Our Wild    Life

Nature photography by John Langley ARPS & Tracy Langley ARPS

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Mountain Hares - Jan / Feb 2016

When we arrived the weather was mild with very little snow. The poor hares were sticking out like sore thumbs

- no wonder they get picked off by the golden eagles who must be able to see them miles away.

Even on the hill tops there was only a scant covering of snow for the first few days of our trip. Thankfully a cold snap came to our rescue.  Although not too much snow fell at lower levels there was a fair amount up on the hills. Therefore we spent almost every day hiking up the slopes to the snowy plateaux in order to spend time with mountain hares on the tops.

We found a hare sheltering from a harsh wind under a gully overhang. After a long nap it awoke and had a shake, stretch and yawn then hopped off to forage for its tea.

Most of the time the weather was cloudy & dull.

This allowed us to take high-key images, where the snow almost seems to disappear.

One day there were sunny spells but with very high winds.

We attempted some atmospheric shots in the blowing snow.

We had just one day of calm sunny weather and this made for some different

portraits and running shots when the snow takes on the blue colour of the sky.

With hares you just never know what they’ll get up to next.

This individual sat very peacefully on a snowy slope for a while.

Then it decided to have a quick roll in the snow, a shake down and finally a sprint.

As with many animals, some of the hares had a wider circle of confidence than others.

This meant that only distant shots could be taken of certain individuals but this helps to give a sense of place.

Some hares would run away when we were a mere speck on the horizon

… and some would run straight to us and we could hardly fit them in the frame

Late winter / early spring is the breeding season for mountain hares.

We saw a few pairs of hairs, which we presumed to be a female being guarded by a male.

Occasionally another male would venture too close and get chased off by the guard.

Once we saw a distant brief bout of boxing when the male must have got

too close to the female before she was ready for his attentions.

Many of the hares lie up in snow holes during the day, especially when snow storms blow.

We saw a distant hare disappear down its snow hole and crept closer to wait and see if it would reappear.

We didn’t have long to wait before it slowly came out and posed for us.

It wandered a few yards away to feed and returned to the snow hole by creeping under our noses.

Like brown hares, mountain hares rest in forms during the day and feed mainly at night.

They tend to have their favourite places that they return to regularly.

We found one particular individual on several occasions and it allowed some close approaches

When an opportunity arose to re-visit the mountain hares a few weeks later, we jumped at the chance.

The following images were taken over the course of a week in late Feb / early March.

Some of the snow had melted, but there was still a good covering on the tops and we had some fresh snow falls during our trip. The hares were sometimes harder to spot when the snow cover was mottled. They were often given away by their tracks.

We used a similar strategy to our last visit, tending to scout around to see where the hares were then pick one to try to approach and spend a long time with, in the hope that it would wash or stretch after a nap.

Sometimes we would follow a hare that was on the move. They would often run in no particular direction, starting off going up the hill then doubling back and running down again. Exhausting but exhilarating.

On a couple of days the wind was blowing so hard that we actually got lifted off our feet. We didn’t fancy the high tops in these conditions so favoured some of the lower slopes in the lea of the gales. Some of the hares were also taking advantage of the shelter the bushes provided.

It’s very handy when your shelter is also your lunch !

One day we were caught in a snow storm and had difficulty seeing each other, let alone the hares.

When the storm abated we headed back up to the hills and found one of our favourite characters.

We managed to find a few new hares that we hadn’t see on our last trip, including this lovely gingery hare.

Some of the hares were in pairs, with the male ‘guarding’ the female until she was ready for his advances.

A lot of the ‘boxing’ bouts that we saw were more like wrestling, with lots of biting and pushing going on.

The females were playing hard to get, often running away if the male approached a little too close.

We sat with one couple for the best part of a day, only moving briefly when one part or other of us froze up.

The male was very tentative in his approaches, obviously fearing what might happen next.

A few times he was chased off

But he kept on coming back for more

We tried to keep our distance from some of the hares in order to watch their behaviour, but we couldn’t resist sneaking closer to some of the more endearing and tolerant hares.

Mountain hares are addictive. No doubt we’ll be back for more snowy adventures next year.

Top 2015 Mountain Hares #mid