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February 2015




Mountain Hare



I first met and fell in love with a mountain hare nicknamed Hamster Face in January 2014.  He or she was sitting on a mountainside in amongst the heather, hunkered down and trying to keep out of sight of predators.  S/he was a beautiful honey colour and looked rather conspicuous on the snow-less mountainside.  A year later, with the hillside covered in snow and with drifts up to 2 feet deep or more, this honey-coloured mountain hare looked slightly less attractive than her white friends and relatives.  I took a couple of pictures of Hamster-face and then left to spend time stalking and then sitting close to other hares.  Shocking! 

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It’s a bloody long walk up into the hills to find mountain hares and as ever, I’m indebted to Neil McIntyre who guided me through the snow and the drifts.  It’s hard work stepping into 2’ deep footsteps in the snow in order to make your way up the hillside.  And as for finding a white-ish mountain hare in the snow… and getting close enough to one to take photographs, I don’t have the skill set or the cheek to do it on my own.  Do I know where to find them?  Yes.  Will I tell you? No.  Will I go there on my own? No.  Why? Because Neil and other colleagues are professional guides/photographers who, working with the local gamekeepers, earn their living by supporting me and other keen photographers to have these amazing experiences.  I would not dream of abusing this by assuming that after one or two trips, I could go it alone.  The danger is that these slopes become well-known and over-visited.  What impact would this have on the hare population?  What impact would this have on the estate-owners or game-keepers?  Not easy questions.  No easy answers.  But I for one, will choose to be guided.

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Mountain hares spend much of the day hunkered down in snow holes, sitting still.  Well, the sitting hares sit, the running-off hares run off!  They’re damned fast!  They have ridiculously long legs.  Every now and then, the sitters wriggle a bit and with a  bit of manoeuvring, they reach down and eat their own poo.  Yep!  They really do!  They feed properly at night when they can keep out of sight of predators but during the day, they mainly try to sit and conserve their energy, remain invisible and… eat their own poo.  Nice.  

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They sometimes use this poo break to do a bit of stretch, have a yawn, a big wriggle, an ear flap, turn around and then snuggle down in the snow again.  The trick for the watching photographer is to remain at a suitable distance and to stay still and quiet, and not freeze!  Sitting or kneeling in deep snow, with temperatures in minus numbers and with added windchill, that’s not easy!  Was it hard?  Yes.  Was I exhausted?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  Yes, in a heartbeat.  Next time, I hope to remember to leave room for their long legs when they stretch!

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What a privilege to spend time with these magical and bewitchingly beautiful mammals… and to back away at the end, leaving them undisturbed, on the mountainside. One of the other top reasons for going to the Cairngorms in winter is to see and photograph the Crested Tits.... and every year I say a big thank you to Neil McIntyre who puts all the hard work into keeping the feeding station going so that photographers like me can spend some time with these magical little birds.  The forest looked like Narnia and I loved the strange colours and shapes that appeared on the back of my camera that were caused by the snow on the trees and the light shining through.  

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