1323 Eavesdropping in the bush

Caught on the Trail: Nature’s Wildlife Selfies
by Dale Bakken and Sandra Lynch-Bakken

Surrey: Hancock House, 2020
$24.95 / 9780888390585

Reviewed by Jocie Brooks

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A curious black bear nuzzles the camera on the cover of Caught on the Trail: Nature’s Wildlife Selfies. This book offers “up close and personal” views of BC’s wildlife that we all wish we could experience, if only it were safe to do so!

Authors Dale Bakken and Sandra Lynch-Bakken both have an extensive background working with animals in zoos, which has given them a deep knowledge and empathy for wild animals. Curious about the inhabitants of their property in northern BC, they set up numerous trail cameras to see what sorts of predator and prey animals were present over a period of seven years.

In the introduction the authors describe themselves as “boomers who grew up close to nature.” From the opening pages they lament the destructive effect of humans on the planet, including pollution, habitat loss and the spread of harmful invasive species. Despite deep concerns about multiple threats to wildlife, the book celebrates nature’s resilience with a collection of photos that provide a “glimpse into what still roams wild.”

Game cameras or “trail cams” have become very popular in recent years. Chapter 1, “Camera trail low-down” gives specific information about what sort of trail cams are on the market and how to use them effectively.

Wildlife enthusiasts love to set up trail cams on their properties, looking for proof of furry visitors. Trail cams are also used extensively by hunters and trappers, which is not without controversy. The authors note that the US-based outdoor store Cabela’s has seven pages devoted to trail cams. Some hunters position cameras near sites baited with carcasses and salt licks to increase their chances of finding game. The ethics of such trail cam usage is questionable. The authors note that “when a new device or technology is developed there is always the possibility it could be used for harm instead of benefit.”

On the plus side, trail cams are used by wildlife biologists to determine things such as range and population, herd density, male-female ratios, and to gather data on where to best position wildlife corridors. Trail cams have also saved many lives — from locating missing pets to finding bear cubs separated from their mothers.

The authors point out that trail cam photos are much more candid than the images of professional wildlife photographers. Once positioned, trail cams are left unattended by humans. Motion activated, they take photos of any critter that triggers the shutter, from a tiny mouse or a large bear.

Sunlight, wind, and weather all affect the quality of the images. Some animals pass through so fast that they are a blur. Others show only a part of themselves — gangly moose legs, or the rear view of a bounding snowshoe hare. Night images may reveal only the glow of an animal’s eyes. This sort of photography takes a lot of time and patience. Thrilling images of megafauna are few and far between, and there are no guarantees of success. Blurry landscape images may result when the shutter is triggered by the wind!

The middle chapters of the book delve into the life histories of each animal encountered, along with general highlights for each season. It is surprising just how many species were captured on camera, all from the authors’ property. Moose, coyote, grey wolf, black and grizzly bear, porcupine, lynx, pine marten, fisher, and snowshoe hare are just some of the species represented. I appreciated the inclusion of rare and reclusive animals, such as the fierce and gluttonous wolverine, described as a “typhoon of jaws and claws,” which tends to live in the mountains far removed from human presence.

Though I enjoyed reading the factual life histories of each creature, I started to feel a bit of “information overload.” Though the authors did share some of their personal stories, I felt that the book could have benefitted from including more of the authors’ own observations and experiences.

Little information was provided about the authors or their property. Though situated at the “base of a mountain in northern BC,” I had only a vague idea of where the property was located or what the landscape looked like. Author biographies and photos were omitted from the book, which was unfortunate. Readers like to get to know authors, and a touch of the personal often enhances a non-fiction book.

The biggest attraction of this book are the candid photos of wildlife. There are certainly lots of great photos here, but the small size of many of them means they can get a bit lost in the text. Some photos were very dark and hard to see, though the quality may have been affected by the printing process.

Chapter 6 provides some light reading, recounting the days of the year that celebrate wildlife, such as “National Bird Day,” “Squirrel Appreciation Day,” and “Love Your Pet Day.” Though fun to read, this chapter seemed a bit disconnected from the rest of the book’s content.

In the last two chapters, the authors reiterate the importance of conservation, saying “we know we are not alone on this planet, yet we show a blatant disregard for how our decisions harm or impede the survival of all species and the overall health of the planet.” Readers are provided with information on many groups that strive to protect wildlife and habitat, such as Y2Y, Freedom to Roam, Wildlands Network, etc. On the final pages are “Ten Keystones to Save Wildlife” that provide some useful advice and starting points for readers who are keen to take action.

Caught on the Trail: Nature’s Wildlife Selfies gives readers enticing insights into the lives of BC’s wildlife. The authors’ passion for wildlife conservation is contagious, and the more books there are to promote the protection of BC’s wild places and wonderful creatures, the better.

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Jocie Brooks

Jocie Brooks studied classical piano, and has a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Victoria. She works as a piano teacher but moonlights as a nature nerd, with keen interests in birds, botany, fungi and conservation. Jocie enjoys reading and writing, and wrote a nature column in the local paper for many years. She lives in the Comox Valley with her two children. Editor’s note: Jocie Brooks has also reviewed a book by Megan Clendenan & Kim Ryall Woolcock for The Ormsby Review.

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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and authors in all fields and genres. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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