Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tracking Fisher with Walnut Hill Tracking

                                                       Warning this post contains Scat.

Quabbin gate
View from overlook

So my dad and I ventured out to Western Ma this weekend for a tracking course on Fisher’s. We went out a day early for a light eve of frivolity, but I was struck with a case of terrible insides, and was bed ridden. None the less we went out the next morning to one of the Quabbin access gates to meet up with Walnut Hill Tracking. Leaving the hotel in the brisk AM, I saw a Northern Shrike and a small flock of Waxwings. ( no pictures)

We met up with a small group of participants, and after a quick but personal hello, headed out with our instructors Valerie and Nick. In lieu of the non- existent snow it was determined that we would focus on general tracking vs. the intended; find a Fisher’s tracks, and follow that animal for the day. No snow will do that. 

Out the gates Nick and Valerie pointed out various damage on some Hemlock trees & other tree species that had been eaten  / browsed by porcupines. We learned porcupines feed from the trunk outwards, causing the trees to seek sunlight in odd directions, misshaping the overall trunks. Signs of this could be seen through out the area. 

Eastern Coyote

 Further up the access road we picked up a trail of an Eastern Coyote, in addition to the great identification of the track. w.h.t. pointed a very interesting fact when trying to determine between wild canine or domestic. Coyotes are goal oriented, focused on maximizing their energy conservation, and will predominately hold a strait course. Domestic dog’s have no need to think about such things as food is predetermined, and will be all over the place on a trail. Just a great sparking statement for thinking about the mindsets of predators in winter. Never know where your next meal will be. Nick while checking a stump for signs of Fisher found a probable (or definite) Fisher kill, the skull of smaller porcupine. Fisher being the only species to actively pray on porcupines. Very cool find.

As we went deeper into the woods we came across a pretty active area for Beaver. Various dams, and flooded sub-levels. While I knew a bit about overall Beaver behavior and communal tendencies. Good factoid; Beavers eat the cambium layer of the bark, did not know what part of the wood they used for food. Next we crossed the Beaver Dam, a hilarious event to say the least.

Stick eaten down to Cambium layer

Back in the woods we came across a snow shoe hare kill by a woodland accipiter, possible Coopers Hawk due to their distribution and overall probability. Anytime I see large game taken by a woodland accipiter I think Goshawk, but I guess its not the likely choice. ( no pic )

Riley in woods
                              Nick looking at Accipiter Kill ( blue jay)  2nd raptor kill of the day

Deeper in the woods Nick and Valerie showed us some great pointers of tracking Fisher such as checking “landmarks” or stump markers along wooded conifer & mixed hardwood areas for signs. Stumps seem to be a good place to "pass information" on to other species. We found some fisher scat, and checked that out. I have newfound appreciation for the further investigation of scat. This fellow had been eating squirrels… it appeared to me, in some volume.

Large Fisher Scat
By the Quabbin shore we found further evidence of Mink, Racoon, Beaver, Coyote, and Otter. The waters edge is quite the quick stop for the forest life. Up the bank a otter roll area was pointed out with interesting scat containing crayfish shells & depressed areas where the otters scent rolled in seemingly mass numbers. Very interesting depressions from the rolls. 

I could go on and on about the day.  But other highlights were a large denning areas for Porcupines and a rocky over lay for Bob Cats, a number of Eagles out on the Quabbin, and another close look a the tracks of the Eastern Coyote. Very different habitat out there in Western Mass, great hiking in the woods. 

Much thanks to Nick and Valerie who had not only great insights into the animals behaviors and their habitats, but also a vast wealth of  knowledge about the species themselves & the various Flora & Fona about. Very impressive to watch them read the forest, I really learned a lot about tracking & many good facts about the various species. I do enjoy a good fact. Check em out & lots of great courses. What an amazing day out in the wood with a great group of people. I'll be going again next year so let me know if anyone wants to tag along! 

A few other shots from the day

Valerie showing riley porcupine damage

                                                           Riley heading down to the Quabbin

                                                                 More Beaver cuts

                                                                   Eagle Way off
Porcupine Den 


  1. Seansta,I've been looking for you like crazy._Manny

  2. I dont know how you found this blog man ? hahaha you dont have my email ? I never check the blog email. What is good my doode ? I am about my man...working in boston though..Ehhh job great, drive terrible