Well who is this friend?
The tracks I see most often in our woods are canid. A mix of fox and coyote. Well, the tracks I see most often are probably squirrels (eastern grey). But sorry little guys, while I enjoy observing your trails, I rarely spend much time trying to parse them. Rarely… though not never. As we’ll get to in a moment…
The outlier I’m always delighted to see are the mustelids: the weasel family. In particular, fishers. The mega-weasel. I see their tracks infrequently, and it is such a treat when I do. I love that there are fishers on our property.
This is a wildly unpopular opinion. But popularity is rarely my litmus test for worthiness.
My full rant is too long and too, well, rant-y, to insert here, but let’s just say there is no animal I give people a pass to villanize. It is too flat a vision of the world, too often rooted in a mix of ignorance, hearsay, and assumptions. There is no animal that deserves to be outright demonized for being destructive or taking more than it needs — and as humans we better take a dang hard at ourselves before laying down that judgement.
I nearly missed the fisher tracks this time — even though the fisher crossed the full width of the woods… twice. It was only in half-noticing that one of the squirrel tracks intersecting our main trail looked a bit extra “busy” that I discovered there was a fisher track mixed in. (See above: Ignore the squirrel tracks at your peril.) Larger five-toed* prints mixed in with the little squirrel ones. It was a galloping fisher! (*Note: the littlest toe often does not show up in fisher tracks.) Since I was sticking to our trail, and the fisher wasn’t, I nearly missed it.
Though I am not very good at working out the timing of a track, I still enjoy seeing the synchronicities. Below you see two visitors to our woods walking in parallel. I don’t yet know enough to know how long ago the tracks were made, or who walked through first, but side-by-side is how they lie now: a fox and a fisher, walking the woods together.
Here’s more of an aerial view so you can see everyone’s toes.
And here, in one of my favourite bits of the track, a single tree is encircled — initially walking in the same path towards it, the fox goes around to one side, and the fisher to the other. Two roads diverged.
Only to meet up again on the other side.
Fishers are a good size, and have some fairly distinct gaits that show up pretty clearly in our woods. But in addition to the tracks themselves, there are the other cues to watch for. There is what the track looks like, its dimensions and spacings etc, but also where it’s going, and how it’s going there.
Following coyote here, I most often find they cross the property in fairly straight lines — often with another coyote a little ways off, walking roughly in parallel. The foxes go reasonably straight, but are also pretty likely to go exploring. Their trails wander more than the coyotes, the trail is often marked with their distinct scent, and I’ve found sign of them “tightrope walking” on fallen logs a number of times.
As for fisher, I (literally) feel the pattern before I notice it — walking with my head down, I keep bumping my shoulders on trees. What seems to be a reasonably direct path is actually playing connect-the-dots: the fisher is choosing a path that moves from tree to tree. Fishers are great climbers, and squirrels are a major part of their diet. The fisher version of checking the fridge…
Take life one tree at a time fisher friend. See you again sometime.