Enter your email below for blog updates:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Life as an Intern at Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge

Image credit: USFWS
I’ve been on Big Pine Key for 1 month, and I think I’m settled into the “swing” of things and pretty well acclimated. The hardest things to adjust to: heat and humidity, and not having my dog with me. I had to leave Addie with my parents for a few months. This is a temporary internship, and I’m staying in government housing which doesn’t permit me to have a pet. But the heat! The humidity! We have both in New York, for sure, but it’s never-ending here. After a storm, at night, first thing in the morning… around 90 degrees and high humidity! Fortunately, there is air conditioning everywhere here, so working indoors is quite comfortable.

I am interning for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, which consists of 4 Refuges: Crocodile Lake NWR on Key Largo, Great White Heron NWR (Keys to the North of the Lower Keys), Key West NWR (Located ~25 miles West of Key West), and the Key Deer NWR (on Big Pine Key).

Staffing the front desk of the 
Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge visitor center!
I live and work on Big Pine Key, where the visitor center is. My duties include staffing the front desk, and greeting and interacting with visitors to our Refuge. Most common questions: where can we see Key deer? and: what are Key deer, how did they get so small? I also put together an evening program that’s family friendly, which is an opportunity to see parts of our Refuge that we don’t necessarily visitors to. So far we’ve traveled to the Long Beach access point and observed shore birds and learned about the importance of the stinky, smelly sea grass that’s washed up on shore (bird feeding habitat!), and last week we hung out in a freshwater wetland in hopes of catching frogs… the frogs were not cooperative. We’ve had some really enthusiastic kids join us, and I’m looking forward to the rest of our programming this summer. 

My co-intern, Heidi, and I also take out the GEM car, a cool little electric car that we used to be “out there” on the Refuge in the evening so that people can ask us questions, and so that we can also try and deter feeding of the Key deer. I’ve also worked on vamping up our Facebook posts and information sharing by starting a “Wildlife Wednesday” and “Flora Friday”, which on those days, I feature a native species of wildlife or plant with a picture and a brief blurb. It’s been fun for me learning about the biota that calls the Refuge home. Again, our Facebook page is: Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex … check us out and “like” us!

I also hope to get involved in some biological stuff as well, while I’m here. Even if it’s just a ride along for a day with a biologist. I was afforded the chance to head out to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which is pretty much a preserve and closed to the public due to sea turtle and bird nesting habitat. It was a real privilege to be able to accompany one of our Law Enforcement Officers, Steve, and our Deputy Refuge Manager, Chris out there. It was everything we dream and hope for with tropical islands. Turquoise, clear water, hot, sunny… paradise! And pristine because people haven’t been out there ruining it  :)

Key West National Wildlife Refuge – Mercases Keys

The wildlife sightings have kept me busy, and I have some fun entries to write. For now, I’ll leave you with a compilation of some Key deer videos I put together. They were taken via camera trap in my yard here on Big Pine Key, Florida.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Blue Hole

The “Lower Keys” consists of Big Pine Key to Key West.
When many people think of the Keys, they think sand and saltwater. While there are both of those features here, you may be surprised to learn that we don’t have the BEST sandy beaches here, and we have an abundance of fresh water. The Lower Keys, where I live, is built on a fossilized coral reef.

Because of this coral reef, the ground is very hard, beaches are not that sandy, and there is coral EVERYWHERE. This also means that freshwater is able to be held in what is referred to as a “lens” just under the surface of the ground. Elevation on Big Pine is less than 5 feet above sea level, and it is probably more accurate to say its less than 2 feet in elevation. This lens just hovers under the surface, and has allowed animals and people to inhabit this island. There are many freshwater wetlands on Big Pine Key, which is surprising to many, including myself. While I’m out on the Refuge, I’ve noticed many shallow, open water habitats, all of which is freshwater.

Many years ago, when these islands were really being developed, in an attempt to raise roads, the railway and buildings, some of this fossilized coral, now limestone, was quarried. Have you ever dug a hole in the ground, and hit the water table? That’s what happens here, in the quarries.

The Blue Hole at dusk.
One of my favorite spots on the National Key Deer Refuge, is the Blue Hole, which is one of the abandoned quarries. It has since filled in with freshwater, but also contains a layer at the bottom of denser saltwater. This is primarily considered a “freshwater habitat” but, after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, several saltwater species of fish (tarpon and barracuda) washed in, and can still be seen today. I’ve witnessed the tarpon breaching, and it’s pretty impressive!

