Leonard and I spent the Winter Solstice hiking on Big Valley Mountain, a block fault mountain in Modoc County CA. Our goal was to again find bear and mountain lion tracks. We did see mountain lion tracks, but no bear tracks this trip. Instead we had a bigger surprise – fisher tracks.
Fishers (Martes pennanti) are members of the Weasel Family and larger relatives of the American marten (Martes americana see “American Marten” 09-26-2016). The tracks of fishers and martens are easily confused. Fishers are found in the forests of Canada and into parts of Northern United States.
Fishers have long, slim bodies, bushy, tapered tails and are primarily dark brown. Solitary and mainly nocturnal, fishers seem to be misnamed because they do not eat fish to any great extent. Rather they are omnivores that will consume flesh (porcupines being a particular favorite), berries, nuts, mushrooms and carrion. The name fisher may come from “fitch”, a type of European polecat which the fisher resembles.
The size of fisher tracks and its stride are extremely variable, but the tracks are larger than marten tracks. Fishers have five toes with unsheathed claws. In snow, fisher tracks are 2 1/2 to 3 inches or larger while in firm mud or wet sand the tracks are smaller. In midwinter the under surface of the marten’s hind feet are so heavily covered with hair that the pads do not show. Fishers do not have this heavy coating of hair and their pads remain visible in their tracks throughout the winter. When in an easy run the tracks occur in 2s with one pair directly behind the other.
In the one picture a coyote print is shown next to a fisher track as a size comparison. The easy run stride is also pictured.
A synonym for M pennanti is Pekania pennanti. The species designation honors Thomas Pennant (1726 to 1798), a Welsh naturalist. Although it is not a feline, fisher cat is another common name for the fisher.
Fisher tracks will be added to our sighting “wish list” the next time we go to Big Valley Mountain.