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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

Meet the Fishers of Cape Cod

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to meet the fishers of Cape Cod.

No, this wasn’t a family of people named Fisher. And, no, it wasn’t a group of seafaring folk who make their living hauling in denizens of the deep either.

Actually, it was a group of critters known as fishers, which are often erroneously referred to as “fisher cats,” or for those who prefer the Latin labels, Martes pennanti. A cousin of the wolverine, there have been spotty sightings of these predatory members of the weasel family here on Cape Cod for the last 10 years or so, but three of them crossed my path during a walk in the woods of Dennis and Brewster this morning.

This chance meeting happened along some of the wetlands that abut Pine Pond, located in the conservation lands of Brewster, which has trails that link it with the paths that weave through woodlands under the umbrella of the Dennis Water Department.

As I headed up the path near these sunken wetlands, two slinky, dark-brown mammals ran across the path in front of me, and into the woods on the other side of the trail. My first thought was “mink” or “otter,” until the third one followed.

Critter No. 3 spotted me, and quickly reversed course, shuffling back to the wetland area. When it quickly started scaling a tree, it didn’t take me long to figure out what it was.

It was a fisher. No doubt in my mind. It was even assuming the same position that every tree-bound fisher is in when photographed. I was able to capture a few so-so images of it with my iPhone6.

There were no blood-curdling shrieks and screams that fishers usually provide, but as I snapped the pics, it occurred to me that getting away from them would probably a good idea, especially since the other two were still somewhere in the woods behind me. These are not animals to be messed with.

About 12 or 13 years ago, when I was still in the employ of The Sun Chronicle and its affiliated newspapers in the Attleboro area, reporter Rick Thurmond did a story on the fishers, which have been moving eastward across Massachusetts over the last century or so. Thurmond, in his unmistakeable Texas drawl, told me that not many of God’s creatures were safe when fishers came calling.

“Well … first they’ll run up a tree to catch a squirrel, then they’ll come back down and eat your cat,” he said.

Thurmond proved to be correct. A few years later, a Farmer’s Almanac story told the tale of how a fisher ripped its way through the screen of an open window and carried away a New Hampshire family’s beloved kitty.

Shortly after that, fisher sightings began to pop up here on the Cape. I can’t recall where I saw this, but one Cape Codder’s account had a coyote chasing a fisher into some bushes, where a scuffle ensued. It ended with the coyote running away, acting “like its tail was on fire.”

Coyotes aren’t the only ones that avoid fishers. When raccoons and porcupines are on your menu, you are definitely one of the bad-asses on the block.

Even though fishers aren’t likely to attack humans, I kept all of this mind while taking those photos, and quickly moved on.

Now that I’ve met the fishers, I know that they are indeed right outside my door. But when it comes to hanging out with these neighbors, perhaps I’d better keep my distance.

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