Whose scat is that? “Mammal Tracks & Sign” is a best bet on the trail

November 13, 2009, 9:08 am

Mammal Tracks & Sign coverWhose scat is that? What critter made those tracks? Are these berries an animal’s unfinished snack?

Find the answers to these questions and more in Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch.

With images of life-size sketches of tracks of more than 100 familiar and not-so-familiar creatures, this winner of the National Outdoor Book Award is a must-have for curious adventurers and park explorers.

Tracks & Sign includes tracking tips, images of real-life tracks in dirt, mud, sand and snow, descriptions of animals and their habitats, and images of other signs that indicate an animal’s presence, including scat, animal carcasses and sign left on the landscape (like caches of acorns hidden by squirrels or tree bark scraped away by a bear rubbing his back). The book’s handy index makes quickly flipping to a specific animal or sign a cinch.

Here at American Park Network, we spent a chunk of the morning sharing some factoids we’d discovered by just paging through Tracks & Sign. We learned that the technical term for a pronghorn’s bouncing gait, by which it pushes off with all four feet at the same time, and then lands on all four feet simultaneously, as if it were using a pogo stick, is “pronk.” We examined a photo of a hole used by an otter to haul prey out of a frozen pond, and finally settled a long-standing office debate about whether beavers just fell trees or if they actually do eat wood. (It turns out they feed on the bark of conifers by ripping it off in strands, and they tend to fell deciduous trees).

Our only complaint was that the book is quite heavy. But what it lacks in portability, it makes up for in utility. The office copy of Tracks & Sign will no doubt be coming with us on our next outdoor adventure. Even if it doesn’t make it on the trail, we’ll be reaching for it the second we get back to the car.