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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mammal #29

I had set aside some time to blog today and was planning to whine about the snow. I had selected some rabbit and squirrel tracks to discuss, but those plans all changed once I checked my camera trap. I was going to check the camera on Friday, but got busy with other things. The story was the same on Saturday. But on today (Sunday), I had run out of excuses. You see, we had some chicken thighs I had to dispose of. They had been used as part of a lab by my wife's students. They were practicing suturing and the result for me was bait for the camera trap. I do not go out of my way to bait animals, but I was not going to let these go to waste. I cut out the sutures and chunked the meat into bite sized pieces.
Fisher tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/15)
I am sure glad I waited. It is only a short walk from the house to the camera. The fresh snow obscured all but the most recent tracks. I followed a set of red fox tracks that must have been made only hours earlier as they had no snow in them at all. I arrived at the set, changed the SD card and dropped off the chicken. I decided that I should take a different route back. Almost immediately I encountered a trail that had been snowed in by the day's precipitation. I admit that I was a bit distracted at first and wrote the trail off as fox. But fox didn't fit, This was not a side trot as I had originally thought but rather a lope.
I am reading Animal Tracking Basics by Jon Young and Tiffany Morgan. They advocate looking at a trail or track and listing your three best guesses. So I gave that a try. My first thought was striped skunk (although I knew these tracks were way too big). My second critter was raccoon because coons can leave some really odd track patterns (but I wasn't convinced of that either). My third guess was the hardest of all. I kept telling myself these couldn't possibly be fisher. I have never seen a fisher on my property or even heard of one in the township. I do not have fisher habitat.
Here is another view of those same tracks. The sun was getting low in the sky and that provided
Fisher trail in a lope
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/15)
enough shadow to bring out the detail in these tracks. These had been protected a bit by the trees and had far less snow in them than the first ones I encountered. I bought the ruler in the photo from Sue Morse when I attended one of her tracking workshops. At that workshop, Sue described the toe pattern of a fisher as "C" shaped. I could see that clearly in three of the four tracks shown here. I was still a bit in denial that these were fisher tracks. It is interesting what the mind can do. I really wanted to turn them into something, anything that I would expect to find here in Seneca Falls. I kept telling myself they were fox or just some weird skunk tracks. But I just couldn't make anything else fit besides fisher. And in the words of Mr. Spock (who was paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes): "If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.". Who am I to argue with Spock (or Holmes for that matter)? But I did. I argued. I resisted. I have one more track photo to show you, the one that convinced me I just couldn't argue anymore.



Fisher tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/15)
Here is as good a fisher track as I was able to find. I found it under the spruces. I learned that from Sue Morse as well. Sue told us several times during that weekend workshop to follow a trail until you found sheltered tracks that would show the details. Fisher like other members of the weasel family have five toes on the front and rear feet. You can make out all the toes in this photo.
I was very excited to say the least. This was the 29th species of wild mammal I have documented on our property (and the title of this entry). It is now one of four that have only been documented a single time (house mouse, beaver and star-nosed mole are the others).
So if I hadn't checked my camera today, I wouldn't have found these fisher tracks as the weather in the next few days will assure that they will soon be gone. But the story is not over. I returned home and slipped the SD card into my laptop. Skunk, deer, opossum, cottontail, and a few others appeared. There was the red fox who left the trail I originally followed. But my prize was there at the end. Any doubts I had about my identification of the tracks were laid to rest by several images of a fisher. The fisher tracks near the camera were obscured by the other tracks that were present and drifting and blowing snow. But once I knew where to look, I was able to find those tracks as well. None of the photos are spectacular, but I will include them here to complete the story.

Let me share two photos to set the stage and give you some scale. First, a striped skunk. Striped skunks are variable in their pattern and this individual is particularly white. Just below that is an opossum, very obscured by the vegetation. This camera only uses infrared flash at night so none of the photos will be in color.

Both are about the size of a house cat and both are in nearly the exact spot where the fisher was captured. Here is the first photo of the fisher. You can see that he is laying down tracks as the snow is busily filling them. This animal is clearly larger than the opossum or skunk.
Fisher
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/15)
Here is the second photo of the fisher. I include it here because it shows the tail so well.
Fisher
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/15)
Finally, the fisher walked so close to the camera that it only captured the top part of his body. I say "his" because I am pretty sure this is a male by size. Females are smaller (as is common in the weasel family).
Fisher
(Seneca Falls,NY 3/15)
What an exciting final day of spring break for me. I head back to classes tomorrow and begin the "Wildlife" section of CON 102 Introduction to Wildlife and Fish. This is a class that is required for all conservation majors at our college and the inspiration for this blog in the first place. I can't wait!

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