A Mink at Home

In England, mink are an invasive foreign species, but here in Maine they are native and they stay active through the long hard winters. They are secretive, and mostly nocturnal,  but last winter I did see one running around one of my ponds. Unusually for me,  I had no camera.  Sod’s Law, as we say in England. On another day, though, I discovered where one of them lived.

American Mink, Neovison vison, live in dens usually near water, under rocks or tree roots.  I was walking towards a beaver wetland when I found this one.  I saw some scat, and I realized that I was looking at a midden (a place where an animal or a group of animals habitually defecates) in the lower left of the photo below, and then I realized that a few feet away was a large hole, in the center of the picture, just the right size for a 2-foot long mink,.


There was a well-worn trail connecting the two: clearly a fastidious animal who preferred to use the outhouse. Not unlike humans, really. *


If you look closely at the scat (optional!), it contains fish scales and fish skin, typical of mink, who can swim 100 feet underwater (including under the ice) when they hunt. They are carnivores, and will eat small mammals like muskrats and chipmunks, and also snakes and frogs.


Mink travel along streams and the edges of ponds, leaving tracks like these:


Every now and again, you can find a perfectly cylindrical vertical hole , usually going right down through the snow into the water,  where they have been hunting for something or other. Here are four of them!

This morning I found tracks leading down a hill, then a short slide into a bigger hole in the stream.

I find it reassuring to know that I have a healthy mink population, even if I never actually see them!

Since I don’t have my own photos of mink, here is a spectacular one to finish with:

I can’t resist ending with a mink story, even though it doesn’t cast my ancestors in a very good light.  My grandfather, after ostrich farming and then gold-prospecting in Kenya, returned to the UK in the 1930’s and took up mink farming. As a result my grandmother knew her furs. When she was in her 80’s, and not very well off, she would occasionally go to Harrods fur department and ask to see the mink coats. When they brought some out she would wave them away dismissively, and say that these were made of male pelts, and she only wanted to see the suppler female ones.  They were most impressed by her expertise.  Of course, she never bought anything.

*This perfectly reasonable abhorrence of defecating in one’s residence is one reason India still has difficulty stopping the practice of heading for the great outdoors. Even when the government builds latrines, many people won’t use them because defecating indoors is viewed as unclean.

Turkey takeoff

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will know that turkeys have starred before, but always in the spring or summer. Since they do not migrate, even when the snow is thick on the ground they are still wandering the woods foraging. You see their tracks, like the ones on the left below, with more in the background:

The other day, out of the woods they came, for all the world like a band of greatcoated marauders from the Russian steppes:

In close-up they are even more military-looking:

Those photos were taken from the desk, through the window. They rounded the corner of the house, so I crept outside to try and get a better shot, but I only succeeded in scaring them:

They ran across the back yard towards the field, and took off: here you can see their tracks going from right to left, taking an abrupt turn to face downhill and line up their takeoffs, and ending sharply as they got airborne. (The big sloppy tracks are from my snowshoes!)

One of them left faint wing marks in the snow

They are pretty good flyers, so all I got was a picture of two rear ends and pale wing feathers.

Male turkeys are heavy, ungainly birds, up to 24lbs (11Kg), and their wings are not very large to carry such a weight , up to 4ft 9in (1.5m) or so, so it is always disconcerting to see them in flight.

The ultimate otter

[After my otter excitement last week, I promised that I’d detour away from Maine and retrieve some photos I took in my pre-blog days. Here they are.]

The Giant Otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, is native to the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata river systems in South America. I took these photos in 2013 in the Pantanal in Brazil, the largest wetland in the world, sadly badly scarred by wildfires in the last few years.

Giant Otters are very large animals, the males weighing up to 70lbs and measuring 6 feet long, excluding tail., which can add another 2 feet.

The Pantanal is perfect habitat for them, even in the dry season. We saw them on the Cuiabá River, from our small boat, just visible in the photo. They live in family groups of a monogamous pair and the young from several breeding seasons. This group had seven members, including two small pups.

Like the North American River Otter, they love to slide. This one is descending a sand bank into the river:

Fish are abundant, and otters are fierce hunters:

with impressive teeth and jaws:

It was late afternoon, and the babies were being given their evening bath, not without protest. .

This one wasn’t too keen, but the ruthlessly efficient adults teamed up and pushed it underwater to do a thorough job:

Grooming distributes oil through their pelt, rendering it waterproof.

They have a rather endearing behavior called periscoping, in which they stick their head above the water to check for danger, just like the grey whales do in San Ignacio Lagoon (but on a smaller scale!). Watch for a little head swimming in from behind the fallen tree on the right hand side:

These spectacular animals are now endangered as their habitat steadily shrinks, and gets polluted and over-fished.  I have also seen them on the Napo River (a tributary of the Amazon) in Ecuador, where they are Critically Endangered. The IUCN Red List website points out that “Rivers are roads into the forest, this is where people settle, where gold mining takes place, where there is competition for fish or overfishing, where “green” energy can be harvested, where climate change will have strong impacts, where contamination can be spread rapidly, and so on. This vital link to rivers and wetlands renders the Giant Otter much more susceptible than most other comparable large predators of the Amazon, such as the Jaguar. “

To end with, a poem for all you otter-dreamers out there..

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