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Unusual species sighting: Fisher (Martes pennanti) in the Muskrat Marsh and Alewife Reservation
19 May 2005, ~10:25 AM
submitted by David C. Morimoto, PhD
In the late morning of Thursday, 19 May 2005, after installing ground water observation wells around the Muskrat Marsh on Bullfinch Properties land as part of a Muskrat Marsh restoration study, I was turning my car around on Acorn Park Drive (reversing direction from North to South – at the N end of the bend in Acorn Park Drive). I was talking on my cell phone at the time.
A large mustelid proceeded to cross directly in front of my car (approximately 50 feet away), heading SSE (roughly East) from the Muskrat Marsh (where the Phragmites comes close to the road) and entering into Alewife Reservation, not far from where it borders the Silver Maple Forest. After blowing my friend’s (Mike Schindlinger) eardrums out with an excited account of what was happening, I pulled my car up to the guard rail and it stopped briefly to look at me (from approximately 30 feet away). Unfortunately, it moved quickly away before I could take a photo with my cell phone. However, it did look directly at me at close range. I took GPS reading with a Garmin GPSmap 60 C GPS unit (coordinates available upon request).
My first impression (after thinking “tayra” or “jaguarundi”) was that it was a very large mustelid. It lacked the color and shape of a River Otter (Lutra canadensis), although I thought at first that it MUST be a River Otter (although it really didn’t look like one at all, except that it was clearly a mustelid) because sign of an otter was spotted this past winter, and I did not even consider a fisher as likely at all.
Its gait was unmistakably that of a large mustelid. I noticed very clearly that the tail was bushy and not dorso-ventrally flattened, and the pelage was dark brown, with a clear blackish muzzle area (sort of like a giant mink). Upon returning home, I consulted websites and three different mammal guides, and these references confirmed my suspicion that it was most definitely not an otter and must have been a fisher. I ruled out mink immediately because of the size, and only thought ‘otter’ because of this past winters’ occurrence of one on the reservation. I have seen both River Otter and Mink (Mustela vison) many times in the wild, and although in my initial confusion and excitement I indicated that it might have been an otter, this creature was undoubtedly a Fisher, most likely a male. I guess that a fisher has not been seen in Cambridge in a century or more. Accounts of their natural history link them to riparian areas (although it’s not certain why). They are diurnal (and nocturnal) as well, so these natural history traits are consistent with the observation.
I learned today (20 May) that a fisher was spotted in Belmont at the Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary approximately 3 weeks ago, and that John Maguaranis, Belmont’s animal control officer, also spotted it in Belmont (I learned also that a River Otter was spotted in Clay Pit Pond on 19 May 2005 as well – apparently John Maguaranis has photos). Mike Arnott has also seen them in the Alewife silver maple forest, and they have been present (recolonizing) in places like Wellesley and Acton for many years.
Given my clear views of this creature and the other recent sightings in the region, I can say with 100% certainty that there is/was a fisher in Cambridge yesterday (at least). It would be nice to get photos or casts of tracks, and photos of the animal itself! Respond to FAR if there are other email@example.com