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It’s In Our Nature: Catching a glimpse of mink

When I was between 10 and 13 years of age, Dad fashioned a 6-foot butterfly net for me from mom’s old window sheers.

My East Weissport neighbors probably thought I was catching butterflies in their yards but I was catching Carolina locusts (winged grasshoppers.)

What does this have to do with mink?

Well, on some of the warmest nights of the summer, my dad would take me along to a special “fishing hole” in Pine Run. (Unfortunately, it is now submerged by Beltzville Lake) to fish after dark.

Pine Run’s water was cold but by mid-July the brown trout would congregate in that long, deep pool.

With a discarded glass mayonnaise jar full of lively grasshoppers we made our way by flashlight to the pool’s edge. We would wait till he heard a few trout “rising” and then said “now it’s time.”

He’d carefully hook a live grasshopper to the dry fly and in a few seconds a dandy “brownie” was sitting in our creel. After catching three or four trout he told me we had enough to eat and we’ll leave a few for the next time.

Back to mink. A few nights as we waited for that first trout to rise, sitting there under the stars, we would hear leaves rustling close to the stream.

Once our flashlight picked out a foraging raccoon but twice it was a mink patrolling the stream’s edge. I thought they were so “cool.” Those were my first sightings of mink.

After my dad suffered a stroke, and Beltzville Lake covered our favorite pool, I found a similar spot along Saw Mill Run. Twice I duplicated what Dad and I had done and caught a couple of fish. But what I best remembered wasn’t the two dandy brown trout, but the mother mink that passed within 10 feet of me with 3 bouncing young ones following along.

I knew my flashlight beam would spook the trout but I couldn’t resist watching their movements. She seemed to tolerate the light and I watched as she caught a crayfish and gave it to the three youngsters.

Shortly after that she lunged for something (I believe it was a bullfrog) but the plop in the water meant she missed. I followed them as far as my flashlight’s beam would allow. I can still picture every detail of the “troops” activities for those few minutes.

Since then, I look for mink in two favorite coves at Beltzville and if I get there before other birders or fishermen, I sometimes can spy one still feeding as the sun is rising. I’ve only ever seen solitary minks and since it was late May or early June “she” probably fed into the daylight hours trying to find enough grub for her young.

Minks are fairly common in the Times News region favoring stream banks or pond edges.

They are about two feet long, basically chocolate brown in color, and as you might guess, covered with a thick, soft fur. They feed primarily on muskrats, but also mice, frogs, crayfish, snakes, and even some fish or bird eggs.

They find a den to spend the daylight hours and the female, when ready to give birth, will line it with dried grasses for her normal litter of 4 young. They remain active all winter, do not change their fur color like some of their mustelid cousins, and continue their active search along the stream sides.

They are excellent predators but they too must be aware of coyotes, fox, and even great horned owls that will prey on them. A mink’s life span is normally 2 to 4 years.

If you’re “naturing” along a quiet steam, keep an eye out for this “cool” predator.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Young mink are called: A. Pups; B. Kits; C. Spar; D. Cubs.

Trivia Answer from Dec. 23 column: The mockingbird, as expected with it “southern origins,” is the state bird of five southern states.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Mink are probably more common than people realize. They prefer clear streams and pond or lake shores to search for their food and to choose their denning sites. I watched this mink bounce from rock to rock, stopping little as she searched for food just after daylight. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Mink usually live in close association with their primary food, muskrats. However, recently muskrat numbers have been shrinking, fortunately other animals close to water sources have become a bigger part of their diet.
Mink are semiaquatic; certainly not as attuned to water like their cousins, the otters, but they are good swimmers. This one swam at least 80 yards across a cove, shook itself off, and immediately began patrolling the opposite shoreline.
Frogs, and bullfrogs like this one, are common mink prey items.
Unwary fish, such as this sunfish, are prey mink will pursue when the opportunity exists.