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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!

Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
By Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland
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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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Book Review: Our Wild Calling

Our Wild Calling

By Richard Louv

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Review:

We can all use a better connection to the world around us, particularly to the animals that share our space. We have pets and we love all kinds of animals, but how does this help us connect to nature? Are animals a pathway for humans to understand nature better?

In the book, Our Wild Calling, author Richard Louv explores our relationship with animals, both wild and domestic. How can humans draw closer to nature and to animals? What sorts of things are people out there doing now to help make this happen?

In this book, you will see a variety of ways in which we can enhance our lives and experience. Wildlife, pets, imaginary animals, and more, are all there for us to learn about and become closer to. Humans are learning more and more about the animals that share our planet.

Some of the things that you will learn in this book come from research and some from experience. There are plenty of ways to approach our need to get closer to animals. Some do this in a spiritual way and some in a scientific way. But, the approach itself isn’t what’s really important. The connection with nature and animals is what’s really important. That’s what need is being fulfilled here. Humans can’t exist in a vacuum without nature and animals.

I think I most enjoyed the chapter that talked about animal-assisted therapy. I think that’s probably a very important thing to be doing. The use of animals helps seniors and sick kids alike. All humans seem to love animals and we can all relate to them. So, their use in a therapeutic setting seems just natural. I enjoyed that part of the book a lot. The whole book is packed full of good information and I think there are many nuances in it too, that will require a second reading in more detail.

This is a book to savor and think about for a long time. I really loved it.

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Book Review: Indistractable

Indistractable
By Nir Eyal

idistractable

Review:

We are all easily distracted these days. There are far too many things competing for our attention. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with images, sounds, and more. Everything seems to be about getting our eyeballs focused on whatever it is that’s being promoted at the moment. It’s enough to drive us to distraction. Literally.

In the book, Indistractable, author Nir Eyal shows us some techniques to help us avoid the pitfall of distraction in our daily lives. These techniques can be applied just about everywhere and will serve to help us focus and become more aware of the countless ways that advertisers and social media try to distract us.

It’s not just devices and technology that provide distraction though. Things come up in daily life that can distract us from what we really want to accomplish. This book provides a whole bunch of great techniques that you can use every day to take back your time.

One of my favorites is the way the author’s wife lets others know that she needs to focus and is being indistractable. She has a special tiara that she can wear on her head when she needs to have time to focus on whatever she needs to get done. Her family knows this particular headgear means that they need to leave her alone so that she is not distracted and can get stuff done. There is a photo in the book that I found very memorable of her sitting at her computer wearing the tiara, which she got on Amazon and has lights on it to make it noticeable to others. I love this idea! You tell your family that, when you wear this particular hat or tiara or whatever, that this is your time to focus and they need to not disturb you! Simple and effective! And it can work everywhere! Why not do the same with co-workers?

There’s also a card that the author created that you can place in a visible location that lets your co-workers know that you’d like not to be disturbed. Cool idea!

It’s techniques like these that you will find throughout the book. The author covers many different life situations when we find ourselves distracted and shows how to overcome them. I’ve got to start using some of these ideas. They are excellent.

He advises us to make certain times to do things like check email. I know I often find myself checking emails every 20 minutes or so during the day. The author makes the point that none of the emails we get are really such high priority that they need to be dealt with right away. Often, when I get an email and go to answer it or resolve the issue, this takes me away from other work tasks. And then it takes a long time to get back to what I was doing. So, the author’s point is a good one. If you set aside one or two times during the day when you will deal just with emails, that can save you a lot of time and prevent distraction. If you just do emails during the last hour of the day, that will mean the rest of your time can be productively used to get other things done. It makes sense.

In summary, I loved all the ideas in this book. I know I am not alone in being so easily distracted by everyday things. If we all put to use the excellent techniques shown in this book, we’d be more productive and have more free time too. I highly recommend you read this book. We can all benefit from becoming indistractable!

 

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California 50 Hikes with Kids

By Wendy Gorton

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Review:

If you have kids and want to get them outdoors, this is a great book to start with. It contains some nice, short hikes that you can do with your little ones. The hikes are all thoroughly documented and each entry contains the detail you will need to know to plan your adventure. The book has some good advice and offers a lot of fun activities as well.

The hikes can be found throughout the state. A map at the beginning shows their general locations. Each hike description gives more in-depth details. The book is broken into sections covering various areas of the state, like the southern part, the central coast, the north coast, etc. In each section are a selection of kid-friendly adventures for you to do as a family.

Things I liked.

I liked that each account contains an elevation map of the trail. These are super handy to use when planning your adventure. You will know how much hill-climbing is involved. Little ones get tired faster than adults, so it’s important to plan ahead for their shorter legs on the trail.

Each section also has a detailed map of the trail you will be hiking, with stopping points, or hand-holding points indicated. Also, the power-up stops are useful for those hiking with small kids, who need those rest breaks.

In the section showing a California newt, the author properly warns to look but not touch due to the toxin in the skin of these newts. I also liked that she did not suggest that kids catch and hold onto and reptiles or amphibians (or any animals) in the book. This is good advice. These animals need to be left alone for many reasons.

