Mink in a Candy Store

Mink are elusive critters. This is not to say that they are un-common – only that they are stealthy and rarely seen.  Their public perception is that they are very rare (“I didn’t know we had mink here!”). This fog is carefully maintained by the BW&M -the Brotherhood of the Weasels & Mustelids but traditionally called the Brotherhood of the Wild & Mink by Mink types). It is a requirement for all BW&M members to be mostly nocturnal, slink about, and pursue their predatory habits with gusto.  The truth is that mink are not rare. In fact, in some places they are very common.

If there is a trick to spotting mink, it is to spend an inordinate amount of time in their wetland haunts (they are water-loving creatures) and trust that one or two of the animals will be caught bumbling about in the daylight hours. All of my mink encounters have been of the bumbling kind where we both were bumbling about.  My most recent encounter was by far the best.

Last month, around mid-day, I happened to be walking the sea wall along the River Raisin. The water was lowerin , as opposed to raisin, and large stretches were reduced to shallow riffles. Because of an extended dry summer, much of the river below the step dam has erupted into lush beds of smartweed and flowering rush.

This is not my usual “nature spot” and all hopes of being alone in this place have to be abandoned here, but it does offer some excitement (such as the very exciting mussel movement I brought to your attention some blogs ago). On this day, it appeared that the most interesting thing of the day would be Damselflies (I could insert a dam joke here, but will refrain). Acting as if they were full of summer vigor, dozens of Ruby Damselflies were cavorting. The males were engaged in a maneuver that can only be described as a butt dance in which they raised and lowered their assets to either attract females or ward off other males.

This would have been fine, but thanks to a human couple standing further up the shore/wall I was directed by their gaze to something happening in the river below. They were watching a mink dart back and forth out of the vegetation.  I approached cautiously – as much to avoid spooking the mink as to respect the space of the folks engaged in nature observation. The people soon abandoned the spot to re-direct their attentions to the geese wandering through the grass (no comment), but the mink continued to act as if no one was near.

Even though this animal seemed to be breaking all BW&M rules by appearing in public, she was “pursuing predatory habits with gusto” (rule 6- sub paragraph B). In other words, food trumps all other rules in the brotherhood.

For some reason, whole bunches of fish were beaching themselves on the shelf rock in the shallow flow and our mink was nabbing as many as possible. They could have been spooked by the human couple I mentioned earlier and blindly bolted along this dangerous route to the next pool. It turned out to be a gauntlet in which only a few would succeed in passing. The mink would dash out, grab the nearest victim and promptly carry it back to a secret storage place back in the smartweed patch. Vanishing only for a second or two, it excitedly returned to grab another fish (see movie here)

The process was repeated again and again for over ten minutes. There was no time for eating – this was manna from heaven and was to be gathered and stored.  I lost count, but she grabbed twenty or so – mostly smallmouth bass and a few sunfish – before the candy store closed.

Mink are not fish specialists. They prefer crayfish and mammal prey (especially muskrats) and fish typically only make up less than 15% of their diet.  They also don’t tend to cache food – or horde it- as other weasels are wont to do. But, as we can see, there are no set rules in nature.

As the fish numbers dwindled, the mink wandered a bit further downstream in hopes of finding a few more. Because it was a small individual, I assume it was a juvenile and probably a female. A male would have been a third larger. She increasingly threw nervous glances up towards me with beady little eyes and finally opted to retreat for cover. I can only imagine the feast which followed over the remainder of that day. If this animal even looked at another fish for a few days I would be surprised (but then again BW&M members are a surprising lot).


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