Resources and Reviews

The quality of information found in various tracking resources is very uneven. Some problems arise from honest mistakes; tracking is, after all, an evolving art and no one at this point knows everything there is to know. Other problems are more culpable, however. Some writers rely on previous written sources of dubious reliability or, worse, on their own imagination as they fill gaps in their knowledge from thin air, relying cynically on the naivete of their audience to cover their tracks, so to speak. As a result I tend to be conservative about making  recommendations for learning resources. Here are a few that I can recommend in whole or in part.

Tracking Books:

Brown, David: Trackards for North American Mammals McDonald & Woodward. Twenty-six waterproof card sides present tracks and sign of over 30 mammals that range across North America. All are life-size, and produced from photographs or casts of actual sign. For more information see the Products page.

Brown, David: The Companion Guide to Trackards for North American Mammals McDonald & Woodward.  This adjunct to the Trackards provides additional illustrations and information for interpreting the material on the Trackards. The Products page lists a number of points of sale for this and the Trackards.

Brown, David: The Next Step: Interpreting Animal Tracks, Trails and Sign. McDonald & Woodward. This book takes the process of track and sign identification into “eco-tracking”, that is, using animal sign to determine not only identity but also behavior and relationship to habitat. See the Products page for additional details and points of sale.

Rezendes, Paul: Tracking and the Art of Seeing. Harper Collins. This book relies on Paul’s beautiful photographs of both tracks and sign as well as habitats and the animals themselves. Rezendes was a latter-day pioneer in rediscovering the nearly lost art of animal tracking in North America. The book is most helpful with the eastern species that he knew best.

Elbroch, Mark: Mammal Tracks and Sign, Bird Tracks and Sign, Animal Skulls. Stackpole Three books are currently on the market. Mark’s scholarship is impressive, even though he was not well served by the editors at Stackpole at least in the textual parts of his books. As desktop references for detailed information about tracks and sign as well as skulls they are the best things out there and have vaulted Elbroch into leadership on the American tracking scene.

Murie, Olaus: A Field Guide to Animal Tracks. Houghton Mifflin. Murie got to see the American West before it was largely spoiled by the blight of civilization. His painstaking drawings of the tracks and scat he encountered on his journeys inspired and provided a start for many current North American trackers. These drawings depended on his individual perspective which did not always capture the essence of his subject, and rarely he made mistakes. But the few mistakes were honest ones, unlike those of subsequent “trackers” who plagiarized those errors into their own works with telling accuracy. An enduring book by a pioneer in tracking who led the right life, a life that has inspired many, including me. (This book has recently been updated by Elbroch.)

Stokes, Donald and Lillian: A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior. Little Brown. Skip the track renditions which are either too crude to be helpful or derivative from elsewhere. However, the life history information can be very helpful for a quick check on gestation periods, pup emergence and so forth. This information is as good as its sources, generally scientific journals which the Stokeses have done the great service of translating from scientific jargon into reasonably colorful Anglo-saxon for the rest of us.

Halfpenny, Jim: Mammal Tracking in North America, Johnson Books. Once again skip the crude track renditions and go to the information on patterns and gaits. These provide a good introduction to this esoteric subject, Be aware that some of the frame sequences of gaits seem to be out of order, presenting a mammal moving in anatomically impossible ways.

Burt and Grossenheider: A Field Guide to Mammals of America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin. This book is somewhat dated now as far as both range maps and attitude. Professor Burt was from a former era where there were good animals and bad animals, the bad ones being any that interfered with human ambitions. However, the paintings by Grossenheider are exquisite and the book itself is a good quick reference for such things as body length and weight, number of mammae, etc. Unfortunately the track renditions are mostly mythical and the skull photos in the back are too dark to reveal the kind of detail they should.

Reid, Fiona: Mammals of North America Houghton Mifflin. This book is intended to replace the above by Burt in the Peterson Field Guide series. In most respects it is an improvement: the skull charts are much clearer and the track representations, while not perfect, are substantially better than in the above book. The art work does not match that of Grossenheider, suffering in some instances from problems of proportion and detail. However the text is less judgmental and the range maps are more up to date.

Tracking Websites:

Keeping Sue Morse’s site. Her organization seeks to train and organize volunteers to “keep track” of wildlife activity near their homes in order to inform local public policy. Many chapters exist throughout the Northeast.

Wildlife Tracking in North America.  Mark Elbroch’s site. His organizatiuon seeks to credential trackers to standards of expertise, relying on a testing method developed in South Africa.

International Society of Professional Trackers. Appears to be a no-nonsense organization that emphasizes tracking techniques and expertise from South Africa. The links page provides some interesting sites.

Virtual Dirt Interesting track identification puzzles and explications.

Maine Primitive Skills School. Not primarily a tracking website, but the links page presents a long list of pertinent websites.

New England Discovery. www.newenglanddiscovery.comA tracking instruction and mammal inventory organization based in Newburyport, MA

Northeast Wildlife Trackers This is the website for an organization that sponsors the annual Northeast Trackers’ Conference each year. They also publish a seasonal newsletter with articles about tracking subjects and events in the Northeast and elsewhere.