The Blue Hole is probably most famously home to several alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). These ‘gators can be seen often sunning themselves, from the safety of a wooden observation deck overlooking the pond. Of course these are wild animals, and there is no fence keeping them contained, so visitors should keep their distance, and refrain from feeding them.

One of the 'gators seen at Blue Hole.
The Blue Hole also has many species of birds that frequent the area, that may not be seen elsewhere because of the abundance of freshwater here. My favorites so far this summer are a nesting pair of Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) (+1). There is clearly a male and a female that are attentive to the nest, but there is also what I’ve deemed to be a juvenile, unsure of sex. This bird has been observed plucking dead sticks as well as green sticks, and passing them off to the pair, as well as swimming and roosting near the pair. I haven’t been able to figure their situation out, but the nest is close to the observation deck, and I’ve been getting some great pictures!

Male (standing) and female on nest.

Here the juvenile Anhinga was observed about 30 feet from the nest, and both adults, gathering nesting material? Apparently you can’t determine sex of an Anhinga until after it’s 3rd winter, so I don’t know if this is male or female yet.

This night, I was fortunate to watch the female take over the nest from the male. The video quality isn’t the best (sorry), my camera was constantly trying to focus, and I was without a tripod! Still, it was awesome to watch.

Mom is now on the nest, and dad tends to her and the nest.
A White-crowned Pigeon 
seen feeding amongst poisonwood.
The next bird I finally got a picture of at Blue Hole, but found all over Big Pine Key, is the White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucophela). These birds are unlike other pigeons or doves that we’re all familiar with. They are uncommon in the Keys, except for this time of year, and they are very timid and wary. They’re seen flying in small groups, and feeding in poisonwood, which is a nasty cousin of poison ivy. They eat the fruit, and nest on the more remotes islands of the Keys. It’s been difficult to catch one close enough, and sitting still to get a picture. I’m pleased with the one at left!

These birds are at their northernmost range in Florida, but are common throughout the Caribbean island. They are even hunted and eaten in those islands. Here in Florida though, they are protected. I am glad to add another member of this Pigeon/Dove family to my bird list, to expand past the Rock Dove and Mourning Dove!

While I was trying to photograph the above Pigeon, I kept hearing a musical song and frenetic movement in the canopy over me. I couldn’t get a good look at it, as it was moving quickly and it was reaching dusk. I finally was able to pinpoint it, and get a good look at it. The picture below is the best I could do given the lighting and the bird’s behavior. Before I left Blue Hole for the night, I was guessing that I had photographed a warbler or vireo, just based on it’s location in the canopy, and I saw it feeding on insects (both warblers and vireos are insectivorous).

White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)

After getting home, and sending my picture to my ornithology professor from SUNY Cobleksill, I confirmed that it was a White-eyed Vireo. Check it out at All About Birds: White-eyed Vireo, and give it’s song a listen.

The last bird I got the chance to see, was an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). He was quite a distance away, sitting on a snag. But the sky was beautiful behind him, so he’s included!

Osprey at Blue Hole

The FINAL cool critter I saw over at Blue Hole the other night was a Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox). We had a soft shell in our herpetology lab at Cobleskill, which could fit in the palm of my hand. It was so different than any other turtle or tortoise I had seen. Their shell is leathery and soft, and they have a little snout on them, which they can use as a snorkel!

I saw this Florida softshell at Blue Hole, right next to an alligator. They were totally unconcerned with each other. This turtle was probably 12-14″ from end to end of his carapace (top shell). Really cool animal.

Florida softshell turtle
More to come soon, as I get the time and inclination to post! Happy summer!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Life on Big Pine Key, FL

SUNY Cobleskill graduation 
May 10, 2014

Life has been crazy this past month! On May 10th, I graduated with my Bachelors degree in Wildlife Management from SUNY Cobleskill. Rewind back to the week of Thanksgiving last fall, I started applying for jobs and internships to begin immediately after graduation. I watched my friends and classmates snag awesome opportunities all over the country, and I felt left out and disappointed. I felt like I was lacking somehow, and that all this work and energy was for naught. I know, kind of dramatic, but 6 months of rejection will make you think the worst of your abilities!

