Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mink punks muskrat, scares ducks!

The tranquil waters of the pond at Char-Mar Ridge Park in Delaware County, Ohio. I made my second visit to this site yesterday, and left scratching my head as to why I've not been here more often. It's only 20-25 minutes away, and the place can be a goldmine for bird photography. There is a fantastic roofed observation blind - where I made the shot above - and it's one of the best-sited blinds that I've seen. Not only is it in a great location, but is positioned such that the light, especially in early morning in spring and fall, is ideally suited for lighting subjects on the pond.

UPDATE: A little while back, I wrote a piece about another Preservation Parks of Delaware County site, Shale Hollow Park. That column, which appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and which I shared on this blog, HERE, touted the virtues of the park district and its holdings. I am pleased to say that one week later, Delaware County voters overwhelming approved passage of a park levy continuation, along with a small increase, by a 62% to 38% margin. People do like their parks and wild spaces and we need to do all we can to support effective conservation organizations.

Back to the subject at hand. A stunning quartet of hooded mergansers - two drakes bookending a pair of hens - steams along between underwater fishing forays. They, and numerous wood ducks, were my primary quarry on this day. Persistent autumn foliage is still tinting the water with color, making for nice waterfowl photo ops.

When I arrived at the blind shortly after sunrise and cast my eyes on the scene out front, one of the first thoughts that I had was "this looks perfect for a mink!" These aggressive weasels love to hunt along shorelines of ponds, lakes, and wetlands, and I've seen them in such settings numerous times. Here would be a great potential photo opportunity if one of the tubular beasts would make an appearance.

Sometime later in the morning, a fellow photographer, Victoria Koroleva, appeared in the blind. I had not previously met her but had seen her work on Facebook. One of the great things about Zuckerberg's massive social media outlet is it often "introduces" people before they actually meet for real, and this was one of those cases. At some point I verbalized my mink-aura feelings to Victoria, and it wasn't much later that she exclaimed "look! a mink!"

The mink appears, just across a narrow arm of the pond. This was a wonderful opportunity to observe the beast without it being alarmed, as it didn't know we were there. Mink, for all practical purposes, are raging psychopathic homicidal well-furred mammalian slinkies. They rapidly bound about with an exaggerated undulating gait, exploring all nooks and crannies and prepared to pounce with murderous intent as soon as a victim shows itself.

The mink rapidly moved along the bank, poking under logs and occasionally pausing to scan its surroundings. Interestingly, on a few occasions it dove into the shallow water along the pond's edge, temporarily disappearing from sight. I think I know what it was looking for.

Soon after the mink turned a corner of the pond and vanished from sight, we saw a muskrat rapidly swimming towards the middle of the pond from the immediate direction of the mink. Once it got out there, it paused and just floated motionless low in the water for five minutes or so. I'd not seen this behavior from a muskrat before, but it wasn't hard to decipher what was going on.

I imagine the mink's underwater dives were to search out and enter the burrows of muskrats. The latter often create subterranean lairs with the entrance under the water. Mink are said to be quite fond of muskrat meat and are more than capable of killing them. I suspect the mink nearly caught this 'skrat unaware, and the rodent fled to deeper water and a strategic advantage. It's probably a very lucky muskrat.

After a while, the muskrat paddled back to shore and hauled out on a log. And there he sat for quite some time, not moving a muscle and casting wary glances about before finally disappearing.

As the mink continued its shoreline rampage, it eventually got into a sheltered cove at the rear of the pond where many of the ducks retreat. The fowl apparently didn't like the ferocious weasel either, and suddenly a cloud of ducks skittered out of there and onto the pond's open waters, including this pair of gadwall.

It's fascinating to watch the dynamics of a situation when a dangerous alpha predator appears. Just about all of the animals go on alert, or outright flee to safer spots. The mink was a wonderful addition to an already fantastic outing, and to watch it in action, acting naturally, was a huge perk.

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