Friday, February 22, 2013

An Interlude of Mink

At about 10:43 pm on the evening of February 18th, the dog scratched at the front door.

He's getting old now (over 12 years) and although I usually take him out right before bed.....I didn't want to risk making him wait, given his advanced age.

The temperature had been into the 40s during the day, and it had rained steadily since about 5 pm.  As has happened several times this winter, most of the snow had also melted, so everything outside was sloppy.  At around 9 pm, the temperature dropped and that rain became a wet, heavy snow.  By the time our dog scratched at the door, the snow was already about 1.5 inches deep.

I was in the middle of grading an assignment that my students had just turned in and didn't really want to stop at that moment to take the dog out.  Yet, I figured I better not push his old bladder.  I knew there was snow outside....but not enough to warrant my boots (the dog just walks along the driveway, usually).  I slipped on my "winter resistant" mocs (warm, but don't cover the ankle and not fully water proof).  I was also wearing light flannel pants that were a tad too long....but figured I didn't need to switch into anything warmer just to take the dog out quickly.

So, I threw on my winter coat and gloves, threw the leash on the dog and stepped outside with the flashlight.  Sleety snow was coming down pretty heavily.  The front yard was fairly well lit up (the snow was fresh and the cloudy sky must have been reflecting enough light back from town nearby).  As I was letting the door shut behind me, I happened to glance out into the front yard.

Before my eyes, a dark, elongated shaped bounded across the front yard towards the large spruce trees along the south border.  I was so astonished that I completely forgot about my flashlight until the last minute.  I turned it on just in time to shine the critter as it bounded around to the back of one of the spruce trees.  It's fur was very dark, altough it's back and tail were covered in snow.

That's gotta be a mink, I said to myself.

I had never seen mink near the house before....although I had seen roadkill along the creek not far from here.

I quickly walked up along the driveway to the road in the hopes that I'd see the mink if it was crossing.


So, the dog and I plunged into the newly fallen, wet snow to find the trail.  The tracks and trail indicated the animals was clearly a mustelid.  Bounding gait, five toes, and the trail led all over the place in an almost chaotic fashion.  It appeared to stop frequently and dig into the snow (for what, I'm not sure), only to keep moving.  The dog and I followed it frantically....through snow covered wet grass and into the apple orchard to the east.  Here the trail continued to meander almost aimlessly, circling back...stopping to dig.  At one point, I saw a fresh, glistening pile of scat.  I couldn't make anything out in the excrement that would indicate diet...and my flashlight wasn't the best, anyways, so we kept moving.  I was hoping to find where the critter went to, or came from.

Finally, the trail in this direction had looped around itself when I wasn't paying close enough attention.  As a result, it mixed with my tracks and the dog' the sleet was covering my glasses....and I lost the trail.  It's possible I could have found it again, but wanted to see if I could located the other end of the mink's trail somewhere to the south.  So I moved over to where I saw the it go around the spruce tree.  My "too long" flannel pants were now getting soaked around the ankles....and snow balls were starting to form on the cuffs, which slapped around as I trudged through the snow (man, it was a dumb move not to have better leggings on!).  My less-than-appropriate footwear was also starting to threaten it would give in, but I was hoping to get an idea of where the critter was heading too.

Around the spruce tree, the snow had not started to collect yet.  I only found fragments of the trail here and there.  I tried shining my flashlight under the bottom boughs to see if I might catch a glimpse of eyes shining back at me......but no luck.  I had a brief concern that maybe I had actually seen a skunk (what an unpleasant thing, to be sprayed in the face while peering into the lower boughs of a spruce tree).  Yet, there is no way a skunk bounds like that....or had the tubular body like a mink. 

The dog and I wandered around the spruce trees for a few more seconds, as I hoped to pick up the trail again, but our tracks just made things indistinguishable.  Plus, I was getting alittle cold by that point and my glasses were so covered in sleet that they were more of a liability than not. 

So, we headed back up to the house. 

Although we didn't figure out the entire mystery, we still got to see a mink!

I have to remember to thank the old boy for making me get up from my computer.


BTW....the videos above are from a completely different location than the one in my story.  If you are interested in knowing what these Mink might be looking's an idea.....


  1. Very exciting! I know how much you love mink:)


  2. True, true and true again!

    Mink are one of my favs! I must be too cumbersome in the wild to see them "in-person" very often. It's only happened for me less than a dozen times, that I can recall.....I don't have the skill that you do in that regard for sure! I think you've seen more wild mammals "in person" than about anyone I know (excluding deer hunters seeing deer, obviously)!

    At the location where these vids came from, I have obtained alot more Mink shots. Been saving them up for a big post some day....but had to at least throw some out there now so I could tell my mink story from the other night!

  3. I've only spotted mink twice...once as one bounded across the shoreline on Newfoundland and again in a swamp in New Hampshire. Very cool to see video of one...Did you camera trap them on purpose? If so, I'd be curious to know how you picked out a good spot.

    1. Hey Dave....

      Mink (and Mustelids, in general) are a somewhat difficult lot to camera trap. I've found that you can substantially increase the likelihood of getting them by selecting a spot with a fair amount of sign. At this particular location, there were lots of mink tracks in the muddy bank the day we scoped things out. The creek is to the right, outside of the field of view. Along the same lines, I've had success with Otter by finding an Otter Latrine site....with a slide nearby. Sometimes it just takes time. Mink didn't show up at this location for weeks...and then one day they were a constant fixture.

      Also...scent lures, food lures can help, but sometimes really aren't a help. I've seen mink blow right past food and gland scents on numerous occassions. I've tried using tuna, sardines, clams, crayfish, crayfish oil, fish oil....all in areas that seem like good mink habitat....and got zip. However, at most of the sites where these failures occurred (1) there was not alot of good mink sign about and (2) raccoons raided everything before mink would have had a chance. I have just tried screwing cans to stumps so the scent remains...but the raccoons don't carry everything off....with further mixed results.

      So...the one factor that is universal among the camera sets that I've been successfull with mink (and otter): they were all locations with a healthy amount of sign (tracks, scat, etc.). The best food/scent lure in the world wont work if (a) habitat isn't right and (b) the species you're after isn't in the general vacinity. Luckily, in the habitats that that mink like, there are often muddy banks for tracks to be left.

      Hope that helps!