Track Ageing

Ageing tracks is a way to determine when an animal was present. This can be very useful if you are studying, photographing or hunting an animal. Here is a photo of a mountain lion track on which I now have some history.

IMG_3700 2-day old track

This photograph was taken on Friday September 22nd 2017 at 2:33 PM.

This track was made in deep dust on a little-used road. The dust is deep because it is in a portion of the road that is fairly steep and the soil is deeper than most of the area. Summer use tears up the soil and reduces it to fines of dirt and small rocks.

Here is another photograph of a track in the same series of prints. It’s not exactly the same track, as a truck ran over the portion of the track that I photographed two days earlier. Here is the first photograph.

mountain lion track IMG_3691 rotated CCW 90

This track photo was taken on Wednesday September 20th 2017 at 12:47 PM.

Because this track has not been deformed, I concluded right away that it was  at most  hours old and possibly only minutes old.

When ageing tracks one looks for deterioration caused by the forces of nature. Weather is a key. Wind reduces clarity of the track. The September 20th track is very clear and the edges are sharp. It has not been disfigured by wind.

Rain is another important weather element. A heavy rain may wipe tracks out completely, but it will also create the beginning of a new time line.

Gravity also has an effect, but it takes longer for gravity to take effect. Other tracks also can be used in aging. For example, cars will eliminate many tracks. On heavily used hiking trails, people may eliminate all wild animal tracks by day. Animals will replenish their tracks at night.

If you want to find a bear track on a mountain hiking trail, the best opportunity will be first thing in the morning.

I know that it was quite windy on Wednesday evening and there was also a very light rain. These are major sources of the deterioration that took place between Wednesday and Friday.

If the weather had been perfect with no rain and little wind, the Friday track could have looked much closer to way it did on Wednesday. However, additional truck traffic might have completely wiped out all the tracks.

The conclusion is that the key to good track ageing is the creation of a time line that records the timing of any activities that could cause deterioration or complete elimination of the track.

Here is one last photo. Look at it closely and you’ll see a leaf in the front track. You can tell that the leaf was blown in, not stepped on, by the lion. The strong winds blew on Wednesday evening before sunset.

IMG_3700-1 track with leaf

A heavy summer rain can create a track pattern that can be deemed to have been made within a short time frame for as much as several weeks. A track in mud can only happen while the ground is very wet and the palette for a mud track created following a summer rain is often only receptive for about half a day. Once created, a mud track often lasts until the next heavy rain.

Snow is the very best palette for ageing tracks and one can learn a lot about animal tracks if they are blessed by living in a region with frequent winter snow – something we don’t have here in the SF Bay Area.