Return to the Blog Home Page
After Filming, Bandita the Stoat’s Story Continues
After starring in a ground-breaking TV documentary on weasels (Weasels: Feisty and Furious on BBC2 Natural World and Nature: The Mighty Weasels, PBS, USA), Bandita continued to care for her kits in my garden in Yorkshire, in the north of England, until they were 17 weeks old when they all dispersed to find territories of their own – all that is except for a female I named Crackle. This was surprising since in previous years stoats kits here have dispersed at between 12-14 weeks old. I put this down to the fact that Bandita’s was a relatively small litter.
For US readers: In my blogs, a weasel refers to your ‘least weasel’ and stoat is your ‘short-tailed weasel’. For more on ID and definitions: CLICK HERE
Bandita, right, with her daughter Crackle. Crackle remained in the garden alongside her mother.
Bandita performs the ultimate disappearing act
Bandita remained in the garden and then, as winter approached, she performed her ultimate conjuring trick and turned white for winter. Bandita, who had been one of the most elusive animals I have ever tried to follow, has inherited a gene that gives her the ability to change colour in order to camouflage against a winter-white background. But this time the transformation back-fired because we had barely any snow that winter and she now stood out starkly against the browns and greens of the countryside. This made her easier for me to spot when she came out of hiding – however she grew more self-conscious and would only come out at dawn or dusk or after dark.
An Uneasy Truce
Interestingly, her relationship with her daughter, Crackle, was an uneasy one. Bandita was not comfortable about sharing the territory and I often saw her trying to chase Crackle away. They reached an uneasy truce after Crackle took up residence in a roof space that runs beneath the decking outside my studio and above the gallery offices below.
Bandita occasionally ventured up to Crackle’s hideout, but she was too big to fit through the gap underneath the balcony, and so she retreated to a hollow in an ash tree in the valley below the garden. She continued to leave scats throughout the garden to send Crackle the message that this was her territory.
Meanwhile, I was able to watch Crackle going about her business right under my nose – and sometimes Bandita, who remained frustrated that she had not managed to evict Crackle, would walk along the decking and right up to the glass door of my studio as she tried to find Crackle. This meant I got to see both stoats as I sat at my easel.
Mother and Daughter Stoat are Expectant
By early spring it became clear that both stoats had rounded bellies and were expecting kits. I hoped that they would be able to maintain their truce so that I could again watch stoat kits in my garden.
The Kits are Born & Two Male Suitors Arrive on the Scene
Then in March both females gave birth. Crackle had her kits in the tiny space under the balcony, where there wasn’t a camera to film the moment, and Bandita had also found a location out of sight of the cameras. But there was a dramatic turn of events when two males appeared in the garden and this time the cameras picked up the action as one of the males dragged Crackle into one of my tailor-made nest chambers.
Although brutal, it is common for a female to become receptive to mating shortly after giving birth and males are also known to mate female kits in the nest, even when these youngsters are still blind and helpless. This extraordinary behaviour may seem unpalatable to us, but female stoats are able to delay implantation of their eggs which means the kits leave the nest ready to give birth the following year.
The adult female also delays implantation, meaning that a male stoat that mates with both mother and kits ensures his line continues well into the next breeding season.
Crackle moves her kits
In April Crackle moved her kits to a new location and I was able to watch as she carefully carried five tiny kits one by one from her nest beneath my balcony. Shortly afterwards Bandita also moved her kits – and this time she moved them into one of the nests I had rigged with a camera. It turned out that Bandita had had a ‘super litter’ of nine kits and it was really special to see them bedding down in the new nest and to hear them whickering together via the hidden microphone.
Watching the kits grow
As the weeks went by Bandita’s kits became more and more adventurous and I was able to watch them venturing through the garden – even bouncing on my daughters’ trampoline and clambering up their climbing frame. It really was magical being able to track these stoat kits through the garden on my cameras.
Stoats are usually such secretive creatures but with cameras everywhere I could predict their movements and so If I saw one heading down a path, I could work out where it was going to turn up next and get into position to film or photograph it. I managed to capture some wonderfully intimate moments of these two stoat mothers and their kits during those weeks
And the good news was that Bandita and Crackle kept up their truce. It remained an uneasy relationship, however, and Bandita would often raid Crackle’s nest to steal food. Thankfully though, she never harmed the kits.
On the whole, both stoat mothers were too busy raising their kits and this gave me the rare chance to watch two stoat families in different parts of the garden. But in midsummer, inevitably, there was an explosion of activity in the garden as the two rival stoat families clashed. They chased one another around in all directions!
All this action gave me plenty of inspiration for my paintings. The painting below is of Crackle and is just one example of the many I painted during this time:
Click below to learn about filming for the TV series:
Find out why I love stoats and weasels:
How it all began:
Author: Robert E Fuller