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Image of the Month

 

January 2014

 

I spend a couple of weeks in Scotland in January or February each year in the hope of being able to photograph something of the Cairngorms and residents under a blanket of snow.  Wouldn't it be amazing to order the weather conditions that we want?  Once again this year, I had no snow but I'm ever hopeful and will go again next year... and I've already pre-ordered snow.  
I've long-held a dream to see, watch and photograph mountain hares.  They are bewitchingly beatiful.  The weather in the mountains on my last 3 years' trips has been far too dangerous for mountain hare photography because of gale force winds and driving rain.  This year was different however and the conditions were much calmer. Sadly, my first encounter with a mountain hare was a poor dead animal that I spotted in the road on the way up to the mountains.  Being a practical sort of girl, I poked most of the large, white fluffy dead-thing into a carrier bag (well, it's legs stuck out of the top!) and offered it to a golden eagle the next day #asyoudo   
 
After a helluva long walk up a steep hill or two carrying tripod, gimbal head, 2 x camera bodies, a 500mm, 300mm lenses plus a couple of shorter lenses (!), I caught up with my patient and expert local wildlife and mountain guide Neil McIntyre   He pointed to the hill side in front of us.  ‘There she is’ he said.  I could see nothing.  Neil's fieldcraft and local knowledge is extraordinary and after patient, slow creeping forwards, we managed to spend time with a couple of these magnificent creatures.  We crept forwards metre by metre and I eventually saw my first live mountain hare.
 
Mountain Hares have the remarkably descriptive Latin name of Lepus Timidus Scoticus.  They have two strategies in times of trouble, one is to run like hell and the other is to hunker down and just 'sit'. To find a 'sitter' is every photographer's dream.  They have shorter black tipped ears than their cousins the Brown Hares and the cutest whiffliest noses and whiskers, the biggest, sparkliest brown eyes and the nibbliest, twitchiest ... yes, I admit it... I'm totally in love!
 
They change their pelage (coats) three times a year and go from a brown through to golden and a bluey-white colour.  This should give them a superb ability to camouflage themselves but unfortunately, the weather doesn't always play fair  Being a white or golden-mottled Mountain Hare without the advantage of winter snow is clearly not helpful!  Better to 'sit' in the heather and hunker down if you have a white coat and hope that a passing Golden Eagle (or game keeper) won't notice you.
Once they choose to run, by golly, they can move fast.  I wasn’t expecting ‘Hamsterface’ to run but s/he did… very fast and too close and too fast for me.  But, I like those last two images.  They won’t win competitions or help in an ARPS submission but they remind me of some very precious and privileged moments in time.  
 
We caught up with Hamsterface again on the other side of the hill, hunkered down in the heather.  I hope that she survives and is there next January. 
 
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