If you missed the first post in this series, find it here and read an introduction to our local Weasel family members and the aquatic mustelids who live here: “Weasels of Our Home: Aquatic Mustelids.” Now I will introduce the terrestrial mustelids of our region.
The Fisher (Martes pennanti, at least till recently, though I hear rumors that taxonomists may have changed this large weasel’s scientific name) is our second biggest surviving mustelid, achieving sizes similar to those of a big house cat (perhaps helping explain its popular name “fisher-cat”, despite M. pennanti being neither).
Every Adirondack camp owner should be delighted to see the rambling tracks of Fisher (often in irregular clumps of three good-sized five-toed overlapping prints), for Fishers are effective predators of Porcupines and Squirrels, which sometimes like to chew on or inhabit our log cabins.
Fishers do best in unbroken mature forests with plenty of snags and down logs, for homes and cover. In our region, Fishers have made a comeback, as once cleared lands have returned to forest. The Pacific Fisher in the heavily logged Pacific Northwest has not been so fortunate, and is an imperiled sub-species or population.
American Marten (Martes americana), a smaller more boreal cousin to the Fisher, live in our High Peaks but probably seldom if ever come down to our oak-hickory or valley clay-plain forests. Marten are among the animals we need worry about as climate warms. Like their much larger distant cousins Wolverines (Gulo gulo), Marten do best in places with cold snowy winters; and like most of their mustelid cousins, they are vulnerable to trapping.
If global demand for fur coats increases, that combined with climate warming, could doom our High Peaks and western Adirondacks population of Marten, though they are thought to be faring well at present. Indeed, the Martens I’ve encountered in the High Peaks have seemed more curious about than frightened by my noisy passage.
Ermine and Long-tailed Weasels
The smaller weasels also tend to leave bounding tracks of angled twos, also in pursuit of small rodents. Ermine and Long-tailed Weasels are so quick, if you’re lucky enough to glimpse one, she’ll probably disappear before you can so much as say hello. The last one I saw was a Long-tailed Weasel looking very vulnerable (to owls and larger predators) in her white winter coat in a snow-less December. She had ample habitat and prey there around Coon Mountain, but I suspect the resident Barred Owl caught her before snow finally fell and made her camouflage work.
This poignant sighting reminded me of my friend Jerry Jenkins, brilliant naturalist and teacher, asking those of us taking one of his courses on plant communities of the West Champlain Hills: What happens to a white rabbit (Snowshoe Hare in winter pelage) in a snowless winter, such as we’ll see more and more of in the climate-change century?
What happens to natural checks and balances, when climate disruptions upset the evolutionary dance? If we let them, weasels may have special lessons to teach us, as we are forced to adjust to an overheating world of our own excess.
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Missing Cats of Our Home (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Where is the Split Rock Wildway? (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Snowy Owl Sighting (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)