Saw My First Mink!

I got up around 5:30 am because the dog wanted his breakfast and needed to pee, so I let him do his morning stuff and brewed a pot of coffee… then went back to bed until about 7:30.  I’m still feeling crummy and still have a fever, but the cough has abated for the most part. I was dog-tired but also feeling really stir-crazy after being in bed for so many days, so I went over to the Cosumnes River Preserve and walked for a little bit.  I was hoping that moving around would encourage the fever to break.  I didn’t walk for as long as I usually do, and was headachy and exhausted when I got back home, but I still feel the fresh air and exercise was worth it.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

I only walked along the boardwalk and the small ponds around it, and didn’t walk the longer trails. A lot of the usual suspects were out there, but I was astonished to come across a MINK (Neovison vison)!  It was the first time I’d ever seen a live mink in the wild, and at first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. The mink was in a pond near the parking area, and I could see its head poking out of the water.  At first I thought maybe it was a baby otter, but the muzzle was the wrong shape. I got some photos of it in the water and then it ducked under the surface and I lost it.  A few second later, I saw it come up the bank to the side of the road right in front of me.  I watched it climb up and go to a tangle of fallen branches… and then realized there was the body of a dead mink there, too.  The live mink sniffed around the dead one for a little while, and then grabbed the carcass in its mouth.  It started pulling the dead mink down into the water, and I walked up a little bit closer to try to get more photos and video. The live mink saw me, dropped the dead one on the bank and swam off…  I considered going after the carcass, but the bank’s incline was too steep and I didn’t want to end up in the water.

I don’t know if the live mink wanted the dead mink’s body to mourn it or to eat it (or both). Mink DO eat just about anything including fish, frogs, rabbits, muskrats, insects, birds and snakes. They build burrows adjacent to water with at least one water entrance and up to 8 exit tunnels on land.  There are supposedly a lot of them in the area, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen one (or two as the case may be).

While I was walking along the side of the pond, an elderly gentleman, who said his name was Larry, drove up in his truck and asked if I’d seen anything interesting. When I told him I saw the mink, he quickly pulled into the nearby parking lot and joined me on the bank.  I commented on his super-fancy camera rig (with a lens as long as his arm) and he said he used to be a sports photographer for the Lodi Sentinel newspaper. Now that he’s retired, he was able to use the tools from his former job to augment his play.  He showed me some photos of Sandhill Cranes that he took, and they were awesome.  He’s kind of new at this nature-photography thing, though, so he doesn’t really know what he’s photographing.  (He thought Northern Shoveler ducks were Mallards, and didn’t know what the Black-Necked Stilts were.  But he’s anxious to learn.)  I think he’s probably in his 70’s; he had to quit working for the newspaper because he has recurring problems with sciatic pain and can’t be on his feet for any length of time.  We walked and talked for a little while, but the mink never resurfaced, so Larry and I went our separate ways…

Two misses today: I saw a Belted Kingfisher perched on a telephone line, watching for fish in one of the adjacent sloughs, but when I turned the car around to get a photo of him, he flew off.  Same thing with a gorgeous Black-Shouldered Kite sitting in a tree by the road. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but when I got to a place where I could turn the car around, the bird was gone.  Dang.

Oh, and an odd thing: on my way back home, I saw an odd-looking bird standing along the edge of a rice field. I couldn’t tell what it was, so I pulled the car off to the side of the road to take a better look at the thing. It looked like a cross between a Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron… and it took me several minutes to realize I was looking at a fake bird. It was mounted on a pole that mimicked the long legs of the egrets and herons, and what finally made it obvious to me that it was a decoy and not a live bird was when the wind blew; the whole bird spun slowly in a circle on the pole. Hahahaha!

I went right home after that and crashed in bed with the dog for the rest of the day.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.