It was one of those brilliant autumn days and I was determined to take the time to go on a walk during my lunch break. Being a college librarian is not exactly the same as working in a high paced corporate environment, but at times the pace is dizzying and lunch is usually consumed with colleagues over conversation that often sounds more like a meeting. But I was at an extension site of the college located in Perkasie on this date and I could easily steal away.
We would have nearly a foot of snow in Allentown on October 29th with an unusually early blizzard, but this was a warm and sunny October 28th. I was traipsing along the East Branch of the Perkiomen Creek, a normally lazy tributary feeding the main Perkiomen at Schwenksville and eventually on to the Schuylkill and the Delaware. I had stopped in one of my usual lunch spots and was enjoying watching the ripples in the creek surrounded by brilliant fall leaves—red maple, sugar maple, shagbark hickory, red and white oaks, basswood. Presently I noticed a movement over my shoulder in the woods. I watched an animal, a little bigger than my pet cat, walk through the scrappy grasses just on the other side of the trail through the woods. He moved along with purpose and took no notice of me. He was a deep brown color, slender, slight point to the nose, and the tail was a little bushy. I believe I was observing a wild mink.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission mink are “a semi-aquatic member of the family Mustelidae” and are related to “weasels, martens, fishers, wolverines, badgers, skunks and otters” (Fergus, p. 1). In fact I wasn’t totally certain I had a mink on my hands. Looking at descriptions on the PGN web site I thought perhaps it may be a fisher, but they have not been reported in Bucks County, or even in the nearby Lehigh Valley—my home neck of the woods.
I’m often amazed at the beauty of these simple Pennsylvanian woods. I’ve witnessed firsthand the grandeur of places large: the Cascades of Washington State or the glaciers and mountains near Seward Alaska. But my adopted home of Pennsylvania will always be a special place in my mind. When I first started with the college, based in Newtown, I spent many a lunchtime walk in Tyler State Park. I would take special note of the wildlife—deer, great blue herons, bullfrogs. I can well remember the first time I noticed a double crested cormorant. It took me a little while to properly identify the bird, thumbing through Peterson’s with great excitement. It seemed a rare find to me at the time, but only the week before spotting the mink in Perkasie had I observed five cormorants sunning themselves on a log in the Neshaminy Creek in TSP. And it was this semester along the East Branch of the Perkiomen that I startled up a green heron who took to the air and was down stream in no time. Probably the most unique observation for me on a lunchtime walk was observing a common loon in wintertime, also along the Neshaminy.
I wondered about the mink. Where was he going? Was this in fact a he or a she? Was there a den nearby? This certainly seemed to be ideal territory for such a creature. A relatively wild strip of land on either side of the creek, albeit surrounded by suburbia. There would be a plentiful supply of food along the creek, adequate denning sites, and just enough isolation from neighboring people. The creek seems to be a healthy one. In addition to the annual stocked fish, there are many native fish, crayfish, and frogs in the creek. Surrounding the creek one can readily observe snakes, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and the like. I wondered if I would begin to notice mink more often or if this was a chance encounter perhaps not to be repeated for a long time. They are fairly nocturnal or active in the early part of the day, but this was midday. So I imagine this was a unique experience.
I try to keep track of the variety of flora and fauna I observe. I had great intentions of keeping such a journal for animals observed in and around my property—great horned owl, wild turkey, woodcock—but it’s more of a collection of scribbles scattered as far and wide as the animals themselves. This mink however inspired me to stop and record the moment.
Fergus, Charles. Minks and Muskrats. Wildlife Notes, 22. Pennsylvania Game Commission. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/document/706639/mink_muskrats_pdf