Finally, finally, FINALLY I got the call: Would you like to come on board??? And lucky, lucky, LUCKY me, it was for an internship in the Florida Keys! The Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex Ranger, Kristie, interviewed me on a Thursday, and hired me on a Monday. Within 5 days, I was on the road and I made it down here on June 9th. It was a quick transition from hanging out in my college town, empty of friends, trying to figure out my week/summer/life, and trying to budget my limited funds to stuff whatever I could into my car, and heading 1,500 miles South!

I’m working as a “Visitor Services” intern in the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge office on Big Pine Key. This is the most commonly visited refuge, out of the other 4 refuges in the Keys. Key West NWR, Great White Heron NWR, and Crocodile Lake NWR are the remaining refuges that make up the complex. Hey, check us out and “like” us on Facebook! You’ll see some of my pictures and writing from time to time as well as some awesome wildlife pictures –> Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex .

Ok, you’re all here for pictures. So I will post pics of the critters I’ve run into so far, and in subsequent entries I will elaborate on the natural history of some. I hope you enjoy!

The first animals are the famous Key deer. These guys are the same species of white-tailed deer found in Northern/Eastern United States and Canada. They are a subspecies. I’ll get into all of that later, but for now: notice their SIZE and how TAME they are!

A Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) buck checking me out. You’ll notice how close I am to these deer. They are very conditioned to be in close proximity to people, unfortunately, but they do make for nice photos.

Key deer fawn

I was exploring the refuge the other day, and sat on a stump when these two walked right up to me, to check me out.

No zoom. They were looking for a hand-out, which unfortunately many people have probably fed them before. This makes them less “wild” and more susceptible to getting hit by a vehicle, because they’re often fed from cars.

This is a refuge vehicle I was using the other day, and as I was walking to the car, the pair followed me and cut between me and the car. Begging for treats!

Signage is EVERYWHERE to warn visitors and residents to watch their speeds, and that it is unlawful to touch or feed the deer.

A Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) found rummaging in the yard in front of my house.

A six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), a VERY speedy lizard!

An anole lizard, specific species unknown. Likely a brown anole (Anolis sangrei). This guy is probably a male, and he’s showing me his dewlap trying to scare me off!

I found a Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) in…the house! The poor guy was very easily caught because I think he was dehydrated and starving, but also slowed down because of the AC. I released him outside, but I found him dead later. This is an introduced species to the Keys.

Mediterranean house gecko

Sea turtle nest site on Bahia Honda State Park beach.

Sea turtles nest along the shores of the Keys, and nests are taped off. I hope to be able to see live sea turtles and hopefully snorkel with them while I’m here!

This is an interesting bird. I believe this is a W├╝rdemann’s heron. This is a controversial bird-nerd topic, and I’ll be sure to discuss more in a later entry. For now, this is a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) with a white head :)
Assorted shore birds. To be honest, I’ve not taken the time to ID them. I just thought I’d share, as they are happily feeding in the sea grass at low tide!
This was a *SPECTACULAR* capture, I thought. I believed I had photographed a rare species, the Bahama Mockingbird (Mimus gundlachii). After submitting my sighting to eBird, and conferring with some people here, and my orno professor from Cobleskill, everyone agreed this was in fact a juvenile Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) that had yet to molt into it’s adult plumage. Not as exciting as I had hoped, but neat nonetheless.
And my final picture to share, the Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)! I believe we have a nesting pair at a popular visiting location on the Key Deer NWR, which is really neat! These guys more often hang out in the Everglades than the Keys.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The continued "tail" of the squirrel...

Last week I posted a camera trap image (seen at left) of a stray cat with a strange looking red squirrel in it’s mouth. Red squirrels are mostly…well, red. Of course there are variations, and they’re not ALL truly red. But this was really something, the body appeared (in this picture) to be either naked of fur, or covered in a very light coat of white fur. Strange color variations can occur in all mammals like leucism (lack of pigment in localized areas), melanism (excess of pigment), and albinism (complete lack of pigment: all white/blonde fur, pink skin and eyes). If it was anything, I guessed this squirrel was leucistic through it’s trunk/abdomen area. Other theories were that this was a baby squirrel, it was albino, it had an ectoparasite like mange, it was shaved, and/or fur loss. Having only this grainy, unfocused camera trap picture to go by, we could only guess.