Most of the scavenger hunt activities can be done without collecting living parts of plants. I liked that the author consistently stated to only pick up fallen sticks, leaves, rocks, etc. i.e. Not to pick living leaves or flowers. She also suggests drawing many of the things you will see on the hikes. Or taking photographs. Or just checking out the leaves, flowers, etc. while they are still on the living plant. The reader is not being encouraged to damage the resource, which is a good thing. At the same time, kids will get to experience nature and all its textures, scents, sights and sounds, in person. But they also get a conservation message along with their adventure.

The reader is also encouraged to get their kids to use their imaginations at these sites. So, one activity has a kid curling up into a ball and bursting forth as an imaginary flower. Or to pretend that a fern frond is a hat, but just to stand under it, not to pick it. Things like that will help engage your little hikers in nature while still being non-consumptive activities that leave nature just the way you found it. Perfect!

Many of the hike descriptions have a little bit about the history of the site. So, you learn what native peoples called that land home. Or who the ranchers were who first settled there to raise their herds. Or who built a particular feature you will see. There are also brief looks at the geology of the area. The plants, trees, and common wildlife are also described in many accounts.

There are detailed directions to each trailhead, as well as recommendations on the best season to visit. Importantly, the location of the nearest restrooms is also indicated. If you’ve traveled with kids, you know how important that is. If there are fees for any of the hikes, those are indicated. You get some contact information for the land management agency responsible for that particular area, including their phone number, Facebook and Twitter contact information. Each hike has information on mileage and how long it is expected to take to walk the route.
Things I didn’t like.

Some of the accounts tell you to collect fallen flowers, leaves or cones, etc. Pressing plants is a great activity, but we also need to be mindful of where we are. One of the accounts offered this as a suggested activity in a national park. In national and state parks, taking anything, even a leaf, from the park is not allowed. So, read these sections with that in mind. If in doubt, don’t collect samples in a park. Regulations vary depending upon which resources agency manages that land.

I also was not comfortable with telling kids to play in the waves on the north coast. I live on the north coast and we have drownings here every year due to people unfamiliar with the “sneaker waves” getting themselves washed out to sea. The author does advise to keep an eye on the waves, but I think that warning needs to be way stronger. Also, the water here on the north coast is very cold. Surfers here wear wetsuits for this reason. It is not really water you would want to swim in.

The location of the “Treat Yourself” business in the last section is well over 50 miles from the hike location. I’d advise you to use a good map to choose the place where you will find refreshments after your hike. Also, businesses might close, so rely on current information. It’s a nice feature to include in the book, but could become inaccurate over time.

A couple of inaccuracies turned up, such as the year the Gold Rush started (page 193). And one map says Humboldt Redwoods National Park, when it is actually a state park (page 266). (Full disclosure, this reviewer worked at that state park for ten years.) It may seem minor, but there are big differences in the way the two agencies manage their lands. Also, the California bay tree (page 199) is not a deciduous tree. Its leaves do not all fall off in autumn.
Overall impression

Overall, I think this is a handy book to have with you if you will be traveling with kids in California. Wherever you are in the state, there should be a hike you can do with the younger ones that is safe, has little elevation gain, and has interesting features to awaken curiosity in nature. It is a good guidebook to get you started on introducing your children to nature. They don’t have to be older to enjoy outings in nature. There are fun activities you can do together and this book offers wonderful guidance for parents seeking a safe way to enjoy the outdoors with their youngsters. I recommend it to any parents.

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Book Review: Animals Reviewed

Animals Reviewed: Starred Ratings of Our Feathered, Finned, and Furry Friends
by American Zoo Association

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Review:
This book was adorable and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. I thought the premise of the book was interesting. Zoo staff posting reviews of the animals in their zoos as one would review a product purchased online. This could really be fun!

I loved some of the puns and hilarious, witty reviews of the animals. For example, the turtle that comes with its own case and can even be dropped in water and still works perfectly. Haha. The accompanying photo is an adorable turtle hatchling.

Sure, some of the jokes are corny, but isn’t that the point? To have fun with it? It’s all tongue in cheek humor done for the good of animal conservation. This is not intended to be serious stuff. The proceeds from the book will be used for wildlife conservation purposes, so it’s for a good cause.

I loved the photos. Each one of the reviews has a photo of the animal. Some were super cute. Some were beautifully photographed. All were very interesting.

I was pleased to see my local zoo had contributed a bunch of reviews that were included in the book. (Shout out to the Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka.)

Even though the reviews were for fun, many of them included some information about the animals or their ecology. There are some gems hidden in here if you know much about wildlife. I’ll leave that for you to find though. No spoilers. The zoo staff know their wildlife facts and some of them found ways to incorporate this into the review in a nice subtle way. I loved it.

The opossum review, for example, talks about how it has a handy pocket, then asks if the negative reviewers have heard about its benefits to the ecosystem. It also mentions the opossum’s 50 teeth and that it’s the only marsupial in North America.

Overall, I thought this was a super cute book. It is one that you will find yourself looking at over and over. It’s one of the fun ones you can leave on your coffee table for guests to read. I think it would be a great book for a veterinarian to place in their waiting room for people to read while waiting. Really fun, hilarious, and educational at the same time. I loved it!

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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

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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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