A recent ride to work along Battery Street in Burlington was a bit unusual for Jeff Botas. "I do that drive every morning. I don't normally see anything like that -- it was definitely an odd occurrence," he said.
What he saw ran by on four legs. "I saw a strange-looking, fury, black animal crossing over on College Street," Botas said. The next morning Botas' partner and their two dogs had a similar sighting from their Woodbury Road backyard. "The dogs were very distracted by something on the other side of the fence and whatever it was jumped up onto a tree and she got a good look at it," he said.
The two shared stories and went to the web looking for answers. "At first we thought -- we tried to rule out other things like raccoons or beavers or weasels, but none of the photos matched. We saw these photos of what looked like a small black bear with a long tail and it turned out to be a fisher cat," Botas said.
Field biologist Susan Morse works with the non-profit group Keeping Track and said the sightings could in fact have been a fisher. "They have a long tail that strikes people as being cat-like, but actually they are members of the weasel family and they have a long tapered face and short powerful legs," Morse said.
Vermont's Department of Fish and Wildlife is not reporting any recent fisher sightings in the Burlington area but Morse said she's not surprised to hear they may have been spotted on city streets. "Fishers have proven, in recent decades, to be very cosmopolitan, very adept at exploiting any number of habitat and food opportunities," she said.
Food opportunities like fruit and small rodents, and on occasion -- cats. "It's an opportunity kind of a thing. They'll go after what they can. They're not going to starve, so if a house cat is out there in the woods where it does not belong, it could very well become prey to a fisher," Morse said.
Botas is not too worried. It's just his dogs, Sisco and Tahoe, who regularly call his backyard home, and he says they do a good job fending for themselves. "They're two fifty pound dogs that always travel together, so I think they will take care of one another," he said. But it doesn't mean they'll stop circling the yard just in case their unwelcome guest returns.
Morse said the fishers are well suited to help control the porcupine population, and that efforts by the state to boost their numbers in Vermont have been successful.
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