Enchanting encounter with rare white stoat

Robert Fuller has called this white stoat Bandita due to it's distinctive mask.
Robert Fuller has called this white stoat Bandita due to it's distinctive mask.

A rare pure-white stoat has been spotted on the Yorkshire Wolds.

Stoats have the ability to turn white in winter, but the transformation only happens sporadically and is an uncommon sight in Yorkshire.

Robert Fuller has called this white stoat Bandita due to it's distinctive mask.

Robert Fuller has called this white stoat Bandita due to it's distinctive mask.

It was spotted by wildlife artist and former Woldgate pupil Robert E Fuller via surveillance cameras installed in his garden which he uses to study wildlife for his paintings.

“It is rare to see white stoats here – I’ve only ever seen five in the last 10 years,” he said. “I first saw a female stoat darting through the undergrowth as I was going through my camera footage.

“At that point only its tail had begun to turn white. Now it is completely white, except for a band of brown fur across its eyes which make it look like its wearing a mask. I’ve decided to call this individual ‘Bandita’.”

Stoat’s are notoriously difficult to watch at all times of year, but they become even harder to see against a snow white backdrop.

Artist Robert Fuller is pictured in his winter camouflage gear.

Artist Robert Fuller is pictured in his winter camouflage gear.

Mr Fuller, who lives in Thixendale, has set up a feeding station to persuade the stoat to stay in his garden and is using white light so that he watch and photograph it around the clock in full colour. But the project is challenging.

He said: “When the stoat first changed colour there was little snow and it stood out like a sore thumb against the greens and browns of the surrounding countryside. As a consequence it became increasingly shy and nocturnal.”

For most of the year and throughout most of the British Isles, stoats are a chestnut colour with a creamy white belly and a black tail.

But in upland areas and in the north of Scotland, where temperatures are lower and prolonged snowfall more likely, they moult this chestnut coat and replace it with snow white fur that blends in with a winter white background.

Known as ermine, the white fur is supposed to conserve heat.