Sunday Reviews

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe

Lars-Henrik Olsen

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691157535

£17.95

I have to admit that my first impressions of this book were not good. That is not to say this is in anyway a bad book but that I feel there is more that has been left out than was left in. For a start there is no introduction and no user guide as to how to get the best from the book and for beginners (I was one of those kids making plaster casts of pad marks… mostly dogs) no clue as the where and how to start looking for animal taracks and signs.

In the preface, the author suggests that birds are easily seen and that we can pretty easily observe them. Yet as a pretty confident birder I would be lost in parts of Northern and Eastern Europe if I were faced with a tree that had been used by a Woodpecker. A lot more could have been written on Woodpecker marks and comparing them to Mammal signs. I’m confident that using this guide I would be able to sort out if a Water Vole had been working a tree, so why not a White-backed Woodpecker say?

There are some lovely photographs in the book, mostly of the animals themselves and I think I would have preferred more illustrations of the tracks and signs to be honest. Admittedly there is a section at the front looking at feet/pad marks as well as sections looking a common signs on trees for example and I wonder if the book could have been laid out differently, say focussing on damage to trees or alternatively just dealing with each bird or animal separately. The current design means a lot of cross-referencing and that means I’m less likely to bother.

The text is actually very good and is much more informative but I guess looking at animal tracks and signs is visual and that should feature prominently.

In summary, after a few reads I like this book more than I did but I have a real feeling that this is an opportunity missed.

Wildlife of Australia

Ian Campbell and Sam Woods

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691153537

£13.95

Wildlife of Australia

Wildlife of Australia

Firstly, let’s get this right out of the way; this is not a complete guide to the wildlife of Australia. As the introduction tells us this is a guide to what a nature-loving traveller might see in the main tourist areas and National Parks.

The book starts with a quick look at the habitats and vegetation found across Australia using a colour coded map of the continent and a series of captioned photographs. The book follows the standard of captions on the left-hand pages and the photographs on the right that most of us will be familiar with. I was left somewhat puzzled as there are large areas of map shaded in light blue but I could not find that in the key. I thnk it might have been useful to have colour coded the captions and/or habitat photographs to relate to the map as well. As there is already an erratum I suspect a more thorough proof-reading would have eliminated such an error.

Each species featured get a short caption, usually with a larger one to introduce the species family, which includes the range that the species might be found in and one photograph. A small thumbnail map would have been better for me, as a casual reeder, as I am not too familiar with some of the abbreviations used. I also feel that while for the Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians one photograph might suffice; for the birds one photograph is never enough. Less experienced birders might be confused as to take one page at random, in the Waders section Turnstone, Knot and Great Knot are all featured in breeding, or near breeding, plumage. This puts the photographs at odds with the text which has them down as primarily visiting in the Northern winter period when they would be in first-winter or non-breeding plumage. This I feel is bound to lead to some confusion and misidentification.

This book would be a fairly useful and relatively inexpensive guide if weight is a problem but for the keen birder or naturalist I’m not sure it would help you get the best from the continent.

Both books are available in eBook format.

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