One morning in early July, Jolie, my companion, and I were traveling on Route 27 to Augusta when a fisher ran across the road in that humping gait characteristic of the weasel family.

The encounter occurred in Belgrade within sight of Christie’s Store, the Belgrade town office and a bank, and not far from a gift shop, post office, kayak outlet and homes.

At first, sighting this magnificent predator next to a cluster of commercial and government buildings might strike people as odd. After all, fishers prefer large stretches of mature, canopied forests broken up by brushy edge habitat.

However, two facts put the sighting in perspective:

The fisher was running west toward the north end of Hamilton Pond and perhaps to the Gawler Wildlife Management Area, perfect fisher habitat complete with extensive mature trees.

Fishers prey heavily on varying hares, squirrels and porcupines, but they are no stranger to development. This predator-carrion eater also skulks around suburban and exurban areas, looking for an easy meal. Wild canines, wild cats and members of the weasel family know close proximity to humans means a smorgasbord — pet cats, small dogs, delicious garbage, gardens and more. They take advantage of the bounty.

It always bothers me to hear of a family losing a beloved pet. If I owned a cat, it would be a house cat, complete with a kitty-litter box.

The fisher on Route 27 looked smaller than average and considerably more diminutive than a huge one that loped across the West Road within sight of Fast Fred’s hot dog stand near Belgrade Lakes village last May.

I was bicycling north when that giant fisher crossed the pavement 25 yards away, heading east toward the Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, of all places. This wary species didn’t notice me on the bicycle, quite typically. I see wildlife galore while pedaling.

Casual observers live a lifetime without seeing a fisher, so two in seven weeks excited me.

It’s unusual to see one on a main highway, too. Most of my encounters have occurred in big woods, and in my long life, I’ve seen nine fishers, a high number in my opinion. I consider myself fortunate.

Most fishers have crossed my path while I was deer hunting, and three were in Canada. Four sightings have occurred in the Belgrade Lakes region since 1984 — the two spotted on the roads this year, another one while deer hunting within a half-mile of the West Road, and a fourth while fishing the developed northwest shore of Long Pond. I’ve also seen dead ones, killed by trappers.

A fisher in the wild looks larger than its actual size because of its long guard hairs and elongated body and tail. According to an Audubon Field Guide, fishers weigh 3 to 18 pounds, the body measures 2.5 to 3.5 feet long, and the tail 12 to 16.5 inches long. They’re not huge.

These statistics bring up a quick point. The same guidebook said that raccoons weigh 12 to 48 pounds, but to the naked eye, fishers look so much larger because of their hair and length.

When the fisher by the town office crossed in front of Jolie and me, she waited a few seconds before saying, “Aren’t they dangerous?”

She meant to humans, and I almost said yes, but then I thought for a moment. This animal surely endangers house cats, and more rarely, small dogs, but to my knowledge, they seldom tackle humans. Attacks on people are rare and probably result from a careless trapper approaching one trapped.

In my unscientific opinion, two reasons have led me to suspect fisher numbers have risen in central Maine in recent years.

Bicycling takes me on rural roads all over this region, and road-killed porcupines surely have dropped as of late, indicating a rising fisher population — the No. 1 predator of porcupines. I still see dead porcupines on the road, but less in the last year or two.

When poking around the woods, I have come across the remains of porcupine kills with the telltale signs left by a fisher. After this predator cleans out viscera, muscle and bone, it leaves a remarkably clean, flat skin, quill-side down. It takes a fisher two or three days to eat a porcupine.

Fishers rank as one of the few predators that can kill porcupines, and they do it with speed. While circling the prey to get away from the quill-laden tail, they bite the face until loss of blood weakens the porcupine. Fishers may lose the fight but usually wind up with a two- to three-day meal.

Fishers really go through up and down cycles. The female produces one to six offspring, and research suggests that in down cycles, this animal produces more kits to jump-start the population.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]