The forecast for December 23rd called for a three-hour window of calm between the previous night’s snow and the arrival of rain and warmth. Predictions like this call for the obvious—track hard before the snow and the stories melted away. So off and onto the marsh we (the royal “we”) went. On the ice I crossed several “soft trails” left by critters that were active before the snow and winds had settled. To me “soft trails” are ones lacking in detail, trails that are often reduced to fragments separated by long stretches of nothingness where direction of movement can even be hard to tell.
After a bit I hooked up with an extremely soft otter trail and was able to piece together the route it took to a latrine I monitor about a quarter mile away. The trail was a dead end from there—winds had apparently kept trail fragments exposed on the ice but whatever woodland routes the otter took were completely gone (what I refer to as a “no” trail). With the tracking window starting to close, I decided to visually sweep the marsh shoreline in hopes of finding any other otter sign. I spotted what, from a distance, appeared to be a very fresh deer trail just a little off into the woods. As luck would have it, it was no deer trail at all. Instead, it was a super fresh fisher trail, with tracks so detailed I knew it couldn’t have been more than an hour or two ahead of me. The fisher and I were active in the same weather window and this one might have even seen me (or more likely smelled me) as I was working the soft trails on the ice. I bailed on the otters immediately.
The fisher’s bounding trail was a determined and focused jaunt through the woods, stopping only a few times to mark stumps with urine or rolling its soiled, and presumably stinky, body in the snow. Figuring (hoping, really) this trail would end at a den, I followed quickly as temps were starting to rise. At the half mile mark the fisher stopped for a meal at a male white-tailed deer carcass partially buried in snow. The fisher had obviously feasted here before as a good chunk of the buck’s rump had been removed and the trail was so direct. Yes, it was like a dream come true.
Time was slippin’ and the rain was drippin’, so I zipped home to get my trail camera and my wife and then booked it back to the carcass to aim the motion-triggered lens at the fisher’s future feast. We were spending the holidays with family and were to return late on the 29th. Six days to document carcass visitors. Perfect.
Loaded with an intense case of giddipation, I woke up way too early on the 30th and had to slap on a headlamp as well as my snowshoes to charge out into the -12-degree 5:30am darkness. When I got to the carcass the camera showed that it had taken 35 photos in those six days. A lower number than what I had hoped for, especially when you realize that some photos were of my mug while putting up and taking down the camera! The photos didn’t reveal much—a fat raccoon stopped and took a nibble, and a snowshoe hare hopped onto the snow covered head of the buck, but outside of that the deer appeared to have been ignored. Perhaps it had been too cold, or possibly the fisher was full. I read that fishers will sometimes sleep for days after a big meal so maybe this fisher was riding out the cold in some burrow in the ground with a full belly. Maybe. With the cold continuing (and continuing), I waited to put the camera back up until it was forecast to warm up for a few days in a row. When I returned there were 1320 pictures waiting on the camera. Yes, it was truly a dream come true.
Eleven hundred of the photos were of the fisher as it gorged on the deer on the night of January 3rd. And what a feast it was after such a long, cold stretch! The fisher ate on the deer for over two hours, even opening up a second access point by the deer’s chest to get at the tasty treats inside. Another 200 shots were of a return visit of fisher the next morning (see photo), and the final 20 were of my bald, icy-bearded grub. By far the most success I have had with the camera, I was extremely pleased with the results.
Needless to say the camera is back up and we will continue to document the “feast that keeps on giving” until there is no more to document. If you are interested in seeing more of the fisher photos or photos of tracking on the marsh in general check out www.vinalhavensightings.blogspot.com or follow us at “Baldfulmar”on the Instagram thing. Alright! See you out there!
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen