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Book Review: Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition

Review of the best mammal tracks book yet!

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Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
By Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland
mammaltracks
Review by Kim A. Cabrera

Review:

This review is for the Kindle edition of this book.

Wow. All I can say is wow. The first edition was phenomenal. The second edition, if you can believe it, improves on the first dramatically! I never thought I’d say there could be a better tracking book than the first one. But, here it is.

There is no one I know of in the tracking community that is better qualified to write this book than Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland. The tracking community is small and everyone tends to know everyone else. We all know that these guys are the true experts in this field. This book allows their expertise to shine through on every page.

It’s got expanded sections that go into way more depth than the first edition did. There’s a section on runs, one on interpreting prey remains, sign on the ground such as scrapes and beds, and much more. It’s chock full of good solid tracking information.

The species accounts have been somewhat condensed, without losing their accuracy or detail. In fact, there is even more detail packed into each one. This was done by combining species that have similar sign, like large, medium and small ground squirrels. Each has its own section with measurements broken down by species within it. The descriptions were combined because of the similarity of the sign found. This allowed the authors to pack even more information into the book, which is awesome! If there are differences, they are pointed out in each account, so it’s super helpful to be able to compare across similar species.

The sign chapters have been grouped together so you can compare similar things you find in the field easily. Find a run and want to know what animals could have made it? Go to that section and you have plenty to compare it too. Scratches on a tree? Scratches on the ground? Same thing.

Here is a list of the chapters in order:

Ch. 1 – Introduction
Ch. 2 – Mammal Tracks and Track Patterns
Ch. 3 – Runs, Paths, and Eskers
Ch. 4 – Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
Ch. 5 – Nests, Lodges and Other Constructions
Ch. 6 – Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
Ch. 7 – Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants, and Cacti
Ch. 8 – Sign on Trees and Shrubs
Ch. 9 – Interpreting Prey Remains
Ch. 10 – Species Accounts

The Species Accounts are incredibly detailed. Each one includes a drawing of the animal’s feet, and its tracks, and common gaits too. The track illustrations now include arrows pointing to key features of interest, and even lines to help one visualize the orientation of the toes. It’s just like how we use our fingers or nearby sticks in the field to look at these toe orientation features! (Trackers know about this!) Only now it’s in the book to help us see it better. Key features in the drawings are numbered and each number is referred to in the text description. Each species account includes the measurements and the descriptions, but they now also include all the details shown in the chapter headings above. That’s right! Each species account shows you all those details: Run, Paths, Eskers; and Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants; Interpreting Prey Remains; and Scats, etc. etc. (All of those chapter headings are used in the species accounts to provide a very thorough look at the signs left by that animal.) All described right there in the species account! No more flipping through the book for the description of the scat or burrow. It’s described right there. The photos of the signs are grouped together in their respective sections so you can compare them. The detailed descriptions are now found in the species account. I like this arrangement much better. I think it will be even more helpful in the print edition than in the Kindle edition. More on that later.

For example, here is an outline of the headings in a typical section of the Species Account chapter.

-Tracks and Trails (measurements, images of tracks and gaits, etc.)
-Notes
-Runs, Paths, and Eskers
-Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
-Urine and Other Scent-Marking Behaviors
-Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
-Sign on Trees and Shrubs
-Interpreting Prey Remains

For each species, this outline is customized. For example, some won’t have prey remains, some won’t have sign on grasses etc., some won’t make lodges or other constructions. Nicely organized and easy to use!

One helpful thing I noticed in this edition is that some of the track photos are now labeled so you can see which foot is LF, LH, RF, RH. That’s super helpful, especially when you are first learning to tell them apart. The descriptions also help a lot with this. Many of the photos also include rulers or coins in them to provide scale. The other thing that I like is that each animal’s feet are shown in the account so you can see what features of the feet make what features of the track. Super helpful!

Gait diagrams have been moved so they are next to each other where you can visually compare them easily. There are also photos of most of the gaits.

Most of the journal-type writing and stories in the first edition have been removed to make room for just straight track and sign information. The stories were helpful and interesting, but not as helpful as the detailed accounts in this edition are. There are still some stories, but not as many. The ones used were chosen for their usefulness to describe a concept, it seems.

There is a lot more research included in this edition too. There has, of course, been ongoing scientific research into many aspects of biology and tracking. This edition incorporates more of that information into the text. Recent studies are cited and their information included. Also, researchers, biologists, and other scientists are credited as such on the photos they donated to the project, which is nice. They deserve the credit for their work.

Some really interesting new photos were included showing cool behaviors or just unique features. I love the photo where an otter rolled and left behind whisker marks!

Specific Kindle parts of the review:

Drawbacks to Kindle edition: the Kindle edition requires a Kindle and who is going to carry one into the field? Not me. Too much risk of getting it wet or damaged. I prefer a book for the field. (I bought both for this reason.) The Kindle edition loses the formatting that you have on a page. So, references to upper right corner of the page make no sense on a Kindle since all photos are inline and you just scroll to see them. As always with Kindle editions, there are some formatting errors. Pictures not right where the accompanying text indicates, etc. But, that’s a minor issue and users of Kindle are probably used to that in their books. For field guides, it can be annoying though. However, those are formatting issues and really not anything to do with the quality of the writing or the information contained within the book. So, if you can ignore some minor format issues, Kindle is fine. Otherwise, I’d recommend getting the paperback. Well, I recommend getting that either way, but if you want a copy on your Kindle, do like I did and buy one of each! I’ll admit that it’s something only us truly obsessed trackers do, so your mileage may vary. Ha!

Good features of Kindle: You can highlight the text in different colors. My copy is already highlighted throughout in yellow, pink, orange and blue. Your highlights and page progress can be synced to the cloud so you don’t lose them. If you ever delete it off your Kindle, you can re-download it and your highlights will be there if you’ve synced it. You are allowed to put it on two different devices, in case you have two Kindles, you know. Or put it on Kindle and your laptop like I did. Sync them and your highlights and page progress are saved to both devices. On Kindle, you can also do keyword searches. So, if you want to look up a species, you can put in the name and find all instances in the book. The bad thing is, you have to spell the name right or search doesn’t work. Kindle also allows you to make your own notes in the text. These are hidden and you have to click to open a little window and read your notes. But it’s a useful feature to have.
So, overall, I recommend this book 100% and five stars. Or should I say, five paws! If you are a tracker, biologist, naturalist, or just plain nature nerd, you need this book. Why is it not on your shelf yet? Just kidding. Buy this book. You won’t regret it. If you study it, you will become a better tracker. It’s full of the experience of two of the best trackers around, plus all the contributed experience of the other scientists, researchers, biologists, naturalists and trackers who contributed in the field. Hundreds of years of tracking experience is right here in your hands. It is 680 pages of the best information money can buy. Get it. You will not regret it. No buyer’s remorse here. It’s worth every penny!

NOTE:
Because I’m an affiliate, if you use the link below to purchase, I get a tiny kickback. But, that in no way influenced this review. All the opinions above are genuinely mine and I stand by them. Five paws up!

Link to purchase at Amazon.

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Book Review: Come be Wild with Me

This is the post excerpt.

Come Be Wild With Me is a cute story book for children. It will appeal to younger readers and encourage them to go outside and play in nature, which is always a good thing.

The book contains a short, lyrical story about a mother and son who venture out into the forest to learn about the wild. They immerse themselves in the nature experience and have fantastic adventures exploring and being wild. The message is a positive one and shows kids that nature is a great place to be and that you can have imaginative adventures without being plugged into a device with a screen. They climb trees, throw stones into a lake, dress in leaves and eat berries. A full sensory experience of nature.

The story is accompanied by beautiful watercolor paintings depicting the storyline. The paintings are fanciful and colorful. The animals are cute and not scary for young readers. The characters are shown with smiling faces so that young readers will understand that nature is not a scary place; it’s a place that makes people happy.

The positive message of this book seems well-suited to readers of any age, and indeed adults will enjoy the poetic story and the accompanying paintings. The story is told in words that younger readers can sound out and spell, so it’s appropriate for the age group. Parents can read it to children who are too young to read on their own yet. It’s one of those books that a child might ask for as a bedtime story each night and memorize so that they can read along with the parent.

I enjoyed the story and its message about nature. I recommend this to anyone who wants to introduce their kids to nature and give them a storybook that will almost certainly become popular a favorite.

I would like to thank the author, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to see an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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New Bird Tracks and Signs Project

Hey fellow iNaturalists, I have created a project where you can submit bird tracks and signs. I found that there were no projects specifically for bird tracks and signs other than regional ones. I was hoping to get a good collection of bird tracks and sign in one place where we all can learn from them, so this project was born! It takes observations form worldwide, so no limits on location. Check it out and send in any bird tracks and signs you find. I hope this will be a great tool for learning! I added a field (not required) where you can indicate whether or not the bird was seen making the track/sign. This will help us filter for verified observations for study. Enjoy!

What qualifies as bird tracks and sign.
1. Bird tracks
2. Nests/eggs
3. Feathers
4. Scats/droppings
5. Pellets
6. Feeding signs
7. Predation signs
8. Bones/carcasses/skulls
9. Uric deposits
10. Digs/dust baths/foraging signs
11. Bird sounds/calls
12. Anything else related to tracks and signs

 

Link to project page: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/bird-tracks-and-signs

 

Link to the project’s observations:

 

Book Review: Manga Classics Romeo and Juliet

Manga Classics

Romeo and Juliet

randj

Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Crystal S. Chan
Illustrated by Julien Choy

Review:

Romeo and Juliet is the well-known Shakespeare tale of star-crossed lovers. In this Manga version, the story comes to life in a totally new way. If you’ve never read Shakespeare before, this version will open up the classic story for you.

The Manga Classics series is bringing these stories to a new generation. Manga is a Japanese comic-style book form. It is read from back to front and right to left. That may seem confusing, but you will quickly get the hang of it. The art in the Manga Classics series is amazing. The artists went into meticulous detail to bring these tales to life. Each scene is carefully researched. The researchers, adapter, and artists visited Verona, where the original story took place, and visited all the locations from the play. You will see these locations throughout the book, as backgrounds and as scene settings. Very nicely done!

The story itself is told in the original text, with nothing left out. The accompanying illustrations help the reader understand the story. Shakespeare’s original language is difficult for modern readers to interpret sometimes, but the Manga version has the advantage of being a visual art, so there are plenty of art panels that assist the reader in setting the scene.

Each character has a unique style, and they are drawn with very realistic expressions and body language. What you would see in a play is different from what you see in print form. But the Manga art form really handles storytelling well and gets across the emotions that actors would portray on stage.

I highly recommend Manga Classics Romeo and Juliet. You will see the story come to life. I recommend this for any teacher who wants to bring the classics to their students. This entire series is very well-done. Five stars.

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Book Review: Escalante’s Dream

Escalante’s Dream: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest
By David Roberts

edream

Review:

Escalante’s Dream documents the Spanish exploration of the Southwest in 1776 by the Dominguez-Escalante expedition. The expedition was led by two padres, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Francisco Vélez de Escalante. Their goal was to find a trail from Sante Fe to Monterey.

The book is written as a narrative of a modern day couple who set out to follow the route used by the padres in 1776. They follow the route in a vehicle as doing it these days on foot would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible due to all the land ownership and access issues they would face. They also chose a vehicular retracing of the route because the author is struggling with the effects of cancer treatment, so it makes way more sense to follow it that way. The author has a copy of the journal kept by the expedition and relies on those explanations to find the route. At times, the journal frustratingly lacks detail, so it is impossible to pin down some of the exact locations. The author and his wife cover distances in hours that took the padres days to cover.

Along the way, we learn many historical facts about the expedition. I found it fascinating since this is not one of the more famous expeditions you find detailed in history books. It wasn’t a large one and there were no wars fought. It was just a group trying to find a route in a desert where they had no idea what lay ahead. The expedition, it turned out, was unprepared for what they would encounter. They brought too little food and too few people. They even ended up eating their own horses because they ran out of food. They were, it seems, hopelessly lost without a clue where they were going. There were no maps, of course. They tried to find local natives to help direct them, but when they did find them, there were language barriers that prevented communication between the groups. There were also some cultural misunderstandings on the part of the Spaniards.

The route was retraced in 1976 as part of Bicentennial events and there are some markers along the way left by the historians of that time. Whether the locations are accurate is questionable due to the lack of detail in the original journal kept by the expedition.

The narrative is part modern-day retelling and part historical facts from the journal. The author encounters many people along the way, some more helpful than others. He did seem, to me anyway, to have an issue with the staff at the visitor centers and information desks where they stopped. If the staff could not answer his questions, he seemed to think they were incompetent. What he may not know is that, most of the people who staff the information desks at public parks are retired volunteers who just do it to help out. You won’t find a historian sitting there answering questions from tourists all day. It’s mostly just retired folks who enjoy helping out and want to be of service. So, I think the author needs to cut those folks some slack. He wrote several times about the lack of knowledge among those staff. Also, he’s got to be aware that this was not a huge or well-known expedition, so people who have detailed knowledge of it are going to be few and far between. As he found while passing through towns with a connection to the expedition, most people these days have no idea what happened at their location in 1776. Not unless they have specifically studied that era. So, expectation vs. reality needs to be addressed there.

I did enjoy this as a travelogue and history lesson. There are some very interesting bits, such as how the Crossing of the Fathers was named, and the etchings on trees and rocks found all these years later. Those were fascinating. At times, the narrative did seem to drag a bit, or veer off too much into modern concerns, but it did get back to the history lessons later. I enjoyed the windows into the life in the native villages the Spaniards encountered. The lack of cultural understanding was expected, but still disturbing to see what they wrote about these encounters in the journal. The places that the Spaniards went were sometimes incredibly inaccessible. Some still are to this day, which is as it should be. There should be places left where people don’t go, that keep their secrets.

If you enjoy historical travelogues, then you will like this book. I recommend it.

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Book Review: Crazy Horse Weeps

Crazy Horse Weeps: The Challenge of Being Lakota in White America
By Joseph M. Marshall III

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Review:

This book is a collection of essays on what it means to be Lakota in modern America. This is also a book that should be read by historians. It shows how the consequences of years and years of cultural destruction have wrought havoc on the Lakota. It is told from the perspective of a man who was raised by traditional Lakota grandparents and has firsthand knowledge of these things. His essays are disturbing, but the stories need to be told. The destruction of Lakota culture has come with a heavy price.

The people on the reservation live in poverty and have a higher rate of death from avoidable causes than the general population. The younger generations are being raised to know more about TV stars, music, and popular culture than their own rich cultural traditions. Sadly, this means those cultural traditions may be lost. Author Joseph Marshall III writes of these losses and also offers hope that Lakota culture can be saved and renewed. The last chapter sent shivers down my spine. Powerful stories.

I am sad to say that I missed an opportunity to hear the author speak at my local college a couple months ago. I wish I’d known about it sooner. He has a very passionate message that needs to be heard and heeded. Before it’s too late to save what’s left.

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Book Review: The Lovely and the Lost

The Lovely and the Lost
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

lostcover

Review:

 

Kira is in training to be a search and rescue dog handler. Kira was adopted by Cady Bennett when she was very young. Before that, she was living on her own in the woods for many weeks. She has vague memories, but they come and go and she doesn’t really know much of her own history before Cady found her and adopted her. She has an adopted brother, Cady’s son, Jude. Her neighbor is also her close friend, named Phoebe, but called Free by everyone who knows her. All three teens are in training to be SAR dog handlers, so they spend a lot of time together training, with their three dogs.

Cady’s estranged father shows up out of the blue and asks her to help with a difficult search for a missing girl. Cady agrees to help.

Cady’s father has a boy working for him, Gabriel, whose own brother had disappeared into the same mountains where the little girl is now missing. He was never found and Gabriel stills spends a lot of time searching the mountains for him. He knows the mountains better than anyone. His stepfather is the local sheriff, and they have some bad blood between them which comes out later in the story.

Once the searchers and their dogs get on the trail, it is discovered that the missing girl was actually kidnapped, not simply lost. So, the young searchers all get pulled off the search. This gives them time to go poking around on their own, which they do.

There are some interesting scenes in the mountains with caves and even some locally-known ceremonial sites that they discover. The dogs each have different search functions. For example, one man has a dog that is trained exclusively to find remains. The other dogs are trained to make live finds. These different roles were explained in the text as well. It’s an interesting look into how dogs are trained for this work. Each of the dogs has a specific personality and the searchers each have to learn to work with their dog and recognize any cues they give. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

My big objection to the story was that Kira seemed to be overreacting to everything. She was lost in the woods for weeks, but she acted like she was raised by wolves her entire life. She has been living in civilization with Cady and family for long enough that she should not be reacting that way. I thought that part of the story was overdone. It made her seem like some wild child who was never in contact with civilization prior to being found by Cady, but the rest of the details given don’t support that. I think she had some sort of PTSD from the events. However, I hope that readers don’t take that to mean that they should fear the wilderness or wolves because of this. Her negative experiences have more to do with her time prior to being lost in the wilderness, I think. I’m a firm believer that we need to encourage young people to love and respect wilderness, but not fear it.

