Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dead But Not Endangered

I am a close watcher of roadkills as I make my appointed rounds, and I have often considered creating a roadkill calendar, from the first dead skunks of February through the deceased rabbits of early March and the August gray squirrels driven out of their minds, I suppose, by thirst. This year I noticed a lot of dead minks in the second half of March, and one day, not too far from here, I saw a really big one that was lighter in color than usual. Could it be, I wondered, a dead pine marten instead? I had heard that someone had seen one last fall during deer season. It was worth turning around and going back to find out.

My stiff little friend was in great condition, so I put him in the car and went home. The mammal guidebook said minks had a white patch on their chin, but pine martens had one on the chin and another on the chest. The deceased did indeed have a chest patch, so I measured him and photographed him and left a message for the neighborhood naturalist.

[Game wardens and other DCNR types will please note that I never even considered adding this critter to my earthly possessions. I was just looking him up.]

It turns out that pine martens were extirpated in Pennsylvania more than a century ago, so for this to be a pine marten would have been rare indeed, and I would have gotten my name in the Fish & Game News. But it was not a pine marten. The naturalist and our other neighbor, a retired wildlife biologist from a part of Canada where they still have living pine martens, both said it was a mink, and that the chest patch was just a kind of extended chin patch, not nearly yellow enough or glorious enough to be a real chest patch.

So our pretty fellow is just a dead mink like all the others. In a way, I feel better about that because if it were the only pine marten in Pennsylvania for a hundred years and it were dead in my freezer, that would be pretty sad.

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