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Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California (California Natural History Guides) Paperback – May 7, 2012
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To begin, this one is the first book that really got it right. If you have studied human anatomy, or ever taken an EMT course, then you probably learned the bones of the hands and feet: the carpals, metacarpals and phalanges in the hands; and the tarsals, metatarsals and phalanges in the feet. Now, if you look at the tracking books out there, you will notice that the foot structures that make up the hind track pads have consistently been called metacarpals. In this book, for the first time, we see that they are actually the metatarsals. For that alone, I give this book the highest rating. Two big thumbs (phalanges or toe #1) up and five stars to the authors for correcting that! It certainly reflects positively on the rapidly increasing knowledge in the tracking community.
The second thing that really impressed me about this book is the quality of the illustrations. The excellent drawings by Mike Kresky illustrate the points in the book and give the reader a chance to study the feet of animals that we are not likely to see often, if at all. Included with each drawing are labels that point out important characteristics of the feet that will help with track identification in the field.
This guide covers mammals, as well as birds, and some reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. It is primarily about mammals and birds though. The sections on reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, although limited, are still useful because they show some of the common sign left by those creatures that you are likely to encounter in the field. For a student of tracking, the more types of sign you can learn, the better your field skills will be. The illustrations of these signs show the animal or invertebrate making the trail, so that you can study the details and foot placement on each creature. This is quite useful because there are so many invertebrates that leave sign, and the sign is so tiny, that it can be difficult to make out details like this. In these pictures, we have a reference point for comparison to our own finds, which enormously helps with field identification.
There are sections on scats and bird pellets with photos of each. Most of the photos include scale next to the sign, but a few do not. It would have been ideal if each photo had a scale, however the measurements are indicated next to each photo.
The longest portion of the book is dedicated to mammal tracks and sign. It is profusely illustrated with both photos and drawings. If you have any of Mark's other books, you may have seen many of these photos already, but there are also plenty of photos that are unique to this book. Track and trail measurements include ranges to account for the diversity of sizes in a species. Notes indicate some important points that are helpful to the tracker, such as where the animal tends to leave trails, where they tend to rest, what times of day to expect them to be active, and much more. The text describes other signs to look for, like scrapes, scratch marks, scent marking, and other behaviors that leave sign on the landscape for the tracker to find. The tracks themselves are described in detail, of course. The thing I liked about this text is that urine and other scent marking behaviors are also described for each species. As trackers know, these activities also leave sign on the landscape and are very useful to know how to recognize.
All in all, I would give this book the highest rating possible. If I had to come up with any negatives about it, it would be a difficult task. One thing that comes to mind is that it would be great if all photos included some sort of scale next to the tracks. This is helpful for comparison in the field and for teaching new trackers.
This is a first edition, and being such, there are some typos in it. This is not unusual at all. Copy editors are usually not trackers, so things slip by. I sent the list below to the authors and they agreed that these were all errors that need correcting. I expect that the publisher will correct these in the second printing. The most important ones for trackers are listed below so you can cross out the errors in the book. (If you have the first edition.)
On page 49:
In the raccoons paragraph:
Text: "This means that if in one pair you see a left front and a right hind track, the very next pair of tracks will be of the right front and the right hind foot."
Edit: ("Right hind" should be changed to "left hind.")
On page 59 (hare diagram):
The hare in the diagram is using a bound, not a hop.
On page 123:
In the section talking about the opossum's tail:
Text: "The meandering tracks left by the trail could easily be confused....."
Edit: (Change "trail" to "tail.")
On page 153:
In the section describing domestic cat hind tracks:
Domestic cat hind foot has four toes, not five
On page 188:
In the section describing red fox hind tracks:
Text: The marks from the digital and metacarpal pads are....
Edit: (change metacarpal to metatarsal)
Text: The negative space between toes and metacarpals forms.....
Edit: (change metacarpals to metatarsals)
On page 227:
The section describing mink hind tracks:
Text: "The negative space between the toes and metacarpals contains less fur than the tracks of weasels, and mink also have larger, more bulbous metacarpal pads."
Edit: (Change metacarpals to metatarsals, and metacarpal to metatarsal.)
On page 239:
In the description of spotted skunk hind feet:
Text: "The metatarsals are fused to form one large pad."
Edit: This shouldn't be there. The diagram on the next page shows the metatarsal pads being independent of each other, not fused to form a single large pad.
On page 291:
On the marmot track photo:
The marmot tracks are labeled left front and left hind, but it's actually right front and right hind tracks in the photo.
On page 309:
The illustration of the Baja (or Bailey's) pocket mice feet are labeled right front and right hind, but are actually both left feet.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in tracking, whether or not you live in California. Some of the animals featured range beyond the borders of the state, so I think this book is worth the purchase price for trackers in nearby states as well. This book has set a new standard by which other tracking books will be judged in the future.
How about a digital version of this book! Would make a great iphone app.