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A Woodland Prowler

Cinnamon is my nighttime guardian. All night long she sits at her post on the counter, peering out the window into the darkness.

When something interesting happens, she wakes me up by jumping off the counter (thump) and running back and forth to the other window (scamper scamper) jumping up and down off that window ledge (thump, scrabble, thump). I can judge how exciting it is by how many things she knocks over in her haste to dash back and forth from one window to the other.

Last night something very interesting was happening. I heard her scattering things left and right. I also heard some odd thumping out on the front porch. But I assumed it was just the neighbor-on-the-other-side’s cat, who is very large, and who cruises by to check things out once or twice a year.

This morning I discovered a lot of interesting prints on the side of the big storage cupboard on my porch. At first glance I thought they were cat prints. Then I realized that A) no self-respecting cat would walk around with paws that muddy, and B) they were too large for a cat.

mystery paw prints

Upon examination I found that they could not possibly be cat prints. The toes are too long and narrow, the claw prints are clearly visible, some of the pad prints are crescent-shaped, and – most intriguing of all – each print has five toes.

mystery prints

There are a lot of possible candidates for animals rummaging around on my porch in the middle of the night. But the most likely candidate, given the evidence, is a fisher.

Fishers are basically very large weasels. If you have ever seen a ferret, a fisher is a super-sized version. They grow about three or four feet long and clock in at around five pounds.

Fishers are omnivorous and like many weasels they have a reputation for being quite fierce. They are one of the few animals that have worked out how to eat porcupines, for example.

mystery prints

Scroll down to the bottom of this page for a guide to animal tracks. It’s for the Catskills, but all those animals are represented out here, too.

Why was a fisher checking out my storage cabinet? Well, four days ago I set a bowl of cat food up there for about ten minutes (I feed the other neighbor’s cat in the mornings). I suppose a crumble of cat food may have gotten smeared there. Or the fisher might just have smelled that cat food was briefly present.

It’s a good reminder to keep all of your animal food secure, which I do. I’m pleased to note that the fisher was unable to get at all the chicken feed, which is right there, but is stored inside buckets and a big metal trash can.

Mind you, this all happened about fifteen feet from the coop where my chickens were slumbering peacefully. All you have to do is turn around to spot the run.

mystery prints

A fisher would love to make a meal of three plump hens. But I guess I built the coop (not pictured; at the back of that run) pretty well, because no one’s gotten in yet.

I find this sighting very personally validating, actually.

A few years ago I was out in the dark closing up the chicken coop when I heard, from the brush about two feet from my ankles, a rather fearsome guttural growl. I froze, and after a moment whatever-it-was ran away. It made a sort of two-part thump-thump thump-thump as it ran away, which put me in mind of a ferret, the way they run inchworm-style.

I went back inside and did some research, and had concluded that I’d had a close encounter with a fisher. This was based entirely on my ability to pinpoint and analyze animal sounds, which I myself have a lot of confidence in. I’ve always been very good with sounds, and I particularly pride myself on my ability to observe and note wildlife.

But when I told people I thought I’d been growled at by a fisher in the yard, their skepticism was obvious – which is why I never blogged about it until now. Because hello, I was right all along! And now I have the pawprints to prove it.

12 comments to A Woodland Prowler

  • Wow, a fisher. That’s really cool.

  • Color me impressed, both by your carpentry skill at building a fisher-proof coop and at identifying the critter.

  • Very Cool! I’ve seen lots of critters up here, but I hadn’t even heard of a fisher. Most awesome, love learning new stuff.

  • Erika

    Honestly I had never heard of them either, until I went searching to try and figure out what had made the noise at me, all those nights ago!

  • I’ve never heard of a fisher before either! And to have two sightings! Well, two encounters. And safe chickens. Pretty cool.

  • Lisa Eaton

    How exciting! We don’t have those here in Baltimore.

    A few months ago my husband and I found a mystery skeleton halfway under our shed. We couldn’t figure out what it was. We pulled it out with a stick and a few bones came off, plus the skull was missing. It was probably a Tailypo (http://www.scaryforkids.com/tailypo/).

  • We had fishers by our house in WMass, and they scream like dying children. It’s really unnerving.

  • Cristina

    I’d never heard of a fisher and might have assumed it was a raccoon instead. Your powers of deduction and critter identification are awesome indeed! We have otters in Florida and they are lovely. They look like they weigh 40 lbs and they also walk like inchworms.

    The last one I saw had just been run over on the road and it nearly broke my heart.

  • Up here, they’re called fisher cats, and are usually blamed when housepets disappear. (Of course, it could also be bears that got the pets, but fisher cats are considered more likely.)

  • two silver cats

    I was guessing raccoon by the first set of pawprints, but I was wrong. And fishers are nasty nasty creatures–they eat cats! And they kind of remind me of ROUSes.

  • two silver cats

    Also, yay for Cinnamon’s nightly surveillance!

  • Fishers are evil little suckers. When I was still in school, I used to walk home through the woods that separated our house from the school. One night, after band practice, a fisher actually stalked my sister and I almost all the way to the back door. It was the creepiest thing I have ever experienced.