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.


  1. I hope he comes back, but better still, you see him in real life. Bucket lists, maybe this one will get a big red tick.Still lots of snow too. Cheers, jean.

  2. Incredibly cool!!!! You made me laugh with your description of your reaction to seeing the fisher!

  3. Well done. Such an amazing animal. I'm hoping for a shot at cam trapping them this year. And seeing one? That would be over the top.


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