Sunday, February 23, 2014

Morning Mountain Hares

My internal clock does not yet seem to have fully synchronized with the increasing length of daylight and still seems to be in winter 'hibernation' mode. So when the alarm burst into life at 6 a.m yesterday morning I must admit it was a struggle to drag myself out from the warmth of the duvet.  I stumbled around and into the multiple layers of clothing lying in a waiting pile in the spare room. I usually like to be at site at first light and so of course you need to factor in time to get ready and travel to the site, so often an early start becomes much earlier. The target for yesterday morning was a return visit to the Mountain hares. As I drank my breakfast coffee, out of habit, I  looked at the back door at the weather and the wind did not seem too bad, although of course the conditions at home would bear no resemblance to where I was heading.

The clock is ticking now for photographing these hares as they will soon start to change from winter white back into the brown fur of summer. So that was the first motivation for not rolling back over in bed. The other was that the forecast looked fairly similar to my visit last weekend, which was bearable despite the relentless biting icy wind. As I was driving to the site, my main thoughts turned to how low the cloud base would be and as I approached the foot of the hills, the high level clouds raised a smile. Once parked up it always takes a while to get moving as the next set of clothing layers goes on with waterproof jacket and trousers, gloves, gaiters, boots and something new to try for the day a balaclava. The difficulty with approaching hares the previous week had set me thinking about approach and I thought the concealing the face may be useful given that the rest of me was head to toe in camouflage. I also thought I was probably a little too enthusiastic in my approach to hares the previous weekend, probably due to the amazement of actually being able to get back on the mountain, and I needed to slow down and take a more careful and considered approach.

Before I knew it I was hiking across the marshy ground uphill to reach the plateau once more. The strong wind blowing up the slope sending rippling waves through the multi-coloured upland grasses. As I walked along I could already see three white blobs of hares in the far distance sat out and taking shelter from the brisk wind. I must admit I love the peace, solitude and wildness of this place. It was time to make a move close to the first mountain hare but I was stopped before I reached it by just catching sight of a hare resting in one of the peat gullies. I crawled up the ground to the side of the gully, downwind of the hare, until I thought I would be at about the right distance and very, very slowly pushed the lens to the gully side. There was the first hare of the day full frame in the viewfinder, just beautiful. With these sitting hares, they typically do not do much so I very slowly back away and went to find another.

The second hare was in a tricky position down slope surrounded by open ground and little cover. I maneuvered as close as I could trying to stay out of the hares line of sight but then had a long crawl ahead of me. I eventually got there and took a few photographs of the second hare of the morning. At this point I realised that the so called breathable balaclava was not and after the efforts of the crawl  it felt like there had been a light rain shower inside it.
I glimpsed another hare ahead and was sure it had not spotted me and crawled across the wet vegetation once more only to find it gone when I had reached position. I decided I would go and check a small gully with a rocky outcrop where I had seen three hares together the previous week. As I wandered across to the far side of the plateau I came across another hare resting in a peat gully and stayed with this one for a quite a long time and managed to get in really close. I spent quite a while very slowly moving myself to get more of a head on angle. After a while it must have got bored with watching me, turned around on the spot and disappear down a hole in the peat behind it.

Before reaching the gully I spotted another hare. Where this one was sitting would allow a close approach without me being seen and my plan to use the slight dips and rises in the landscape to my advantage worked perfectly.

I finally reached the gully and again there were three hares there and managed a few photographs of one of them amongst the rocks. The other two heading rapidly up slope shortly after arrival. The speed of a mountain hare going up a slope is very impressive.
This was to be my last mountain hare of the morning and despite walking around for a while longer, the hares had suddenly become noticeably absent as the sun broke through the cloud layer above. By now it was late morning and I assumed they had taken to resting up in deep cover. It had been a morning of hard work but good fun and was now time to head back to the car. The walk back always seems a lot longer but eased but having just spent parts of the last 3.5 hours with some amazing animals.

5 comments:

Paul Sorrell said...

Another brilliant series, Rich. Meticulous fieldwork and perseverance paid rich dividends.

RH said...

Nice photos. I particularly like the contrast of the dark background to the pale hare in the first image.

The happy wanderer. said...

They do have the most beautifully coloured eyes, don't they. Beautiful images.

Mark Ellison said...

Excellent pictures Richard. I was also up there on Saturday morning and think I might have seen you on a couple of occasions (another photographer I bumped into mentioned you). I'm going to try the balaclava trick next time :)

I'm looking forward to having a good read of your blog - fantastic stuff.

gwenniesgarden said...

that rabbit is awesome !!!!!

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