(Photo by Luis Ascensao)
After the Globe ran a story in the Metro section Aug. 4 about a recent spike in reported fisher sightings, e-mails poured in from readers in Greater Boston and beyond who say they have seen the animals.
The fisher, a relative of the weasel, grows to 3 feet snout to tail and can weigh 8 to 16 pounds. It has long, retractable claws and a pointed head with round ears tucked tight against its skull, squat legs, and fur that runs from rich brown to black. It latches onto a meal with the help of razor-sharp teeth. Sometimes called a fisher cat, its normal prey are rodents and small wild animals, but fishers will also attack house cats.
In Jamaica Plain, one day early last month at about 3 a.m., Margaret Connors and her 10-year-old daughter heard "a screech, a scream, a cry" in the backyard of their house on Westchester Road. Carrying flashlights, they went into the yard and saw what she said were two fishers overhead in a tree.
"Two sets of eyes, and an outline -- long slender bodies with long bushy tails," said Connors. "Just staring at us like, you know: 'what are you going to do?' "
Connors said she also heard what she believes were squirrels in the tree, which may have been the draw for the fishers.
Like Connors, some say the animal emits a high-pitched screech, but John Organ, wildlife biologist and division chief with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in Hadley, disputed that.
"They will growl and hiss, chirp and chatter" Organ said. But, he said, "I've never heard [a screech] from a fisher."
Hissing is what Marjorie Lyden, of Wellesley, heard one Sunday in May.
Strolling a path around Rockridge Pond, near Cliff Road, Lyden said she and her husband were startled by a hiss coming from an animal clinging to a nearby tree at about eye level.
"It was dark brown and had a pointy nose," Lyden said.
She later did some research and matched what she had seen to the fisher's description.
"It was kind of paralyzed when it looked at us," she said. "It clung to the tree, and we stood there looking at it, and after a couple of minutes we kind of just walked away."
Stories this week also came from residents farther from Boston.
Bill Passman, of Lexington, snapped a shot of one in a tree on some private property one morning in June.
"He was just hanging out on the crook of a tree branch, surveying the area," Passman said.
He declined to identify the location, for fear that someone might try to trap the animal.
For about seven years, said Howard Richman, of Medfield, he's watched fishers pass through the woods on and around his property on Hearthstone Drive.
And Tyngsborough resident Luis Ascensao said he encountered fishers in his yard one morning, in August 2005. While watching them pull fruit from his dwarf peach tree, on Old Hickory Road, Ascensao took a photograph.
"To my surprise the fishers didn't run away, they didn't care if I was there or not," said Ascensao. "They would run to the tree, take a few peaches and run back to a nearby stump and eat the peaches. At times they would stand on their back legs like a prairie dog. They ate all of the peaches on the tree."
Marj Rines, a naturalist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, said such behavior was unusual, but that it has been documented, especially among young fishers. Rines examined the photo and said the animals appear to be young.
“It makes sense that youngsters might be exploiting a food source like a peach tree,” Rines said. “Young animals are not always as inclined to have developed the hunting skills of adults.”
Rines, who has answered Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Information Line for about 10 years, said calls from residents reporting fishers have been on the rise since she started the job.
And she said she expect to get more with recent media coverage. “That’s the power of suggestion ... but, it’s really kind of nice, too. I enjoy hearing from people who’ve discovered something,” she said.
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