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Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California
     

Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California

4.1 10
by Lawrence Mark Elbroch, Michael Kresky, Jonah Evans
 

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Spotting an animal’s fresh footprints in the wild can conjure a world for the hiker: Why did the deer tracks disappear? Where did the cougar turn off the trail? What does it mean when two sets of footprints seem to coincide? This beautifully illustrated field guide, the first devoted to the tracks and signs of California animals—including birds,

Overview


Spotting an animal’s fresh footprints in the wild can conjure a world for the hiker: Why did the deer tracks disappear? Where did the cougar turn off the trail? What does it mean when two sets of footprints seem to coincide? This beautifully illustrated field guide, the first devoted to the tracks and signs of California animals—including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates like spiders and beetles—blends meticulous science with field experience to provide an engaging companion for both armchair exploration and easy field identification. Filled with useful tools for the wildlife expert, and essential background and visual aids for the novice, including in-depth information about the ecology of each species, this book goes beyond basic recognition of types to interpret what animals leave behind as a way of “seeing” how they move through the world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This beautifully illustrated field guide, the first devoted to the tracks and signs of California animals—including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates like spiders and beetles—blends meticulous science with field experience to provide an engaging companion for both armchair exploration and easy field identification. Filled with useful tools for the wildlife expert, and essential background and visual aids for the novice, including in-depth information about the ecology of each species, this book goes beyond basic recognition of types to interpret what animals leave behind as a way of "seeing" how they move through the world. California naturalists will want this book!"—Birdbooker Report/The Guardian

"This is the type of book you can dip into at any page and find fascinating tidbits."—Sacramento Bee

"It's a must-have book for those interested in the natural world around them."—Mountain Democrat

"A valuable resource for anyone interested in being better able to interpret their natural surroundings."—Salinas Californian

Birdbooker Report/The Guardian - Ian Paulsen

“This beautifully illustrated field guide, the first devoted to the tracks and signs of California animals—including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates like spiders and beetles—blends meticulous science with field experience to provide an engaging companion for both armchair exploration and easy field identification. Filled with useful tools for the wildlife expert, and essential background and visual aids for the novice, including in-depth information about the ecology of each species, this book goes beyond basic recognition of types to interpret what animals leave behind as a way of "seeing" how they move through the world. California naturalists will want this book!”
Sacramento Bee

“This is the type of book you can dip into at any page and find fascinating tidbits.”
Mountain Democrat - Michael Raffety

“It’s a must-have book for those interested in the natural world around them.”
Salinas Californian - Bob Welch

“A valuable resource for anyone interested in being better able to interpret their natural surroundings.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520271098
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
05/07/2012
Series:
California Natural History Guides Series , #104
Pages:
398
Sales rank:
410,534
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.82(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt

Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California


By Mark Elbroch, Michael Kresky, Jonah Evans

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS

Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95164-8



CHAPTER 1

GETTING STARTED


Why Tracks and Scats?


Mark Elbroch


We were faced with a decision at the start of this project. Given the size parameters of this field guide series, we could either present a detailed look at animals' tracks and scats, or use a more superficial approach to a broader diversity of signs—that is, evidence of feeding, beds, and the like. In the end we decided on the former—an in-depth presentation of just several topics. This book is a visual presentation of the tracks, scats, and scent-marking behaviors of California's wildlife.

Interpreting wildlife tracks and signs is challenging detective work; it is an engaging exercise in clear thinking and deductive reasoning. The most reliable tools we have at our disposal to solve the natural mysteries we encounter in the field are animal tracks and scats. Tracks and scats are the foundation blocks in interpreting all indirect evidence of wildlife, and a detailed knowledge of tracks and scats will aid you in interpreting nearly every natural mystery you encounter.

The presentation of this book also includes numerous citations of work completed by others. They may at first seem obstacles to easy reading, but they serve two powerful purposes: First, they are evidence that tracking has forever been integral to wildlife research and monitoring, and second, they are additional resources for you, the readers, to follow up and seek out should a specific topic grab your interest.

There are without doubt numerous methods to speed you along in your study of wildlife tracking. One of us, Michael Kresky, provides a lively description of one method—track journaling—and through this method he has become an expert interpreter of wildlife tracks and signs. Here he shares tips on this process.


