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Nature photography by John Langley ARPS & Tracy Langley ARPS

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Mountain Hares - January 2015


We have been wanting to photograph mountain hares for several years now, but each winter trip to Scotland had not been successful in this regard - mainly due to the weather not being conducive to go out and look for them (either no snow, too much snow, too windy or too wet). This year we put in some research hours to learn more about our quarry and help us narrow our search area. Then we put aside a few weeks in January to devote solely to looking fore these elusive animals in the Scottish Highlands.


The trip started out promising but taxing - there was snow on our journey up north, which meant difficult driving conditions. The last hour of our journey was on white roads but thankfully there were a few other cars around helping to keep the roads passable. We only had one little slide on a minor road just before we reached our destination. So far so good - the ground is white.     


We awoke the first morning to an additional foot of snow - it all looked very nice, but it made getting out in the car impossible. We walked from our base up to the mountains but found that we couldn’t get very far up as there was too much snow. After leaving the road, we were shortly knee-deep (at best) and waist-deep (at worst) in snow, making progress all but impossible. Added to this, the winds were very high and the snow was still falling. Near blizzard conditions kept us off the mountains for almost all of the first week. Oh no, here we go again with the Scottish winter weather curse.     


However at the start of the second week the winds abated and we had occasional clear skies (albeit with temperatures of -12’C !). We ventured up the hills for most of the second week in search of mountain hares. On our first day we couldn’t get near to any of the hares at all - at the very first sight of us they would all turn tail and run away (fast). Very frustrating, but for wildlife photographers patience and perseverance are key. On other days we managed to get reasonably close to several individuals - maybe we just had to get our eye in.


We managed to find an individual hare that would tolerate a very slow approach. Eventually we managed to get within 10ft of the hare without alarming it. This was the kind of experience we had dreamed of. By spending several hours over a few days in the presence of the hare we were able to witness behaviour we had only previously read about.


During the heavy snowfall, there had been no footprints on the hillside

but after a few days it was evident that there were lots of hares about



The characteristic 4 footed print of a hare












Mountain hares will often rest on the lea side of the hill,

with their backs to slopes or rocks for protection from the wind














Although hares are sometimes seen by burrows or snow holes, the adults rarely spend time below ground.



This hare briefly popped into the hole under the snow for only a couple of seconds.






The hares feed on heather, grasses, lichen, leaves and twigs.



The hares will dig out depressions, or forms, with their feet to give a little added protection from the weather.

Some individuals will return to the same form for several days but others make a new one each day.


When the sun came out briefly, the hare’s ears cast a lovely shadow on the snow



Mountain hares are nocturnal.

They rest during the day, but only sleep for short periods of a few minutes at a time.


By spending hours with the same individual hare, it accepted us as not posing any threat.

This enabled us to witness its normal behaviour.

Hares groom frequently during the day, ensuring their fur is in good condition.








    


    

By reading about the behaviour of our subject, we were able to anticipate some of its behaviour.

Hares usually doze for a period of time in the day, then groom themselves,

then move about maybe to feed or investigate new areas.


Investigating a red grouse’s dropping












Stretching is another typical behaviour if the hare has been dozing for a while.



Luckily the hare was stretched and warmed up when another hare jumped over its mound

and almost landed on top of it - it wasn’t hanging around.











We think this hare was quite exceptional in allowing us to slowly move in so close.

It was only when we were pixel peeping to check image sharpness that we noticed

we were able to see the mountain scenery and ourselves clearly reflected in its eye.









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