Wildlife tracker publishes field guide to NE land mammal behavior

  • “Abbreviated Field Guide to Mammal Behavior: New England Region” by Kathy Dean

  • Kathy Dean has authored the “Abbreviated Field Guide to Mammal Behavior: New England Region,” which was finished in June.

For the Recorder
Published: 8/17/2021 3:15:08 PM

Kathy Dean has spent her life connected to the outdoors. In her earlier years, by way of adventures like rock climbing, mountaineering and wilderness trips, Dean always found herself enjoying and feeling invigorated by the natural world. She continues to honor that love, though in the last 20 years, has changed pace.

“It’s been an evolution for me, to just slow down and pay more attention to the landscape in which I’m moving through,” Dean said. “That’s deepened my understanding of the natural world and it nourishes me deeply.”

This chapter of Dean’s life has been dedicated to the nature-based exploration of wildlife tracking and outdoor education. Over two and a half years ago, the idea to create a field guide of her own was born out of this detail-oriented time alongside wildlife. When the coronavirus pandemic caused shutdowns last year, she finally was able to commit herself to completing it.

The guide, called the “Abbreviated Field Guide to Mammal Behavior: New England Region,” was finished in June, and includes 30 different species of New England land mammals, from the northern short-tailed shrew to the moose. Each animal description includes activity, habitat, communication, food, anatomy and senses, breeding, gestation and birth, dispersal of young and miscellaneous.

“It was something that I wished existed, something that was portable and easy to access, that I could carry out in the field with me and open up to when I had questions about animal behavior,” Dean said.

As she continued to write, what was once a resource meant for personal use became a tool she realized could be used by others — students, hunters, other trackers and naturalists were some groups she named, amongst other conservation and wildlife enthusiasts.

When she teaches, she added, questions arise from both herself and her students, and a field guide tailored toward what specifically they’re experiencing could be a useful resource to access the information she doesn’t necessarily carry with her at all times.

Dean holds a CyberTracker Level III Track and Sign Certification for the New England region — a professional-level wildlife tracking and ecology certification and training program — and offers her own group and custom nature-based education programs. Dean has lived in Western Massachusetts since 1982, and connects on a deep level with the area’s land, flora and fauna.

Her work tracking, Dean explained, involves paying attention to the landscape around her, noticing disturbances and inquiring about what might have caused them. From obvious fox tracks in the snow, to an inconspicuous bear marking on a tree, every piece of the landscape has meaning in the context of a given habitat.

“Much of the time that most of us spend out in nature, we’re not aware of the fact that we’re sharing that landscape with many other non-human animals, because they’re discreet,” Dean said. “I’m a sleuth — I love looking for their sign and then when I find it, looking to understand what that animal was doing.”

Nature gives Dean a form of solace that she doesn’t find anywhere else, and her work tracking only heightens her appreciation for its existence. Having the opportunity to understand more about how these animals live “enhances and deepens” her respect for them, and reminds her constantly of the shared nature, human and animal, of the planet.

“It’s really hard to put into words the feeling of peace that comes with an appreciation for the suckles of nature and the interrelationships that exist in the natural world,” Dean reflected.

“There’s something very reassuring about that, especially now with all of the big climatic changes that our planet is going through, that’s like an anchor for me,” she continued.

The concern of climate change hovers over Dean’s love and respect for the natural world. She hopes that her field guide contributes in some way to people’s desire to protect more wild land, whether that’s via conservation or preservation designation, because the same land mammals she tracks and writes about rely on that ever-shrinking area.

“Animals, particularly land mammals, they need contiguous tracks of wilderness in order to survive,” Dean said. “If their habitats are being fragmented and broken up and shrunken, it’s putting a lot of pressure on them and they’re not going to thrive or survive that.”

The same desire to protect land that Dean harbors, she wishes to grow amongst her readers. By encouraging people to learn from their personal experiences of being in, and ultimately wanting to protect and respect nature, she hopes more individuals might invest in tangible contributions to slowing down climate change.

“My hope is that people feel inspired by the natural world, and that they want to spend more time in nature, slowing down and paying attention to what’s out there.”

Visit Dean’s website at www.trottingfoxprograms.com to learn more and get your own copy of the “Abbreviated Field Guide to Mammal Behavior: New England Region.”


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