So did you have a guess for last week’s puzzler? If you only looked at the tracks and didn’t see the hint, it would be hard without knowing the size of those tracks. One reason I know what they are is because I actually SAW the animal as it was making them. Did you notice the hint? That this mammal has a white chin patch? This is the giveaway.” Really?” you say, “but I still don’t know.” Don’t worry, it’s not an animal most people would be very familiar with. It is a MINK!
The first time I ever saw a mink I was exploring a wetland I lived on, called The Great Swamp. It was a cold day in winter –my favorite time of year to explore the Swamp because the ice made everything accessible and snow, especially fresh snow, make the entire area an open book into the lives of the animals who lived there. They could not hide their tracks. And so, each morning when I arrived, dressed warmly in many layers, I was thrilled, anxious to “read” the stories written there as clear as day. My gosh, the tracks I found and followed! The things I learned about my outdoor neighbors was incredible, way beyond anything I could have ever learned in books.
So on this one day I was sitting against a stump, waiting hopefully with my camera on the ready on my tripod, for some animal to come along. From the tracks I knew many animals traveled there and that it was a good bet for seeing one. I was facing a small spot of open water and hopeful that an otter would appear. The chances were good as otter tracks and sign were everywhere in that area. It was just after sunrise and though cold, I was excited enough to have plenty of heat coursing through my body.
I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and tried not to jerk my head around immediately to see what it was. Staying still and not making sudden movements is the first rule of wildlife watching. I slowly turned my head around, spotting a small, dark animal, sort of galloping along in a graceful way. It stopped behind me, maybe 20 feet away and looked at me, looking at him. My neck was far around as it could go and there was no way I was going to be able to get a picture, as my camera, on my tripod, was facing the other direction. Moving to adjust it would surely spook the animal and so I settled for watching it. After a second, the small, aerodynamic animal with a cute face, small ears and a distinctive white chin patch and long tail moved off, staying at the edge of the fresh snow, just off of the slippery ice. And I sat, wondering what animal I’d just seen!
I had never seen a mink before. I knew what it wasn’t– a muskrat, an otter, a beaver, a coyote, etc. I went through the list of all that it wasn’t but didn’t know exactly what it was. Some kind of weasel I concluded, knowing I would look it up in the mammal book when I returned home.
After that I saw MANY mink on the frozen river and soon learned that mink are very curious and that I could follow them. They would often “hide” behind some tree trunk or root bed but if I waited, they were likely to peek out in a minute to see if I was still there. I used this as my time to hurry closer, all the while keeping in a straight line so the mink would not see me. When it looked out again, there I was, closer. And we would do it again, and again and again. I even learned that I could follow them in the canoe when the swamp was high but not frozen, albeit clumsily as I wore all the hats then–wildlife spotter, photographer, paddler. It was challenging but I got better at it and some of my best pictures were taken from the canoe–with my tripod set up in front of me and held tightly between my knees. Some day I will have to write about the time this didn’t work out so well…but that can wait for another day!
Hopefully now you know what a mink looks like at least. And next week I will do my Creature Feature on the mink–likely at the end of the week as on Monday and Tuesday I will be busy hanging my photography at The North Carolina Arboretum for an exhibit that starts on Wednesday, January 14th. Maybe on Wednesday I can do the Creature Feature. See you then! You can check out the next Puzzler HERE.