Our home on the Anchorage hillside is just about as wild as you can get while still being only a ten-minute drive from the nearest grocery store (the Huffman Carrs). Zoned in what is called an R-6 area, properties are required to have a minimum lot size of an acre. Ours is 1 1/4 acres. Most of that is still wild, consisting primarily of alder with a spattering of birch and spruce (both black and Sitka). And over the years, we have had a variety of critters come through our property – lynx, black bear, moose, snowshoe hare, Great Horned owl, Northern Goshawk, and Bald Eagles. But it was the furtive white figure one winter morning that was the most exciting.
In our backyard, right on the edge of the main alder patch, we have a fire pit with two benches. In the winter, you hardly know it is there because most of it is buried in snow. But it was right in that area that we first saw him – an ermine. Our house journal entry for November 8, 2015 reads, “We just saw an ermine! It bounded across the back yard and over to the wood pile by the fire pit and into the alder behind.” It was a very fleeting encounter, but exciting to see an ermine on our property for the first time.
The next journal entry came on June 25, 2017, starting simply with “Ermine!” This time, Michelle and I were out in the yard doing some work. She excitedly and quietly caught my attention with just that word, and I looked up. His slender, brown body was visible in the area in front of our outbuilding. For the next several minutes, we watched him as he moved around the perimeter of the driveway, over by where I was, in front of me, and in and out through the wood pile underneath the deck. I was holding a shovel and stood perfectly still as he moved around. No camera nearby, all I could do was stand and watch and enjoy him as he moved about, completely unconcerned about our presence. I would see him again a couple weeks later, inside the vegetable garden area, crawling out on the railroad ties that divide the raspberry bushes from the garden. He came out briefly and I was able to capture a quick video of him using my iPhone.
Then, on April 7 this year, we saw him again. We were sitting at the dining table, having breakfast, and we were noticing a lot of movement. First, it was a snowshoe hare, then a squirrel. As we saw the squirrel scampered around within the alder bushes, we saw another bit of movement. It was the ermine. This time, I ran downstairs and grabbed my camera (Nikon D850), my lens (Nikkor 200-400 f/4/0 AFS VR) and my tripod (Gitzo 6X). Michelle kept an eye out for him while I grabbed my gear. At my request, she also grabbed my slippers. I was, after all, still in my robe and barefoot. I put on my slippers, headed out onto the deck, and set up. We were able to spot him again rather quickly, and I set up and watched and waited. Eventually, he came out into a small opening in the alder, and I snapped off a few quick shots. He continued to move around, dodging and weaving in and out of alder, moving too quickly to otherwise get another shot. But finally, after a few years of seeing him, I was able to capture a decent image of him.