WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS PHOTOS THAT MAYBE UNSETTLING TO SOME PEOPLE.
I wanted to get out as early as I could this morning because we have have a lot of fresh snow and I knew that the cross-country ski pistes were to be groomed at about 5am to be left like a beautiful sandbox, in the sense that they were just waiting for tracks to be laid down on their level surface. The conditions were perfect. The snow would be pretty hard this morning but I wanted to see what action had been happening (and was still happening as I walked) in the last couple of hours, nevertheless.
The sky was totally clear at 7am when I left, beautiful; promising the most perfect day to come. With fresh snow and clear skies, the skiers would be out in force, so it was important to get along the pistes before they were destroyed by the skiing. So I was looking at the last two hours of activity. Things were pretty quiet but there was a lot of fox tracks around and even some fresh spraint on the piste right next to a perfect paw print (notice the white fur in the middle of the spoor):
There was quite a lot of red squirrel activity; the tips of spruce branches had been nibbled and dropped onto the piste in the last hour or so, as squirrels are at their most active just as it gets light:
There were even signs where the alder catkins had deposited their yellow pollen under the trees, from a slight wind or squirrel/mouse activity along the branches.
Otherwise, all was quiet and deadly still.
On the way along the piste back home, I came across the back leg of a young red deer lying on the edge of the track. It was very fresh and I think had been deposited there since I walked along it an hour and a half before because unless I had been very unaware walking past that point earlier, it was certainly not there before. The leg was just lying on the piste and around it were the tracks of fox. I also had the stink of fox in my nostrils, so I was thinking that this was definitely dropped not so long before and that the fox was watching me from somewhere up the slope behind a tree, waiting for me to move along so he could come back and pick up what he had dropped.
A little way up the slope was a shallow hole where an animal had lain down with the deer leg and tried to eat it because there were huge tufts of fur all around the depression but that was not the place where the deer had been killed or torn apart.
No fox would have had the strength to kill or rip off the back hip off a young deer, although they would have been able to carry it away from the kill site. So who did it? I would say that it could never have been hunters, because 1) the hunting season has well and truly finished (mid Sept – end Jan), 2) the way that the leg had been severed from the body, i.e. not done with a knife and 3) there would have been no reason for a hunter to kill a very young deer or cut off and discard its hind leg when I know that hunters will, as a rule, take the whole carcass with them intact.
It could have been killed by a ski pisteur. The machines are huge and work into the night grooming the snow but they move extremely slowly and I would have thought it unlikely that a young deer would have not been able to get out of the way in time. If that had happened, there would have been other signs (and parts) of it on the piste, whereas there was absolutely none.
So, was it killed by a wolf and picked up and then dropped by a fox? I read that in the winter wolves will kill an animal and then drag parts of the body off elsewhere or the fox could certainly have picked this up from a main wolf kill-site higher up on the mountainside and carried it down very diligently. I think that wherever it had got the leg from, it was sitting in the hole behind the tree trying to eat it when I came along and disturbed it, so it tried to run across the piste with it and dropped it. I waited behind another tree 50 metres away for another half an hour to see if the fox came back to claim its booty but nothing stirred after that.
Funny, but I could have followed the fox along his trail up into the woods but I just did not want to disturb him any more; I wanted to give him the option of coming back for his food straight away, before the human activity of the day got going and especially if it was a female fox who may have been pregnant and just about to give birth.