My first encounter with a mink occurred when I was a kid. It was a hot, humid Easter Sunday, and my mom insisted I wear my new wool suit to church. I was not a happy camper. While sitting in church directly behind my aunt, I was pouting, sweating, and itching when I noticed she was wearing a fur coat. (Go figure when the temperature was 80 degrees!) Peering over her shoulder, the black, beady eyes of a wild animal were staring right at me. It had small pointy ears, and its mouth was wide open, showing its sharp teeth. I whispered to my father, “I think it just snarled at me.” Dad whispered back that the creature gave up its fur just so Aunt Jean could prove to Aunt Stella she was a member of high society. I didn’t get the high society thing, but I was hooked for life, not with the celebration of Easter Mass in a wool suit, but with Mustela vison, the smallest member of the weasel family – the mink.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that I had my first encounter with a live mink. It was September, and I was fishing on Lake Ontario with my colleagues from Finger Lakes Community College. The announced purpose of our trip was an academic planning retreat, but truth be told, our only plan was to fish. I had just landed another bass, when a dark blur along the rocky shoreline caught my eye. A mink was dragging a twenty-five-to-thirty-inch northern pike along the water’s edge. To use my favorite fishing metaphor: I was once again hooked. How could such a tiny creature capture and kill such a large fish? (Actually, by my standards a thirty inch pike is quite small.)
My third mink encounter happened in Naples. I was teaching conservation at FLCC and heading to the office at 6 a.m. one July morning. (Despite what you may have heard, college professors get up early, put in long hours, and work year-round.) To make a long story short, I encountered a mink dragging a road-killed woodchuck four times its size into a culvert. I took several photos and was convinced my images would be published in National Geographic. Has anyone seen them yet?
My fourth mink encounter occurred after one of my numerous attempts to win the Bristol Harbor Century Tennis Tournament. The tournament rules require doubles partners to be a combined 100 years of age. Despite the fact that my partner and I were 106 years old combined, we were once again humiliated by a team with a combined age of 130. That afternoon on the shore of Canandaigua Lake, we were drowning our sorrows and taking out our frustrations by launching potatoes from a potato gun toward noisy cigar boats, speeding down the lake. (We’ve since matured, but we still haven’t won the tournament.) Out of nowhere a black mink appeared. I photographed the fearless mink as it returned time and again, stealing our ammunition along with a few spareribs to boot. Given the mink’s propensity for potatoes, my Grandpa Lenahan would have said, “for sure ‘twas an Irish mink.”
During the late 1990s, when I was working at FLCC’s Mueller Conservation Field Station, I regularly observed and photographed mink near Honeoye Lake. (My wife is happy to report that these recollections are much more professional.)
Mink are about the size of a gray squirrel and have soft, glossy, rich-colored coats which vary from dark brown to black. They den near water using muskrat burrows, beaver lodges and hollow logs. Underneath their luxurious coat lurks one of the most efficient predators in the Finger Lakes. Accomplished swimmers and agile on land, they are constantly hunting for prey to satisfy their high metabolism. Like weasels, they kill their prey by biting its neck. Their preferred food is muskrat, but they also feed on mice, chipmunks, birds, frogs, crayfish, snakes, fish, or just about anything they can handle. Primarily nocturnal, they are also active during the day when they have young to feed, as well as during the winter months.
Mink are both curious and bold, which leads me to my next two stories of mink encounters. At the Field Station, I was regularly able to coax from its burrow and then photograph a curious mink by imitating the squealing sound of a mouse in distress. It was days before the mink finally figured out I wasn’t a mouse.
My most recent mink encounter occurred after I had caught a rather impressive rainbow trout. I’ve experienced bold mink before, but this one took the cake – and the trout! As I unhooked my monster trout, it flopped out of my hand onto the bank of the stream, and before my very eyes, a mink appeared, grabbed the trout, and began dragging it away. And for those who don’t believe me, above is the photo to prove it!
by Bill Banaszewski