Ermine Hammer in the Snow

posted in: Europe, General, Photography, Switzerland, Travel | 0

Ermine look cute but it is deceiving from their true nature: They are killers on the run.

Unpleasant Outlook

Although I haven’t bought any christmas presents yet, I arranged a photo trip with Ian. Ian is originally from Australia, and we met by chance on a photo trip. Ever since, we have been travelling to photograph wildlife. This time, we met after recent snow fall to do some photography. The uncertain conditions predicted only little snow in the morning turning into rain by midday. This did not bother me at all, but the outlook of 25+ km/h wind was unsettling to say the least. Nevertheless, we scheduled to meet shortly before sunrise – or let’s say when the dark grey clouds turned brighter grey. I did not expect the day to be anything

Finding an ermine in winter conditions can be tough.
Finding an ermine in winter conditions can be tough.

Ermine – Pure Serendipity

Arriving before Ian, I did not see a single chamois and decided to ready for the weather. I went for a walk towards Ian’s anticipated route. Walking down the street, I saw Ian’s car approaching and he made a halt right next to me on the street. We had a quick chat, when suddenly there was movement in the snow-covered meadow right next to us. Looking in this direction, I thought to spot a mouse peeking through the snow. But far from right! It was an ermine (Mustela erminea) that has already turned white. What a great find!

Ermine (Mustela Erminea) in winter coat - Switzerland
Ermine (Mustela Erminea) in winter coat – Switzerland

Immediately, I got down as low as possible in order to achieve better background separation. I was amazed how nimble this ermine was. For a moment it looked out of a hole in the snow, disappeared for a few seconds and just resurfaced at another place meters away. This running and emerging for a few seconds reminded me of the Mole Hammer game (yes, you can play it here). Ian and I tried our best at capturing a proper image. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The ermine was very quick and rather erratic in reappearance.

Sometimes, the ermine disappeared for longer periods. In the meantime, I observed a squirrel feasting on the remaining nuts of a tree. The branches were frozen, and it looked just stunning.

Curious spectator
Curious spectator

Sony A7 IV problems

Sony A7iv with 200-600
Sony A7iv with 200-600

Apart from the great encounter with the ermine, Ian had bought a new camera a few days before. It is the all-new Sony Alpha 7 Mark IV (Sony A7IV), which offers 4k 60 frames per second in 10bit as well as 33MP stills. Furthermore, the animal-eye autofocus now works even in video. This is a game changer. However, despite all those fancy new features, I was rather underwhelmed when I worked with this camera. The flip screen is not as helpful as I anticipated. Next It appeared to me that the images were very noisy even at low ISO. The raw images looked rather soft, which was the opposite of what I expected from 33 MP and the new AF. Additionally, I wish it had the ability to record 4k 120p to get the buttery smooth slomo the A7s3 or A1 offer. Obviously, Sony had to seperate the high-end tools from this camera, but 1080p 120fps is still in 8 bit, which is very disappointing. The crop on the 4k 60p does not bother me though, because I need the reach for wildlife and I have very wide APS-C lenses in case I want to record a wide-angle shot.

Squirrel feasting on nuts (Sony Alpha 7 IV)
Squirrel feasting on nuts (Sony Alpha 7 IV [cropped])
Given that I am a hybrid shooter focussing on stills and video, it is still a very tempting tool. Especially, because my trusted old Sony Alpha 6500 (APS-C), which was announced in 2016, has several limiting issues: video capabilities for slomo, Full HD looks horrible, slow focus resulting in missed shots, not critically sharp images, cannot assign certain options to buttons, weak battery life and stuck batteries.

Squirrel feasting on seeds in Winter
Squirrel feasting on seeds in Winter (Shot on A6500)

Welcome Surprise

After lying in the snow for a couple of hours, the cold became noticeable. Eventually, I gave in and wished farewell to Ian who remained at the ermine spot. On my way back to the car, I came across a tiny Christmas market, where they sold delicacies from the region. I ate a delicious burger and even found some Christmas presents.

Camouflage in Winter with Ian chasing an ermine
Camouflage in Winter with Ian chasing an ermine

Ermine Encounter

Ermine are funny little creatures. They appear very tame and cute, yet they prey on mice and even hare. Latter are more than double their size. Still, it is always a great spectacle to observe them. It was only the second time in my life that I had the chance to do so. This was a glorious photo session and certainly among the best in recent months. Thanks Ian for this great morning and allowing me to try the all new A7m4!

Ermine (Mustela Erminea) in winter coat Switzerland
Ermine (Mustela Erminea) in winter coat Switzerland

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