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