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« Murie’s Field Guide to Animal Tracks »

Sharing another classic field guide today: Olaus J. Murie’s A Field Guide to Animal Tracks.

Not just another guide with simple representations of perfect animal tracks, Murie’s book has beautiful line drawings of mammals along with some reptiles, amphibians, birds, and even insects along with their sign — tracks, but also nests, scat, and other markers found in the wild — so that the amateur naturalist can, in Murie’s words, see “what has happened here”.

And not just perfect tracks, but Murie sometimes includes what tracks will look like in various conditions (dust, snow) and when the animal is walking, dodging while evading predators, scuffling with predator or prey, etc.

Lastly, like with the Field Guide to American Wildlife, the text itself is delightful and has many stories from Murie’s time in the field studying nature.

This is the kind of book that isn’t just helpful when you are taking a walk in the woods (or in the neighborhood — plenty of urban wildlife is represented here) but also entertaining when you are curled up in front of the fireplace.

“Reading tracks is not easy. Just as a detective, with certain broad principles in mind, finds each situation somewhat different, so the animal tracker must be prepared to use his ingenuity to interpret what he sees. A track in the mud may look different from one in dust, or in snow, even if the same individual animal made them. A track in snow is different after a warm sun has shone on it — enlarging and distorting it. An average or standardized track drawing in a book may not look like the one you are trying to identify. The fact is that in many instances the track you find may not seem to fit anything because it is not all there; it may not show all the toes, it may be off-shape because of the irregularity of the ground. … A perfect track is not always found.”

Left: tracks of marmot, squirrels, and gopher. Right: Some rodent tracks, drawn approximately to scale.

“Once a badger started to dig into the ground to escape. I seized it by the hind legs and tried to pull it out of the hole as the hind quarters were disappearing, just to have another look at it and see what it would do. But it held fast, and it seemed like trying to pull out some big plant by the roots. Besides, in a few moments I noticed its muzzle coming out, doubling back under the belly, reaching for my hands. I promptly let go and watched it disappear into the ground!”

Red squirrel nests: (a) outside nest in spruce tree (Alaska), (b) hollow tree den (Minn.).

“One night four of us, including our year-old baby, were encamped on a gravel bar of the Porcupine River, in northeastern Alaska. It was clear September weather, and we slept that night in the open without a tent. At dawn we were awakened by a voice across the river. Soon we realized that we were being serenaded by two wolves, one upstream, the other below our camp. First one, then the other, raised its muzzle and howled. Apparently we were intruding on their home ground. At any rate, we lay there in the crisp autumn morning, comfortable in our sleeping bags, and listened to this song of the Arctic wilderness with a feeling of awe.”

Droppings of various hoofed animals.

“I recall a number of times when I lay in my sleeping bag in the woods and could hear the tiny patter of mice across my bed. When a mouse came very close to my ear I could hear little vocal sounds, a rapid series almost like a chatter, but very faint and less forceful than that term implies.”

All quotes from Olaus J. Murie’s A Field Guide to Animal Tracks.

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Reader Comments (12)

This is excellent! What a find. It's hard to find a new book with such wonderfully useful illustrations - and I love the quotes you chose. Makes me want to read the whole thing :)

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

sheeesh! you are an enabler! off to amazon to look this book up!.....

did i ever tell you i have a degree in wildlife ecology? so, in a nutshell, i love this blog.

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarah

thank you, laura -- this is a wonderful book! there are more recent versions but i’m not sure how much they deviate from murie’s original. it is wonderful to read as well as use as s field guide!

sarah, *no*, you did not tell me!! that is wonderful! and i am an enabler — i admit it! i am addicted to books in general and field guides and books for amateur naturalists in particular. come, join me in my addiction. ;^)

January 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterLori

not so much a comment to the above post, but to them ALL... you are wonderful for those of us like me who only have an intution on this way of life. Thanks for connecting to me. Its an awesome feeling.

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlucy

lucy, thank you so much! :^)

January 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterLori

Oh this looks SO good!!! My library has a version, but it's a Peterson guide, I reserved it anyway!! Thanks for a lovely post, these old nature books are like gold aren't they :)

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

I like the pictures but geesh, the text! I want it on merit alone of the quotes you shared!

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteramy

Okay! Fionna just set up a guide book bookstore and was "selling" books to the family. Even giving us advice on which books we need according to our intrests! Is she channeling you?
Just looked it up and found an old copy...another one for the bookstore!
It looks wonderful. Thanks!

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

meredith, it is a peterson guide! i should have mentioned that! :^)

and oh, they are like gold. :^)

amy, i know! that seems to be what sets the vintage guides apart -- the quality of the writing. you really feel like you’re settling down around the campfire to listen to them share their stories.

dawn, i think fionna and i have a lot in common! ;^) i hope you enjoy it -- i love it!

January 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterLori

Sweet! lithographs of poop - i love it!

January 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlis

What a lovely field guide. I'll be looking for this one.

January 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne

Wow what a great book, I wonder if there is one similar for the UK shall have to have a look out for it

February 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThimbleina

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