Scat man do — the book of animal tracking and poop identification

By Michael Raffety

9-24-12

Holy fox poop! What a book! Hot off the University of California Press is the “Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California.”

Yes, the book is loaded with color pictures of everything from robin poop to badger poop. Oh, and let’s not forget snake scat. Yuck.

From the pictures, I have been able to identify the scat around my place as skunk and fox droppings. And I’ve seen both, of course. Once the skunks were so numerous I got a night vision monocular so I could see when they started dancing around the house and I could do some crowd control with the Second Amendment. After I got the night vision spyglass I stopped seeing them. The population explosion had subsided.

But I would see the grey fox skipping across my switchback and disappearing through the fence in the morning. We used to have a pair of red foxes that would pose on top of a huge boulder that faced the east side of our house. They made nice photos. Now mating vultures have taken over that spot.

We’re taking care of our daughter’s Doberman temporarily. He has a nose for foxes. I’ll walk him down the hill on a leash in the evening and let him run uphill by himself. One time he spotted, or more likely smelled, a fox 500 feet down the hill and was off like a bolt of lightning. The fox was on the other side of the fence and he raced along the fence line with it until he reached the corner and the fox was out of reach.

What really annoys me is when skunks poop on top of a rock or on top of my block wall.

When we had cats we used to find opossums on the deck and raccoons. They loved cat food and we learned to take it in at night. We used to have a miniature schnauzer that would chase the raccoons all the way down the hill even though they were bigger than him. The only thing that stopped him was when a deer stomped its foot. He backed off before he got gored with an antler.

The Animal Tracks and Scat Guide revealed something I didn’t know. Opossums aren’t native to this state. They were imported in the early 1900s and were all over the place by 1906. It’s really a Virginia opossum. Some Southerner must have missed the taste of opossum stew. They are the only marsupial in North America and they have 52 teeth.

The guide will be helpful to hunters wishing to track mule deer, elk and game birds. Its breadth of tracks and scat are helpful to those with a scientific interest or just merely interested in the natural world around us.

The guide has three authors: Mark Elbroch, Michael Kresky and Jonah Evans. Kresky and Elbroch did the illustrations.

Mark Elbroch wrote the spine tingling intro, part of which is reproduced below:

“I walked 50 yards farther before the moon rose high enough to bathe the floor of the wash. Then I saw them. I knelt to study my own tracks made just hours before. And there was no denying it: There were fresh tracks of the female cougar atop my own, and she was tracking me. I stood quickly and looked behind me. I was spooked and nervous. I worked my throwing shoulder and rolled my first rock in my hand.”

Elbroch made it back the mile and a half to his truck and slept in the truck bed, snapping awake several times with the sense of being watched but seeing nothing. When he woke the next morning he found that the cougar had come within 10 meters several times to look at him, with two kittens a little farther back.

Well, Kemosabe, that was pretty gutsy.

The “Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California” is $34.95 for the paperback version. It’s a must-have book for those interested in the natural world around them. Read the guide on how to avoid hantavirus and arenavirus, salmonellosis, tularemia (rare in the U.S.), giardiasis, histoplasmosis, toxovariasis and baylisascaris. Hint: Wear gloves and avoid dried out poop. Don’t sweep or vacuum rodent droppings. “Spray all surfaces with a bleach-water mix to kill the virus. Wait until the surface is dry and then sweep and clean as normal.”

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