by David Dempsey
by David Dempsey
On June 7 I kayaked on the White River with two friends. There is not a lot of current in dry times when the Corps of Engineers is conserving water and running the generators in Beaver Dam only minimally. This makes it easy to paddle upstream from the town of Beaver for a picnic and then return downstream to our launching point, avoiding the hassle of shuttling vehicles people and boats. It is also one of our favorite stretches of the White River.
On the way upstream at around the two-mile point I spotted the only river otters I have ever seen on the White River. I was paddling close to the rocky side of the river hoping to see a mink when a much larger animal jumped out from shore and hit the water about 12 feet in front of my boat. I thought I noticed a round tail and not the flat tail of a beaver which are fairly common on the river. The animal surfaced in front of me, stared straight at me , its otter’s face unmistakable. Then it dived. About that time a second otter hit the water just in front of my boat. I waited maybe 15 minutes hoping to see them surface and hoping for a chance to photograph them. No luck there.
We paddled on and stopped on a sandy bit of river bank for a picnic at five miles before starting our return trip. On a trip a week earlier we had seen a mink somewhere near the midway point on the return trip. At about the same place I spotted a mink on this trip. I can’t prove it but I believe it was the same animal we had seen a week before.
This time I was prepared with the right camera lens for the job (unlike on the previous week’s trip) and began following the mink downstream along the rocky shoreline. Sometimes within ten feet or less from the fast moving little predator. After a little while it stopped paying much attention to me and my friends. It would sometimes glance toward the sound of the camera shutter. We followed it at least one-quarter mile.
It would run a few feet along the rocks and dive in search of the small fish and crawfish that make up most of its diet. We watched as it caught three or four crawfish. Each time it would hide under or between the rocks and eat its catch.
Nothing seemed to bother it until it jumped onto a large flat rock and froze. It sniffed the rock and then stood up straight and sniffed the air in a 360-degree circle. Then it began to move downstream again, this time much more slowly than before and stopping every few feet to smell the air again.
The extra caution the mink had begun to show was obvious. One of my paddling friends even spoke up saying aloud, “I think you’re going to get into big trouble if you keep going.”
The mink caught one more crawfish just as a loud motorboat came into view farther downstream ending the mink’s fishing expedition. Or maybe it stopped fishing because it had strayed too far into another animal’s territory. It was, by then, in the area where I had seen the otters earlier. Or maybe it had just had all it wanted to eat. I am sure I’ll never know. To me these are fascinating animals.