Sunday March 9, 2014
At the last tracking club meeting, we encountered a mysterious trail that looked like a porcupine trail. It seemed strange at the time that this trail did not have the usual trough pattern that is left behind by a porcupine’s belly and tail dragging behind it in deep snow. We tried to fit the trail pattern into what we already knew about the common mammals that live at the Marsh and decided that it must be a porcupine or maybe even a funny-looking skunk trail. We moved on, past the tracks and I didn’t give it a second thought until I came home and haphazardly opened Mark Elbroch’s tracking guide to glean information from its beautiful pages. The book fell open to a page that showed the same mystery trail pattern that we had seen that day. My jaw dropped. I stared at the page in disbelief and recalled the track with 5 toes that had left me in tracking stupor for many weeks last year. The trail pattern in the book belonged to a Fisher. This amazing animal had caught me again! I showed the page to Ann and she agreed that it looked like the same trail we had seen that day. Unfortunately, we did not take any measurements that could be used for a positive identification and we had missed the opportunity to share a possible Fisher trail with the tracking club! Aaargh! No doubt about it, we had to go back.
A week or so later, we headed back up to Luther Marsh and picked up a similar-looking trail. We decided to leave the question of the mammal’s identity open so as not to jump to any conclusions this time. We back-tracked the trail to a location under a spruce tree where the prints looked like they had just “fallen from the sky”. This was interesting and we decided that the tracks had to have come from an animal that could climb and jump from trees. The tracks measured 6 cm (width) x 10 cm (length). The tracks showed 5 toes where there was a thin crust of snow. The animal’s stride and straddle were both 21cm while walking. The gait turned into a 3×4 lope and then into a gliding 2×2 lope (likely to conserve energy in deep snow). We followed the trail to a patch of snow that had been disturbed. On closer inspection, we found a ball of fur in the scrape, possibly sheared by the animal before opening the carcass. We also found a dark hair with a yellowish band of colour beside a crescent moon-shaped scat (see Elbroch’s guide re: Fisher scat p 479 and 530). We dug into the scrape and found a cache of snowshoe hare remains. At the edge of the forest, where the conifer canopy turned into bare deciduous trees, the trail went arboreal. While we pondered the trail, a snowshoe hare suddenly popped up, unable to maintain its hiding spot any longer and darted away towards distant cover. After acknowledging the limits of our climbing skills, we abandoned the Fisher trail at this point. With eyes looking skyward for any sign of the furry mammal, we headed back, thinking of the mysterious creature that had both eluded us and shared its marvellous story with us at the same time.