Then, yesterday morning I opened the back door to let the dog out, and there was ANOTHER “white” red squirrel in my backyard, this time alive, and happily feeding on bird seed. I quickly got my camera and started taking pictures.

A side by side of the front and the back of Squirrel #2.

As you can see, he or she appears very healthy and is gorging on black oil sunflower seeds. You can also probably see that this squirrel IS covered in fur, but just a fine downy layer. It was suggested, and I agree, that this squirrel appears to just be missing the guard hairs, but the downy undercoat is still there. If you have a dog or a cat, part their fur and you’ll likely see a color difference in the coat. Longer hairs also are longer and coarser than the fine down.

So, are these squirrels just shedding or molting? It’s the strangest thing.

I stuck my camera trap back out to try and get some footage of them. Here are a few of the images.

Then, this morning I sit down at my kitchen table, at which I have a great view of the backyard, and there are TWO of these strange-looking squirrels now! So a total of the strangest looking red squirrels I’ve ever seen, end up in my back yard!

Two “white” red squirrels in my yard, Schoharie, NY
The bar you see in the above picture is part of an old porch swing frame that I use to hang my feeders from.
I’ll leave you with this video of Squirrel #2 yesterday afternoon. Feel free to comment with ideas. I’ve sent pics in to the DEC and am awaiting a response!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lately lackadaisical

I've certainly been lackadaisical lately, and I'm sorry (especially to myself) for not keeping up with this blog. I'm 10 days from graduation, still unemployed, and trying to figure out my life...I've been very busy.

Throughout the semester, of course I've been camera trapping. I've kept the cams close, because I can't spend time wandering the woods looking for good "sets". This picture was taken within 25 yards of my backdoor. My landlord last summer was doing some drainage digging back there, which left some trenches. I found this board, and laid it across a trench. This is the most interesting picture I've gotten so far.

Please tell me what you think is going on, I have my own thoughts that I'll share later.

PS: It appears as though I've lost ALL my pictures on my blog. I don't know how or why, and I'm pretty upset about it. Any thoughts as to why?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest post: Hello, herpetofauna!

James and I met several years ago as FLCC students, on a Wildlife Society club trip to the Adirondacks for a weekend. All I knew of James was that he was quiet, but really smart. Over the next year or so, we got to know each other better (while struggling through chemistry classes), and since we’ve graduated and split to different SUNY campuses, have remained in touch. James asked me about blogging, and put out a feeler on Facebook to see if his friends and family would be interested in a reptile and amphibian themed blog. I offered up my blog for a guest entry, and so here we are. Please welcome my friend James Beach!

Meet James, a Finger Lakes Community College 
alumni, and friend of mine.
Every year around this time I anticipate the emergence of the local herpetofauna that surrounded my urban apartment. The many wetlands within a 15 minute drive from my apartment are home to an abundance of species, from frogs and toads, turtles and snakes, and last but not least, the salamanders and newts. To me, the emergence of these animals a reason to celebrate! Hearing the symphony of wood frogs and spring peepers signifies the end of winter and the start of longer days, but beyond that, it also rejuvenates my spirit.

My love for reptiles and amphibians began when I was a small child in the late 80s and early 90s. I would spend my free time in a stream behind my parents’ house in rural upstate New York. Although my identification skills were not yet developed, I would try as hard as I could to learn as much as possible about these marvelous creatures. It was that small stream, the memories it helped create, and all the beautiful animals I found, that stayed with me into adulthood and shaped my career and personal goals of getting as many people as possible interested in herpetofauna. I am currently perusing a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Brockport where I am majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in wetland ecology.

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
March 20th typically marks the start of the “herping” season. For those new to this term, herping is the nickname for the activity of searching for reptiles and amphibians. It’s fun, easy to get involved in, and can be done almost anywhere. Many children growing up find many species in their backyard, as well as ponds, streams, swamps, marshes, and ditches. I cannot begin to explain how many different species I used to bring home to my mother, asking, “Can we keep it?” Usually she would say NO, but on occasion she would oblige my interest as long as it stayed outside. This is probably a typical scenario for many kids growing up, but what are the consequences? Is it okay for children and adults to take animals from the wild and bring them home, thinking that they can somehow provide a much better environment than its natural residence? It is this question that I seek to answer with this blog post.

Midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
How we interact with nature is in essence a reflection of our values: if we value nature, which I think we all should and mostly do, then it should be in our interests to leave whatever creatures and natural objects where we find them. We can instead pay homage to nature by storing beautiful sights in our memories, drawing pictures, or taking photos. Herping is a great activity in which to get family or friends involved, and it’s rewarding for both the young and the old. But to be ethical about it, there are a few questions one should ask.

First, how do you do it, and where and when do you go? Herping is a fairly inexpensive hobby requiring only a field guide, headlamp, snake hook (this item is optional and can be found at most pet stores), a first aide kit, rain gear and warm clothing.

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
The easiest thing to do is find a wetland around you and go a half hour after sunset, when it’s raining lightly and not terribly windy. You’ll find that the first spring rains are the best time to get out there because this is when many salamanders are on the move and begin breeding. Salamanders will leave the forest floor where they are hardly ever seen, and migrate to wetlands to begin mating. The sounds of wood frogs and spring peepers will also begin to be heard around this time. There’s a short window of opportunity, but by mid April the chances of finding some of the less common species begins to decrease. I have been in wetlands where hundreds of spotted salamanders are abundant and are moving into wetlands, and no one would ever know if they weren’t out there on those chilly rainy nights. If any of these animals are present you will see them.

The next question one should ask before herping is, how should these delicate animals be handled, if they are to be handled at all? Amphibians breathe through their skin, and because of this, are susceptible to toxins from pollution. It is okay to handle them very gently. I recommend that the best way to do so is to wash your hands in the wetland first to make sure you don’t transfer any toxins to them. If you smoke or put on any hand sanitizer, you should refrain from handling them, because the toxins on your hands could potentially kill them.

Wood frog (Rana sylvatica) Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF

 How do you find specific snakes, lizards, and turtles? This is a tough question to answer, because it largely depends on luck along with knowing the habitat of the target species. The best time to search for turtles or snakes is early in the morning around 7am until 1 or 2 in the afternoon throughout the breeding season, although some, like painted turtles, will stay active beyond that. Many of the more secretive species will be hard to find after that point. Mornings that reach temps in the early to mid 60s with lots of sunlight are great for getting outside and seeking out the turtles in your area. Many species will begin to bask once they emerge from hibernacula, and can easily be spotted as they purge their system of the lactic acid that has built up over the winter. If targeting snakes, one can try to manipulate the habitat a bit by putting large objects around the area for the snakes to hide under. Checking these locations every couple of days should yield great results, and you’ll begin to be more conscious of the species located around you that perhaps you had no idea existed.

If a child asks to take any of these animals home as a pet, what should the response be? It should always be NO! In New York State, all of our native species are protected, and it is illegal to take any of them from the wild. If the child is interested in having a pet, please do some research and consult a pet shop. Beyond that, these animals are also important members of their local ecosystem, and it’s extremely important that they remain there for others to enjoy. Currently, herpetofauna are experiencing a huge decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, invasive species, chemicals, climate change, and poachers. These species are very important to scientists as they are viewed as environmental indicators, meaning their presence in a wetland will show what kind of condition their environment is in. If the area is severely degraded, these species will be absent.

A common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) Photo credit: James Beach

Please keep all of these things in mind when herping. It’s important to have fun, and also to recognize the importance and aesthetics these animals have. If looking to become more familiar with frog and toad calls in your area, I have posted a link that will get you started: USGS Frog Quiz. I have also included links to books and audio CDs that aide in identification: The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State and The Frogs and Toads of North America.

Thanks for reading, and of course happy herping!

*All comments and questions will be relayed to James!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Finicky fisher-- no more!

When I moved east to Schoharie County almost 2 years ago, I had a mental bucket list of critters that I would like to encounter while living and going to school here. Although I lived in rural areas in Western, NY, there are several animals in lower density there, than are found here. Primarily, the fisher and the bobcat. Both animals, historically, ran rampant across the entire state. But, as the old story goes, over hunting/trapping, development, habitat destruction etc, drove these animals almost to extinction in New York. Here, just north of the Catskills, you have seasons to hunt/trap both the fisher and the bobcat. While some may not LIKE this, this means that biologists know the populations to be viable, and sturdy enough to withstand harvest. Sometimes it’s almost necessary, to make a population grow. Think of a rose-bush. You have to prune it, right? Then the following year it should come back bigger and bushier, with new growth. In the finger lakes, the numbers of fishers and bobcats are lower, but on the rise. Since I moved from there in 2012, the instances and stories I’ve heard about both bobcats AND fishers being spotted (with eyes and cameras) has increased steadily.

