Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22, 2012

I had a great adventure tracking a Fisher Cat today, as the soft snow and warm weather made fine tracks to follow.  I noticed the tracks when I was skiing yesterday, and went out on show shoes to follow their story.

Fisher Cat Trail
I don't know whether it was a male or a female, but based on the size of its stride and its body, I'm going to guess it was a female.  The distance between her strides when she was moving in open space was about 42" - a good length, but a full grown male will bound up to 52".  Of course, it could be a small male as well. 
42" Between Prints

I followed her tracks for several miles, sometimes in open areas, sometimes in dense trees, but always going from tree to tree.  She would frequently dig around in the snow looking for a squirrel or mouse, and occasionally she would tunnel under the snow or under a tree stump.  Here she tunneled along under a fallen tree for a good 12 feet.
Searching for Rodents under a Fallen Tree
She favored large pines and hemlocks, climbing up them for who knows how long.  It does make it little harder to follow a fisher track than a fox or coyote, as I had to search around a bit to find where she came back down on the ground.  Sometimes it was quite obvious, as she would occasionally jump out of the tree, leaving a full body implant, sometimes with even a tail print. 
Imprint from jumping our of a tree

This is how I could estimate the size of this fisher cat (the largest member of weasel family that lives in New England).

In one instance I could see that she had leaped onto a tree as well, as blown snow had stuck to the side of the tree, and she left four clear paw prints in the snow where she landed before jumping higher up on the trunk.

Fisher cats have a swivel joint in their rear ankle (reference Rezendes, "Tracking and the Art of Seeing") which lets them climb down trees head-first as well as up them.

She led me on quite a tour of the south east side of Lake Wicwas:  up hills, along ridges, to the shore line (where she hunted for mice under a tree blown over by the July 2012 storm), along streams and across marshes.
I never found any evidence of her catching her prey, but I did find where she had climbed up some winterberry bushes to eat the berries.  She left a few scattered on the ground....

But it's clear that she did have some luck in her hunting, proven by her scat.  She left a couple of markers for the other animals - in obvious, well visible locations.  This sample shows lots of evidence of vegetable matter, including some undigested winter berries.

This sample however, had feathers in it:
Perhaps she caught a chick-a-dee in one of her excursions up a hemlock!

In a large stand of hemlock trees, I believe I found either her home territory, or a favorite hunting ground, as there were tracks everywhere.  And I could see why - there were signs of red squirrels everywhere as well, with debris from pine cones, and lots of holes where squirrels live and hide.
I even followed her trail up a rocky ledge where she crossed some porcupine trails that led into the porcupine's den - but she didn't seem interested in meeting up with a porcupine in its own home.  A fisher cat will take on a porcupine, but that, along with the deer tracks I found, are a story for another day. 

I'll close for now with the satisfaction of knowing that all the bird feeding (and squirrel feeding) that we do finds it way up the food chain, whether it's fox, hawks, or fisher cats!
Downy Woodpecker
There is plenty of entertainment around Lake Wicwas, in winter or summer!

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