The Wonders of Nature, right out the Front Door
This July, we made our annual family trek to Glacier National Park. We opted to rent a cabin right between Browning and East Glacier — about 30 minutes from the east entrance of the park. The cabin is about a mile off Highway 89, down a bumpy, winding road. The cabin itself was situated in the middle of a field, with beautiful 360° views of the property and surrounding mountains.
We spent our days exploring Glacier — hiking, chasing butterflies and playing in rivers. Every morning, we had visits from a bull moose and his cow, just as the sun rose. What a treat.
In the evenings, we would arrive just in time to watch all of the critters in the area scurry about as they prepared for nightfall. There is a prairie dog colony on the property, with several holes in the front yard — right in front of the cabin. They’re constantly poking their heads up — “chirping” as my oldest daughter calls it — to each other.
On our third evening at the cabin, we returned back from the park around 5PM so the girls could get a good night’s sleep (they’d been up way too early to watch the moose and his lady friend stroll through the front yard the last two mornings). While they were putting jammies on, I ventured out to the front porch to fire up the barbecue and get some steaks going. After I lit the grill, I heard a frantic screech and saw a bunch of dust kick up, about thirty feet in front of the house. I could see two distinct colors — dark yellow and brown — rolling around in the dirt. I ran inside, grabbed my telephoto rig, ran back out and laid down on my belly, about twenty-five feet from the action. After watching through my lens for a few seconds, I realized it was a weasel and a Columbian ground squirrel, cage-matching to the death! Later research would reveal that the weasel was a long-tailed weasel, a common critter in southern Canada and North America.
The long-tailed weasel doesn’t usually dig burrows on its own — it lives in abandoned chipmunk burrows, under tree stumps, and this case, a Columbian ground squirrel burrow that was clearly occupied. From the get-go, the weasel had the upper-hand. Amidst the screeching and clawing, the weasel continually wrapped his legs around the ground squirrel while biting his neck, slowly wearing the squirrel down. In a matter of minutes, the squirrel was nearly finished.
Sensing his opponent was slowing down, the weasel made his final move — one last lunge. Sinking his teeth deep into the existing wound on the ground squirrel’s neck, the weasel made a fierce twisting motion, bringing the now-lifeless ground squirrel to the ground.
The weasel licked his lips clean as he quickly surveyed his kill. He quickly retreated into the burrows, ready to claim his new home. I moved the deceased critter into the tall grass, as to not freak out my daughters. My oldest daughter came running out of the house as I was moving the poor guy, wondering what was going on. I gave her an abridged version of what happened and she asked some very poignant questions:
“Daddy, are you sure it wasn’t two kitties fighting?”
“What were they so mad about? Can’t they just share their house like we do?”
The ground squirrel was gone the next morning, most likely taken by a coyote that was frequenting the area — I caught a glimpse of him the morning before.
If you’re ever looking for a place to stay while you’re visiting Glacier National Park, I can’t recommend this location enough. Please check out the VRBO listing for all the details!
See you outside!
If you’re interested in prints, you can order directly them from my online store.
My frequent use of the word “critter” was something I picked up from my friend Kevin League, who used the term often while we were shooting in Yellowstone earlier this year. Can’t shake it!
**Correction: I had initially identified the Columbian ground squirrel as a prairie dog — huge thanks to Matt Wetzel for pointing out the correct species!