When I first moved here, I set up cameras in the fall of 2012, in my backyard. I also had some classmates set their cameras up too. Almost immediately, both of them snagged pics of a fisher, the same on in fact, minutes apart but on different cameras:

A fisher caught on camera trap, Schoharie, NY. Photo credits: Courtney Stein, Adam Rogers (respectively)

Fisher in Schoharie, NY
It took me over 2 months longer to FINALLY get a fisher on camera in my backyard, on Christmas morning! Merry Christmas to me, indeed! I don’t know why these large members of the weasel family were able to escape the ever-watchful eye of my camera traps, but it took 3.5 months of active camera-trapping to finally catch one. And what a picture, too! Well, soon this fisher (or perhaps more than one?) were regular visitors to the scraps I threw out in the woods in front of my camera. I also often use scent lures (nasty concoctions of unspeakable bits) to draw them in. I don’t want to say I got BORED of the fisher(s), but after a while, I like to see some variety. Or… I’d like to catch a glimpse of one myself. Right now, I live at the base of a north-facing slope. Night “falls” here about 2 hours earlier than elsewhere. It’s dark, and shady, and cold. Nice in the summer, depressing this time of year. This also means that I have significant amounts of snow still, and probably will til May! I can see from where I sit now, at my kitchen table, right up the hill. The stark snow gives a great background to track movements of critters. I’ve seen rabbits, squirrels, deer, and many birds up there. I’m still waiting on my fisher.

Several weeks ago, my buddy Tyler and I took a drive up to some local state land (see the first part of that adventure here: Neature is Neat) for a weekend reprieve from school work, and to get out and enjoy the outdoors. It was a balmy (35*F), sunny day. We drove as far up the unplowed, seasonal roads would take us. We saw tons of tracks, and other signs that despite the heavy snowfall, wildlife was still out and about.

Fisher track highway. Click to enlarge.
As we’re driving over snow-covered roads with snowbanks 4+ feet tall, admiring the hemlocks and pines, watching sun filter through the needles…it happened. My moment and a MAJOR bucket list check happened. A FISHER came out of the trees on the right, ran across the road, jumped up the snow bank where it perched for a moment to look at me, then took off to the left into the hemlocks. It all happened in about 1.5 seconds. Poor Tyler, I screamed and simultaneously slammed the car into park (while still moving forward) and leapt from (a still moving?) the car. Tyler was focused on…something else…at the very moment of my excitement, and once he figured out what I was screaming about, he also jumped out and took off into the woods in the direction of the fisher. I have NO idea what he was hoping for. A sighting? A run-in? To catch it? He went tearing through 2+ feet of snow, through a thick blow down. I stood on the snow bank looking at the tracks, and trying to calm myself. Did I really just see a fisher? Did I just see a squirrel and freak out? No. I was staring at FRESH fisher tracks that had been laid down about 10 seconds ago. For a snow tracker, it was ideal conditions. Crunchy, hard snow with a 1/4″ light dusting on top. PERFECT.

About 5 minutes later, Tyler came huffing, puffing, and swearing back in my direction. He missed it totally, and was really bummed out. He kept asking me “Why didn’t I see it? What was I even looking at?”…. Um, I don’t know.

While he had been gone, I got my camera out to snap a few pics of tracks.

A mish-mash of tracks, possibly from different animals or different events of travel.

Fisher hind right track I believe. The smallest toe (thumb) is on the inside for a fisher. Someone please interject if I’m incorrect!

Winter tracking is such a treat, and a look inside the lives of our wild neighbors. Without snow, a skilled tracker, or lucky novice will be able to find tracks. I’ve been out in the woods with people who are seeing things in the leaf litter that I’ve looked over before. But, in snow or mud, I’m your girl!

Tyler and I were so excited by this experience, that we returned the next day to this spot to hide camera traps. We took a risk, and left them on public lands. But, they’re tucked away in safety of the hemlocks, and are only staying up for 1 more week. We’re hoping for some great fisher pictures, but I also wouldn’t turn my nose up at a bobcat either!

Do good, little Bushnell.