It’s a sound that’s difficult to forget — like a baby screaming. But when Cedar Avenue resident Shirley Braley heard it, she suspected it was something else. “They have this really hair-raising screech,” Braley said. What Baley heard, she believes, was a fisher — a weasel like animal that according to Mass Audubon is on the rise Eastern Massachusetts.
It’s a sound that’s difficult to forget — like a baby screaming. But when Cedar Avenue resident Shirley Braley heard it, she suspected it was something else.“They have this really hair-raising screech,” Braley said.
What Baley heard, she believes, was a fisher — a weasel-like animal that, according to Mass Audubon, is on the rise in Eastern Massachusetts.Braley said she not only heard one in May, she saw one.
“It came across Cedar Avenue and into the yard, walked around the back of the house and kept going,” Baley said. “It was about 2 feet long and a fluffy tail, small head and a really skinny body.”
What Baley saw matches the description of a fisher, an animal that only until recently was a rare sighting in Massachusetts. It’s a carnivore known for eating other animals of its size, including rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and, occasionally, cats. Coyotes, it seems, aren’t the only predators who like cats.
Officially, fishers aren’t on the map in Arlington yet. Animal Control officer Tom Quintal said he hasn’t seen one himself. But, he said, that doesn’t mean they aren’t here.
Arlington resident Dave Wydell’s cat had an encounter with a fisher — one that if Wydell hadn’t stumbled upon could have meant the end for the feline.
Wydell heard a commotion outside his door one evening last week. When he went to see what it was, he was greeted by a thin, bushy-tailed weasel-like creature battling his cat.
“It was in a standoff with my cat, and my cat was definitely putting up a good fight,” Wydell said.
He retrieved the cat and brought it inside, but not before the fisher made a second impression.
“One of the things raccoons do when you chase them away is that they just keep running,” Wydell said. “This thing stopped about midway down the steps and turned around like it was going to come at me. It was definitely mean. I think I would have lost my cat in another 10 to 15 seconds.”
Neighboring Belmont has had several reported fisher sightings and one that was undisputable — a dead fisher, which was struck by a car.
“They’re probably the most illusive of any wild animal, and they’re also the most deadly when it comes to your pet,” Quintal said.
Braley’s home, which is near the Belmont boarder, has been a virtual parade of wildlife lately. She said she recently saw three raccoons walking out into the street in the middle of the day, and a couple of days ago, a possum waddled through her yard.
But at least one local critter that has nabbed a few headlines in recent years appears to be on the decline.
“The coyote issue has really seemed to dry up this year,” Quintal said. “If you noticed, there are a lot more rabbits, a lot more squirrels and a lot more of the small varmint out there.”Why the shift in sightings?
Quintal says he believes it has a lot to do with education and residents working to eliminate the coyote’s food source.
“The food is what drives the coyote, period,” Quintal said. “We didn’t bring them to the turkey dinner, we made them work for their dinner.”
Quintal also recommended keeping pets indoors and being aware that bird feeders also attract wildlife.
As to where the coyotes were coming from, Quintal said he believes most that have been sighted in Arlington were just here to eat. Most of them, he believes, were coming from the Winchester Golf Course and venturing into Arlington for food.
Quintal said if you do run into a problem with local wildlife, call the authorities; it is illegal for residents to relocate wildlife in Massachusetts.
As for Braley, she’s thinking twice when it comes to letting her pets outdoors.
“We have three house cats,” she said, “and since I saw that [fisher], I’ve been very careful about keeping them in the yard.”
Noah R. Bombard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-674-7726.