Honing Your Tracking Skills through Track Journaling


Michael Kresky


Tracking Journal

Track journaling builds your knowledge of tracks and sign by making you observe tracks in close detail; your journal also becomes data, meaning scientific records, of what you discover. The physical act of drawing tracks and taking notes on your surroundings sharpens your ability to see clearly and with greater discernment. While you hover over a set of prints, patterns and shapes begin to emerge. We realize that journaling can be intimidating at first, but keep in mind that each journal is highly personal and evolves over time. Nature Drawing—A Tool for Learning, by Clare Walker Leslie (1995), can guide you in this process.

When drawing tracks, do not be daunted by the unknown. Often scrutinizing prints and investigating details with poignant questions will lead to tracks revealing themselves. Even when they do not, it is still valuable to draw the track and revisit your journal at later times.

In the field you need a sketchbook or clipboard, pencils or markers, and a measuring device (ruler or calipers). Begin by finding four to six clear prints that you believe belong to the same animal, and choose a single track to draw. Make sure that the track is between you and the light source. Treat the track and the area around the tracks with deference. This preserves the features of the track as well as the story around the tracks.

An effective track journal includes the date, time, weather, habitat, substrate, and wildlife and human activity in the surrounding area. Draw the track, showing the features of the toes and heel pad or claw marks. With a measuring device, note the track's length and width. The most important thing to remember is to be consistent in your practice. For example, when measuring a track, always include the claws in your measurements. In addition, record whether the track is from a front or hind foot, which side of body, and the direction in which the animal was traveling.

Many folks new to sketching in general are unsure how to use shading to convey light or depth. The choice is ultimately up to you. First, try using shading to relay light—how the sun is falling over and/or across the footprint. Second, use shading to relay depth, meaning that you would shade the deepest parts of the footprint the darkest and the shallowest portions the lightest. We would, however, recommend the second method, because shadows created by light sources can distort one's perception of tracks, as we discuss under notes on photography.

Once you have finished drawing the track, step away from it. This gives you a broader perspective, allowing you to see the line of tracks and perhaps discern the gait the animal was using. This perspective offers more information about the interpretation of this animal's behavior. You may notice that the animal was walking, dust bathing, or foraging. After you have drawn an individual track, draw the line of tracks. Measure the distance between the footfalls, again making sure that you are consistent. Although track journaling is a highly focused activity, remind yourself to pay attention to bird song and other animal behaviors. You may be surprised to find that you are near to the animal you are journaling.


Maps in Your Track Journaling

It is essential to be familiar with the topography where you track. Topographical maps teach us the salient features of the landscape. Specific maps, such as geological, hydrological, or vegetative, provide different perspectives on the natural history of an area. An awareness of topographical information and patterns in your immediate landscape is invaluable for locating ecotones, corridors, and the animals themselves.

In addition to referencing published maps, create your own maps to hone your tracking skills. Start with a map with a one- or two-mile diameter. Then create a map that covers only several hundred feet. Center this map around your set of tracks. Once the tracks have been drawn, fill in the rest of the map with pertinent features such as vegetation, open space, cover, and topography. Then include bird activity, animal trails and sign, and food sources. This practice reveals consistent trends and patterns on the landscape.


Field Guides and Nature Documentaries

A collection of field guides is an indispensible tool for finding the answers to many questions that arise from tracking. A diverse library gives you access to information not readily available in the field and builds your ecological understanding. When available, use numerous resources to identify and research a track, feather, or chewed acorn. Cross-referencing builds a more dynamic picture of the specimen you are studying, lending a more objective view. Sources beyond field guides can add valuable information to a reference library. Scientific journals, natural history magazines, news articles, local papers, and the Internet can all broaden your knowledge of tracking and ecology.

While field guides aid in identification of specific species, they also help to develop search imagery for species you have yet to encounter in the field. By casually flipping through the pages of field guides you develop a familiarity with species yet to be encountered.

Nature documentaries expose you to animal movements and behaviors. To assist in your concentration on animal movement, mute the sound track and if available, use slow motion. These movies allow you to watch animals move over a long period of time, thus enabling you to better interpret track scenarios.

In addition, watching animals in videos will help you see how track patterns are made. Watch how an animal's feet fall as it walks, trots, or gallops. Pay attention to the transitions between gaits. You also learn to interpret sitting, foraging, and other behavioral patterns.


Tracking Exercises

Below are a variety of tracking exercises that will help push your tracking skills beyond what can be learned through books and journals.


MAKING SPECIES LISTS A species list compiles all the animals that occur in a given area. For example, if you wonder what mammal tracks you may encounter near Baker, California, obtain a field guide that covers this region, such as Mammals of California by Jameson and Peeters (2004). Flip through every page, and determine via the range map if that species lives in or near Baker. If so, write that species on your species list. Now, when you find a track in Baker, you can be relatively certain the animal is on your list. Organize the list by keeping the animals in their taxonomic families. Other useful species lists to make are trees, birds, plants, amphibians, and reptiles. This exercise prepares you for what you may encounter in the field.


THE SEVEN PERSPECTIVES OF A TRACK This exercise is based on seven separate drawings of a single track and sharpens your observation skills by teaching you to see from different perspectives. Find a clear print: (1) Draw only the outline of the track. (2) Draw the geometric shapes—such as triangles or rectangles—that compose the overall track. (3) Sketch the variation in texture within the track. (4) Next, study the different colors in the track. Even if you do not have colored pens or pencils in the field, take the time to notice the colors in and around the track and note them as best you can. (5) Draw all the edges of the track. Edges include all the areas in and around the track where soft or hard transitions exist. (6) Draw the variation in value within the track, which is the difference in lightness and darkness of the track. (7) Combine all the previous drawings into one.


DRAWING A SCENARIO Find a patch of ground where there are tracks of multiple species. Sketch all the tracks, and notice how they intermingle and overlap. Begin to ask yourself which tracks are older than others. By sequencing the events you begin to see the story unfold. Keep in mind how weather, sunlight, and shade affect tracks. Seton (1958) provides excellent examples of drawing track scenarios.


STAKING OUT A TRACK LINE Begin by finding a series of 20 or more tracks made by the same individual. Then, using wooden skewers or any consistent flagging device you have brought into the field, place one skewer per track. Once stakes have been placed, step back from the trail and observe the revealed pattern. In staking out a track line, you suddenly begin to see how the animal moved across a landscape. You see the gait and how the landscape affected the animal's movement. This exercise is excellent for visualizing how animals move.


LEARNING TO MOVE LIKE AN ANIMAL The more time you spend interpreting the tracks of animals, the more you will recognize the importance of gaits. The following activity is done in conjunction with a field guide or nature documentary that shows the gaits of different animals. Begin by choosing one animal to mimic. Study how that animal walks and where each of its feet land in that gait. Practice walking like that animal so that your own hands and feet fall in the same positions of the animal in the field guide. From there you can work on other gaits of that animal. When you are comfortable with one species, move on to others.


BUILD A TRACKING BOX A tracking box can be any size, from a small transportable shoebox to an area large enough for a human to run through. Once the box is ready, fill it with "good" substrate. The easiest medium is play sand purchased at a local hardware store, but you can experiment with local soils as well. Once you have chosen your substrate, tamp or trowel the surface until it is smooth and firm.

Tracking boxes afford many activities for the beginner as well as the more seasoned observer. For instance, place your tracking box near bird feeders or where you know animals frequent. By providing a controlled substrate you can track in any season regardless of circumstances, even if you live in a place where seasonal weather or field conditions make tracking difficult. Once an animal has walked through your box, analyze the tracks as you would in the field. Photography, journaling, and track casts can all be used in conjunction with a tracking box.

The tracking box is also an excellent tool for recording the tracks of specific species. For example, capturing small mammals or live insects and running them across the substrate allows for focused analysis of elusive tracks. To further hone your skills, step beyond the sandbox and into the wild. Smooth out substrates along your daily routes, and monitor the movements of animals in your area.


