Finding a Fisher

Apr 19, 2024 - Written by Ben Wymer

On a wet blustery day, I set out to find our last remaining collared male fisher, also known as F1795. Stepping out of the truck, I turned on the receiver and raised the antenna toward the forested hillsides. Amidst the droning of static feedback, a strong, “beep…beep…beep…,” was clearly audible. Toward the loudest point, I took a bearing with my compass and drew a corresponding line on my map. After a couple more checks and bearings from another two locations, I had a rough triangulation of his position.

The approximate location I derived from my bearings lay at the back of a holler. Steep slopes of oak, basswood, maple, hackberry, and birch, saturated by rain, watched as I packed my bag and set forth. To my luck, an old forest road wound its way deep into the holler, saving me much time and many thorns. Inevitably, the old road ended, and the true bushwhacking began.

From my position deep in the holler, I could now clearly determine the location of the fisher. The beeping from the receiver pointed right up slope, likely to the very top of the ridge. “Of course,” I half laughed to myself. “Fishers never make it easy.” A mere 200 vertical feet of elevation laid between me and the fisher, but it wasn’t just that easy. The rain was turning the clay and loamy soils into soup. Each step up was followed by half a slide down, or the occasional…well, not so occasional, fall down. I half walked, half pulled myself up the slope using any tree trunk or branch within reach.

Bird, Minnesota, Owl, finished, great gray owl

Visualization of telemetry.

Bird, Minnesota, Owl, finished, great gray owl

First glimpse of the squirrel nest F1795 was in.

I was so close now; the beeps from the receiver were hammering. As I slowly walked along the ridge, I was looking at every tree for any obvious cavities or squirrel nests. A squirrel’s nest in a white birch, about fifty yards away, suddenly caught my attention, and my receiver confirmed my suspicion. The fisher was definitely up there.

I approached slowly and quietly. Fortunately, the rain and sleet, helped to soften my foot-falls. It wasn’t until I walked half way around the birch that I finally saw the fisher. He must have been curled up, partially buried in the nest, because only his head was visible. As I took out my measurement equipment, he slowly blinked his eyes open and watched me with subdued interest. He only bothered to lift his head when I approached the base of the tree to take the diameter, and promptly dropped it back down when I finished my measurement. Despite the rain and sleet, he seemed perfectly content exposed to it all. His long guard hairs and dense under fur were more than sufficient to handle the conditions and put my many layers of jackets to shame. I left shortly after arriving, leaving him to once again rest in peace.

Mammal, Minnesota, Mustelid, finished, fisher, winter

F1795 in a squirrel nest.