Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Trail of the Fisher

I received another tip about a bald eagle on a local pond. It happened to be the same pond that I saw the fisher at earlier this year. With the big snowstorm, the trails through the park were completely unrecognizable. I bushwhacked my way to the blind that I had used on the last trip. The going was rough. Downed trees and streams to jump across got my cardiac rate going. Along the way I noticed the fisher's tracks. In fact it helped me to find the easiest crossing at one of the streams. There were numerous tracks around the blind.

As I settled in for some eagle photography, I couldn't help but wonder what the likelihood was that I would see the fisher again. It had certainly been traveling through the area. I assumed that the fisher would likely approach the area, but spot me and leave before I saw it. Wild animals don't forget surprise encounters like the one we shared a few weeks ago. I expected the fisher to be much more wary.

Sunrise came and went. No eagle. The eagle had arrived at 7:00AM every day for the last week. Today, it didn't come to play. I decided to wait it out. 7:42 what do I see, but my friend the fisher running across the far side of the pond. I crouched further back into the blind and aimed my lens towards the spot that he would come to if he followed his trail. Sure enough, the fisher arrived 30 yards away from me about 2 minutes later. I was very still and quietly photographing this beautiful creature. The fisher cautiously stepped on the ice and started to approach me. Unfortunately the wind suddenly changed direction and blew my scent across the pond towards the fisher. Soon, he had his nose in the air and he was searching for me. It didn't take him long to find me. Just like last time, he scampered up the same tree and was over the hill as fast as could be.

The eagle never showed up, but I will take a fisher sighting any time! What a fantastic experience it was to observe this creature. Getting up well before sunrise was worth it once again!

Below, I have reposted my blog entry about my previous experience with the fisher. I have edited it to submit as next month's Adventures in Photography article. It will be published in the Freebird Times.

Adventures in Photography: Surprise a Fisher!!
On a quiet Sunday morning in late January, I went birding and found a fisher! Or more appropriately, a fisher found me. I was lying low, observing the bird life at a local pond. After lying still for more than an hour, I saw a large, dark ball of fur running across the ice. It was headed straight for me!
As it got close, the fisher noticed me at the edge of the pond. It frantically slid to a stop, tossing fresh fallen snow high into the air. Then it turned around and ran back in the direction it had come from.

When the fisher reached the opposite side of the pond, it stopped to look at me again. The fisher seemed to be saying, "What are you doing here?" Then it ran up a hill and eventually out of sight.

Fishers are members of the weasel family. They are rather large and notoriously vicious. Fishers can weigh up to 16 pounds and be nearly four feet in length. They primarily eat squirrels.

In the late 1800's fishers were extinct in Massachusetts. Since that time, due to more stringent trapping laws, the fisher population has returned and has been steadily increasing. While their numbers have increased dramatically in the past twenty years, sightings of fishers are still rare. They are very elusive and secretive animals.

According to the Patriot ledger, the Massachusetts State House will consider repealing and or revising the 1996 trapping law that has allowed the fisher population to flourish. Unfortunately, as the fisher population has risen, so has the population of pests, such as musk rats, beavers and coyotes. The beaver and musk rats have been flooding properties and coyotes seem to be unwelcome wherever they are present. Coyotes often set up territories in rural neighborhoods and occasionally visit cities such as Boston!

This is only the second fisher that I have seen. The other fisher frequented my back yard a few years ago. It was very dark in color. Usually, it would skirt across my backyard, following the edge of the pond. In less than ten seconds it would be out of sight.

I am not sure who was more surprised by this encounter, me or the fisher. This encounter might have lasted as long as thirty seconds. It was quite thrilling and it turned out to be a far better adventure than I had expected when I set out on that quiet Sunday morning.

Tip of the Month: I often extol the virtue of being prepared. In this case, photographing the fisher was possible, because I was already set up for wildlife photography. This was one of those moments where a great opportunity fell into my lap. Some would say it was luck. I would argue that it was preparation and diligence that helped me create this image. Had I not been sitting still in subfreezing weather for nearly two hours, I would not have been in place to make the image. If I didn’t have my camera out and ready, I would have seen the fisher, but I would not have photographed it! Be prepared!  

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