden is the Cutest Creature you’ll see this Winter

Bandita, white stoat photographed by Robert E Fuller
Bandita the White Stoat in my Garden

Meet Bandita, the white stoat who has been capturing hearts on social media and in the news. As a band of snow accompanied by freezing temperatures hit the UK from Eastern Europe, this cute little creature was ready for it. Stoats have the ability to turn white for essential camouflage in winter snows and Bandita’s coat turned well in advance of the arrival of ‘The Beast from the East’, as the weather front that has caused major disruption across the UK this week has been dubbed.

For most of the year and throughout most of the British Isles, stoats are chestnut-coloured with a creamy white belly. But in prolonged snowfall they moult their brown coat and replace it with white fur. Only the black tips of the tail remain.

Snow Stoat, painted by Robert E Fuller

This transformation blends perfectly in winter white landscapes, keeping stoats safe from predators. But a stoat’s beautiful white fur, known as ermine,  is something of a mixed blessing since for centuries it was highly sought after as a trim for ceremonial robes. The fashion was to punctuate the white fur at regular intervals with the black tips of stoat tails.The colour-change is genetic and is triggered by a ‘switch’ in the stoat’s brain which reacts to cold temperatures and reduced daylight. This switch controls the amount of melanin the stoat produces. As well as providing excellent camouflage, white fur is supposed to conserve heat.

It is extremely rare to see a white stoat in Yorkshire. I’ve only ever seen five in the last 10 years. So I was really excited when wildlife cameras hidden in my garden picked up Bandita’s white coat as she flickered through the undergrowth. At that point only her tail was half white. She then went through a patchy ‘pie bald’ stage, but by the New Year she was almost pure white, except for a band of chestnut fur around her eyes which made her look as though she was wearing a mask. She has retained this mask and it has earned her the nickname of Bandita.

At the time there wasn’t much snow and Bandita looked utterly out of place against the browns and greens of the countryside. As a consequence she become almost completely nocturnal. This made it harder to photograph her. Stoats are incredibly wary and have acute sensors. They are difficult to watch in the wild at any time of year and Bandita’s shyness made spotting her even harder. It has taken me years to persuade stoats to feed regularly in my garden – watch the video below to follow the story of how it all began.

And the rewards have been incredible. Over the last few years I have taken a number of striking photographs of different members of a family of stoats here. Many of these have become studies for paintings like these two below.

Sitting Pretty, art print by Robert E Fuller

 

Climbing Stoat, print by Robert E Fuller

It was some time before Bandita began to appear regularly in the garden, but by the time the snow fell I was ready for her. My camera traps soon began picking up her visits and I began to get some really good footage. Keep reading to see the best of this footage. It is Bandita’s first winter and among the cutest clips were when the cameras picked up the moment she arrived at the pond to find it was iced over. Watch this gorgeous footage below as she scratches at the pond as if she is trying to dig for water. See too how she slips over the surface. At first she is taken by surprise but then its as though she begins to enjoy herself. She looks as though she is dancing on ice:

I also have cameras installed inside nest boxes I have made especially for the stoats in the garden. It has meant I’ve been able to watch Bandita as she sheltered from the cold. I noticed that the day after the snow fist hit the UK, Bandita spent a ‘snowday’, inside one of the boxes I made behind a  dry stone wall. Watch her in the clip below as she kept out of the wind.

Her antics have been so enjoyed by followers on my Facebook and Twitter pages they were picked up by BBC Look North and shared on BBC news channels countrywide. I’ve put together a short video of the best of the footage of Bandita. I’ve posted it below here. Hope you enjoy watching it!

 

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