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Book Review: Tracking Mammals in the Northeast

posted Jun 10, 2020, 8:39 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jun 10, 2020, 8:47 AM ]
In her book A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast, Linda J. Spielman tackles one of the persistent shortcomings of tracking guides. Animal tracks vary enormously in appearance. As she writes in the introduction, “real tracks frequently deviate from perfect tracks,” and “may appear like the tracks of a completely different animal.” No one illustration or photograph can possibly convey this variation. Most guidebooks include at most two or three images of the tracks for a given species. Spielman illustrates eight to ten examples for every species.

Spielman's high-quality illustrations capture the range and variety of track presentations in a way no other book does. Different drawings show different amounts of splay in the toes; tracks with and without claws, dewclaws or tarsal pads registering; and tracks that resemble those of other species. The illustrations don't show small details of track morphology as well as David Moskowitz (Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest), or Mark Elbroch (Mammal Tracks & Sign), but the range of presentations makes this book a valuable addition to the tracking literature.

Spielman's text is also first rate. Her descriptions of animal behavior are clear and accurate. Her commentary and interpretations show that she has a huge amount of "dirt time" under her belt. And despite her obvious expertise, she avoids the common pitfall of over-interpreting what she has seen and presenting conjecture as fact.

As with most regional guides, A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast is useful well beyond its geographic range. Most of the thirty-three mammals covered in this book are found across the continental United States.

Every book makes trade-offs, of course, and this book has its downsides. The paper is lightweight and porous. While the book is small and light enough to carry anywhere, it may not hold up well in the field. The book does not include images of the animals themselves. The track illustrations are not life sized with small tracks are shown larger than life and large tracks are reduced. There is little information about sign. And, of course, some people just find photographs of tracks easier to interpret than illustrations. With the exception of the books durability, these are minor issues. And even the durability shouldn't keep anyone from buying this excellent book.

For anyone who has puzzled over a track that just didn't look like any of the illustrations in the field guide, this guide may be what you are looking for. For the intermediate tracker, in particular, it can help avoid many common mistakes in identifying tracks in the field. And for anyone who already has a library of tracking books, I would consider this a worthwhile addition.


You can purchase A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast here on Bookshop.org

Note: Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. Founded as an alternative existing online book sellers, Bookshop.org shares 75% of its profits with independent bookstores, affiliate publications and affiliate authors. By using the affiliate link above, a portion of your purchase go to both local bookstores and to help support the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project newsletter and website.