Tracke r's Tools: Noninvasive Monitoring


Jonah Evans, Mark Elbroch, Michael Kresky


One of the most attractive aspects of wildlife tracking is that it is noninvasive and provides a rich, detailed record of wildlife presence, habits, and behaviors without the necessity of seeing or handling them. Wildlife tracking provides us cost-effective research methods, and indirect signs allow both hunters and biologists to invest their time in the appropriate place at the appropriate time if they want to catch their quarry.

Below is a brief introduction to several complementary research methods that you might be interested in experimenting with. We highly recommend that you also read Noninvasive Survey Methods for Carnivores by Long et al. (2008), which provides both a more detailed description of all of the following methods and an introduction to the science behind their use in wildlife research and monitoring.


Track Casting

Making a cast is one of the time-honored ways of creating a permanent record of an animal track. Because of the ephemeral nature of tracks in the field, a track cast invites you to revisit tracks over and over again. The three-dimensional aspect of the cast allows for more in-depth analysis of foot morphology. Creating a track cast collection is a tangible way to increase your exposure to animal tracks when not in the field. Track casts are also great for teaching tracking in a classroom or workshop setting.

The simplest and most cost-effective medium to use is plaster of Paris. It pours easily and dries quickly in most weather conditions. Latex, dental mold, or paraffin are used less often but are also effective. The following tips are for making casts with plaster.?


MIXTURE In a suitable container (either a plastic cup or Ziploc bag), mix a ratio of about two parts plaster to one part water in a quantity to fill and cover your track. The consistency of the mixture is of greater importance than the exact ratio and should be thick like a milkshake. Thinner, more watery mixtures pick up better detail, but they are more fragile and may have a chalky consistency when dried. We would also recommend that you add the water slowly. You can always add more, but if you add too much, you must hope you have additional plaster in your pack to thicken your solution sufficiently to use.


POURING THE PLASTER Many tracks are delicate, and pouring plaster directly onto the track can damage them. It is a good idea to hold your mixing implement about an inch above the track to break the fall of the plaster, which will then gently fill the track. Once the plaster has been poured, it is a good idea to tap or shake the surface with your mixing implement to encourage any air bubbles to surface and break. This also helps move the plaster into the deepest cavities of the footprint, like the fine marks made by claws.


DRYING Well-mixed plaster on a hot day in the sun and on dry substrate can be dry enough for transport in less than 20 minutes. In cold, wet conditions it may take a few hours. The cast should be fully cured in 24 to 48 hours.


OTHER TIPS A barrier of some kind placed around the track to hold in the plaster can improve the appearance and thickness (strength) of the cast. You can easily make such barriers by cutting out strips from plastic containers of various sizes.

As soon as water is added to plaster, a chemical reaction occurs that releases a small amount of heat. This is problematic for snow conditions, because the plaster melts the snow and misshapes the cast. The solution is a product called SnowPrint Wax, which is a wax that can be sprayed into the track before pouring the plaster. This product prevents the snow from melting.

You may also come across a track preserved in silt mud or clay. You can carefully cut and lift out such a track and preserve it in a dry area. Unlike casting, this preservation technique provides a more pristine first generation of the track; even better, it is not subject to the variables of casting.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California by Mark Elbroch, Michael Kresky, Jonah Evans. Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"This beautifully illustrated field guide, the first devoted to the tracks and signs of California animals—including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates like spiders and beetles—blends meticulous science with field experience to provide an engaging companion for both armchair exploration and easy field identification. Filled with useful tools for the wildlife expert, and essential background and visual aids for the novice, including in-depth information about the ecology of each species, this book goes beyond basic recognition of types to interpret what animals leave behind as a way of "seeing" how they move through the world. California naturalists will want this book!"—Birdbooker Report/The Guardian

"This is the type of book you can dip into at any page and find fascinating tidbits."—Sacramento Bee

"It's a must-have book for those interested in the natural world around them."—Mountain Democrat

Meet the Author


Mark Elbroch is a wildlife biologist and the author of numerous field guides including Mammal Tracks and Signs: A Guide to North American Species (winner of the National Outdoors Book Award), Peterson’s Field Guide to Animal Tracks, and Peterson’s Reference Guide to the Behavior of North American Mammals. Michael Kresky is the founder and president of Effigy Art, a fine arts company in Santa Barbara. Jonah Evans is Research Biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

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Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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