The writing was great and the scenes were described well. Dialog seemed OK, but the witty exchanges between the teens seemed a bit much. I work with teens and they really don’t talk like that at all. I felt like that part of the book didn’t work well because it was pretty unrealistic. It was a bit too cutesy for me. It does serve to emphasize that this group is a team and that they communicate well with each other, which may have been the purpose of including these exchanges. But, to me, it detracted from the realism of the rest of the story. It makes for good reading and shows the closeness of the three teens, but is otherwise not that accurate a portrayal of real life dialog in that age group.

The other characters in the story are glossed over. There are no big descriptions of the outside agencies assisting with the search or how it was organized. The story is told from the point of view of this particular family and group of searchers only. So, the rest is left to the reader’s imagination. That’s probably just as well since it would have diluted the story to include many of those details. But, in some scenes it would be better to include a bit more detail. The local sheriff would not have jurisdiction to run a search in a national park. Park rangers would be running it. And they were not given any dialog in the scenes where they went into the cave, etc. I think the idea was to keep that part of the story separate from the story of the Bennett family and their search dogs. As a reader though, I wanted those other searchers to say something in those scenes.

Overall, I think this was a really well-done story. The characters were complicated and had plenty of backstory to learn about. You won’t see the ending coming. There’s a pretty good twist there. Other than the few minor objections I have above, I think this is a great book to recommend for young adults and it should hold their interest. It would make a great addition to any library too. One hopes that there will be a sequel that expands on what happened at the end.

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Book Review: Fluffy’s Revolution

fluff

Book Review

Fluffy’s Revolution
By Ted Myers

Review:

Fluffy’s Revolution is a unique story about animals who are GAB, or have genetically altered brains. These animals can communicate with each other telepathically, and they have telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds. They can read books and use computers. The year is 2135 and the population of earth is threatened by an approaching asteroid that is big enough to wipe out the entire planet and everyone on it. Doomsday is 30 days away.
Fluffy is a GAB cat who lives with her dad, a professor in Kingston, the new NYC. After the climate changed and the oceans rose, Kingston is the new oceanfront. Fluffy and her dad have a good life. She gets to read and grow her intelligent mind and her dad gets the comfort of having a cat around. One day, she gets telepathic messages that her brother, Jack, is in trouble. She decides to leave home and join the animals in their fight. Reluctantly, the professor tells her goodbye and she disappears into the streets of the city. There, she must evade Animal Control. There are robot controlled vehicles that sweep the streets and vacuum up any stray animals, who are then taken to an extermination center. Fluffy narrowly escapes.

She eventually finds her way to the hideout of the other GAB animals, where she meets Hacker, a mouse who is an engineer, and Mitzi, his wife. She also meets other GAB cats and dogs and pigs. Together with some human allies, they plan a rescue to save the animals in the extermination center. However, one of the three big corporations that runs the world, which is headed by a man named Epps (who hates animals) is after the animals it has labeled terrorists. Will the rescue mission succeed? Will Fluffy and the others find a way to save the planet? And why does she keep seeing flashes of a place called Animal U?

This story was very fast-paced. Fluffy’s adventures take her on a long journey, but she and her friends do some pretty amazing things. I liked that the animals all were shown as intelligent beings who could communicate and talk, with the help of an assistive device that interpreted their thoughts. It was a really creative story and enjoyable to read. There were some pretty cool gadgets and inventions that were used by both the animals and humans. The storyline is parts sci-fi and fantasy, part adventure tale.

The story is mostly dialog and action with minimal long descriptive passages, so it moves quickly. You can read it in a few hours. The only violent scene was the raid on the warehouse where the animals were hiding out after their escape from the extermination center.

The reading level is not too difficult. I’d say this book would be appropriate for ages 11 and up. Even adults will enjoy the story and creative way that the animals and humans interact in it. Of course, anyone who is a cat lover will want to read it since the main character is a cat.

In summary, the story was delightful and the end was great. The message is a positive one about working together and getting along despite differences. It should appeal to a wide range of readers of all ages. Animal lovers will especially get a kick out of it. I recommend it for anyone who loves this kind of story, with a heroine who is a cat!

 

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