Having made initial contact with the local mink population in August, I found a couple of hours yesterday afternoon to walk the riverbank and look for further signs. I am no expert in mink, and it took a while for me to recalibrate my brain to a watery world after years on the heather hill.
Within ten or fifteen minutes, I had found a pile of mink “scat” and a spotty of line of minkish footprints in the mud. There’s no question that there are mink in the area, so I set two live-catch cage traps and baited them with tinned herring in an effort to get the ball rolling. Remembering the traps I set for mink years ago, I recalled the fact that camouflage and subtlety is not a requisite for this game. My old headkeeper used to talk about catching a mink in a cage trap which he had left on the table outside his hut when he went for lunch. He could hardly believe his luck when he returned and found the beast, but this is just further evidence of the mink’s passive, laid-back approach to life – they often have no fear and cannot imagine that anyone would want to cause them harm.
This is a tentative start, but I hope I will soon find a few good spots for traps and can then just keep them ticking over with a minimum of time and effort. It was a quiet reward to spot a kingfisher rushing along the water as I returned to the house. I wondered how many of these little birds have already been eaten by mink this summer, and I secretly crossed my fingers at the prospect of water voles.
It is often thought that the first mink wreaked such havoc in Britain because they arrived at a time when otters were on the back foot. The relationship between mink and otters is not well understood, but many people believe that they do not make good neighbours. As otter numbers rose throughout the 1990s and into this Century, mink numbers seemed to dwindle away. There are many records of mink vanishing altogether from rivers which were recolonised by otters, but this rule does not ring true here. The river seems to support both otters and mink in similar densities, and the two seem to have reached an equilibrium. I had a close encounter with a big dog otter while lamping foxes a fortnight ago, and was yet again surprised to see the baggy, floundering beast running across open fields several hundred yards from water – I have no doubt that they hunt rabbits, and I recently enjoyed seeing a photograph taken by a gamekeeper friend in Aberdeenshire which showed an otter carrying a young mountain hare off to Davy Jones’ locker.
Updates will surely follow, but this should be an interesting new venture.