Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hares of the Hills

Firstly a very Happy New Year to you all.

Having spent a lot of time photographing Brown Hares, about 18 months ago my thoughts turned to thinking about trying for their slight smaller upland relative the Mountain Hare. There are two main places to find Mountain Hare which are the Highlands of Scotland and the Peak District, the latter being a population introduced in the 19th century. With the Peak District being reasonably close to home this seemed the sensible place to target my efforts.

The Peak District covers a huge area and so I started some Internet research to try and narrow down my search for the enigmatic hare. However, much of the information I found was not particularly specific until I stumbled across some geo-referenced photographs, albeit from a few years ago. I painstakingly entered the grid reference of every photograph I found into my GPS which resulted in two distinct clusters emerging. It was one of these clusters I decided  to target. Having said all that my first outing for the hares around Christmas time was actually to a completely area having received a suggestion on a place to try. This ended in failure despite trudging across the hills for several hour with not a single hare was seen.

I decided to follow my research and instincts and try my original target area although the first visit did not go well. When I left home the skies were clear but as I approached the Peak District I could see clouds on the hill tops. By the time I finally reach the area where I was going to head out on my trek I was in thick cloud being blown by strong winds and very limited visibility. I waited in the car for a couple of hours hoping it would clear but it was not to be and so returned home hare-less once again. An important lesson was learnt though that I needed to pay a bit more attention to the 'mountain' weather forecast before heading out. I kept my eyes fixed on the forecast waiting for the right conditions before heading out again. Would it be the proverbial third time lucky?

I started heading up hill and was scanning around looking for hares. To be honest having not photographed them before it seemed a bit daunting as I had no idea of what their preferred habitat would be although given their white coat and the lack of snow I thought they should be fairly easy to spot. I could see a white blob on the far side of the valley about a kilometre away. So  I took a photograph and zoomed in on the image on the back of the camera and yes it was a hare and not a plastic bag!

The valley however was steep sided and so I trekked upwards to where it was shallow and I could cross before coming back down to where I had seen the hare. After a bit of sneaking and crawling around in the peat hags I finally had my first hare in the viewfinder.
I had put my bag down to get myself in position to photograph the hare and as I walked back to retrieve it, I just spotted a small amount of white in the grass on the bank above me. After some careful looking this was another hare which I managed to get really close to.
Having now got a close prolonged view of one of the hares I could really see what beautiful animals they are.
There seemed to be a few hares in this area so I decided to spend some time searching around to see if I could find some more. The eroded gullies through the peat meant that in this rough landscape I tended to come across the hares very suddenly and without any warning and sometimes the first I knew about a hare being there would be as it set-off in a long arcing run away from me. If I could see a hare in advance then it became easier to plan a route using the gullies and hummocks as cover to move up close to it.

This one was tucked out of the brisk breeze blowing across the plateau and taking in some sun.
After a while walking around I spotted another hare at distance and again managed to get in close after taking a long route to get in to position. Physically the Mountain Hare are slightly smaller than a Brown Hare but seem to be a very study animal. Both species share similar coloured eyes and the ears on the mountain variety are considerably shorter.
I moved higher up still to another hare I had spotted from a distance.
By this time it was now late morning and I was intending to head up on to an upper plateau but the cloud base suddenly descended shrouding the hilltops in grey murk. So I decided I would make my way slowly back down to the car and see if I could spot any hares en-route. I spotted this one in a peat gully which was to be the last of the morning session.
Overall I was very pleased with how this session went and importantly learnt a good deal about the hares which hopefully will be useful during my next visit. I have to say the large mug of tea and long hot shower I took when I arrived home were most welcome!


Paul Sorrell said...

These are wonderful, Rich -- so different looking from the field hares we are familiar with.

The happy wanderer. said...

They do look appealing. Good luck with your future visits to them. I'll look forward to some spring little ones hopefully!


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