MIKE BAGSHAW, travel and countryside writer stumbles across one of our smallest carnivores that fails to escape his notice.

For me, no experience in the natural world is boring, but some are more inspiring than others and occasionally you are blessed with an absolutely magical moment that defines the day and etches it onto the memory for years to come. This particular day in question was the first sub-zero, still and sunny day after the inaugural snowfall of the winter; a morning in which it would be criminal to stay indoors.

On the home stretch of what had been an invigorating walk – the downhill leg to the pub, with our bodies still glowing pleasantly from earlier uphill effort. A raw and penetrating breeze, a precursor of the snow shower visible on the horizon, hissed in the nearby trees and picked up a handful of leaves, tumbling them over the snow-covered field.

After most had settled, one kept tumbling and didn’t look quite right – its incongruity drew my more attentive gaze to recognize a small running animal. Its sinuocity identified it as a mustelid, but from the distance of 30 or 40 yards I couldn’t tell whether it was a weasel or a stoat.

It was hunting. The modus operandi being, bound, scuttle, ferret, stop, rush, ferret, bound, pause… pounce, and all done at an incredible pace, as if it was speeded up film we were watching. The amount of energy this little animal was using was enormous.

The pair of us watched enthralled as it quartered the field, and held our joint breath as he headed in our direction. Instinctively we both ceased all movement hoping he wouldn’t see us and, sure enough, he bounded and ferreted closer and closer until, about eight feet away he stood on his haunches meerkat-style and looked us straight in the eye, so close we could see the bright glint of snow reflected in his dark pupil.

After a second or two, which felt more like an hour, he decided that we weren't of any interest and bounded away to the left and under the hedge bottom. Now able to move and speak we both grinned at each other and simultaneously said, 'Brilliant!' 'I'm tired out just watching him,' Lois added.

Not surprisingly with such a frantic metabolism, weasels need to be determined and efficient hunters. At half the size of a stoat they are Ryedale's smallest carnivores with mice and voles making up over 90% of their diet. In order to survive they have to eat a third of their own body weight every 24 hours - that's 2 or 3 mice that need catching each day.

Later, in the comfort of the pub with a bowl of hot soup inside me and a pint waiting patiently on the table, I pulled down a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary from nearby decorative bookshelves.

Out of etymological interest I looked up the word weasel to find that it was of Anglo-Saxon origin but unknown meaning, and I was also reminded of the verb to weasel - as in 'he managed to weasel out of his responsibilities.' This of course triggered an informal mini-pub-quiz to find as many other animal name verbs as possible (try it, it's fun) . We came up with fox, duck, grouse and two cousins of the weasel - ferret (to rummage or search tenaciously) and badger (to pester repeatedly).

In the end I shut the book a little disgruntled that this little star of an animal should be unfairly associated with just 'achieving something by cunning or deceit.' After what I've seen this morning it should be 'achieving something by high-energy foxing, ferreting, ducking and badgering,' I thought, and took a first sip of beer.