Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Beautiful . . . but deadly - the mink!

How sad that such a strikingly sleek and handsome creature should be so deadly.  The north American mink is not indigenous to Britain.  It was imported here to be raised for the fur trade and kept in far from ideal conditions which prompted animal rights activists to release many of these creatures from a number of mink farms.  These beautiful beasts thrived in the wild and, as man and otter are their only predators, they bred and spread through our waterways, wiping out water voles from many areas and killing coots, moorhens, mallards, tufted ducks, other waterfowl and fish along the way.  I've even seen one attacking a swan!

The island has had a problem with mink for 16 years and below are some images of the most recent killer.  Looking at it I find it is enough to melt some people's hearts and there was a time when I wouldn't have wanted to eradicate mink in our area until I experienced some of the devastation just one 'cute' little mink can cause.

I have saved several swans and many ducks from the jaws of various mink over the years but have lost count of the number of waterfowl I've been unable to protect.  When you see a duck in its death throes, being drowned by a mink, and you can't get close enough to scare off the mink it's very upsetting.  Worse still has been to find partially eaten ducks, their throats torn out and the rest left to rot, while the mink goes on to take another victim the same day.  I've watched helplessly as entire coot families are 'picked off' and I've also found the dessicated remains of tufted ducks scattered around.  It is heartbreaking . . . and yet I still cannot look at a mink without seeing its beauty.  It isn't the mink's fault that it is in the UK and thriving.  Humans and the fur trade are to blame.

 Young mink sunning itself in a neighbour's garden

 It seemed quite relaxed as it lay on the ground drying its fur after a swim

 It's hard to believe this is the face of a killer
Relaxing in another garden next to the water's edge

A few days ago I watched this young mink swim across the river from the far side.  Its presence spread terror among the ducks which panicked and flew to the centre of the river setting up a series of alarm calls.  After several minutes four of them followed the mink from a safe distance as it swam downstream until they lost sight of it.  About ten minutes later I spotted the mink swimming away towards an upstream neighbour's garden where it hauled out to dry off.  It obviously hadn't succeeded in its hunt for breakfast this time but I thought of all the ducks and their young that had disappeared within days of hatching this year.

Mallard with 10 day old ducklings

We had every hope that this mallard might keep at least some of her ducklings now that the herons, crows and magpies were no longer feeding their young.  However, according to islander Chris W, a heron gradually picked one off after another from nearby Duck Ait.  Finally, she was down to two and she kept these for about four days and then they, too, disappeared. Whether it was heron, pike or mink we'll never know.

 Mallard with the two remaining ducklings

 A tufted duck with two of the four young she hatched

For a while we thought that this tufted duck might just raise the two survivors as she looked after them pretty well but we noticed the crow swooping down on them a number of times.  The inevitable happened and one was left but this one really seemed to be a survivor.  I was foolish enough to say to Dave that I thought it was now big enough to 'make it'!  Famous last words . . . the next day it was gone.  It really is very sad.

Mother tufty with junior who had become a demon diver