I should probably preface this blog post by saying that if you haven’t read my previous blog about mountain hares you should have a read of that first:
In that post I talked at length about how hard it’s been this season for mountain hares because Scotland is experiencing one of the mildest winters on record. The hares can’t stop their fur changing colour and so, when they turn white and the environment doesn’t match them, they make themselves easy targets for predators.
Naturally… not two weeks after I saw this sorry site, Scotland was hit by a wave of storms and snow and the mountains were covered in snow again! It would be easy for an observer at this time to think that the problem isn’t tangible. However, average temperatures in Scotland have been on the rise for the past 25 years and the resultant weather is undeniably having an impact on the species which live in the mountains.
Although the snow only fell last weekend, already temperatures are back up to 5-10ºC and the environment is quickly turning green again.
Because I knew the snow wouldn’t last for long, I made sure I was ready to go first thing on Sunday morning to get out and shoot. Since moving to Scotland, this was the first “proper” snow I’d dealt with and I was not disappointed. The area was transformed into a glistening wonderland with snow sometimes 4ft deep!
I headed off into the mountains and started searching for tracks. Whereas before the hares stood out against their environment, now they blended in seamlessly and so I knew that the best way to find them was to look for their footprints. Hares “lollop” – they step their front feet forward one by one before bringing their back feet forward to catch up. This creates a very obvious staggered gait which is very easy to spot and follow. If you can learn the direction of travel and judge roughly how long the prints have been there, it becomes surprisingly simple to try and track them.
Once you’ve found a trail it becomes a case of following and seeing whether it pays off. There are a couple of things to bare in mind when sneaking up to wildlife, especially hares.
1. Wind Direction
Try and keep the wind to your face. This moves sound and smell away from you rather than carrying it toward the animal. This might mean you have to detour and try a different approach route!
2. Colour and smell
Hares have excellent vision and sense of smell and the likelihood is that if you’ve seen them, they’ve probably seen and smelt you. You can delay the inevitable however by sticking to dull colours. (And maybe avoid the new perfume!)
when we’re out in the mountains, particularly on a cold day, we wear loads of gear. This rustles and bangs and clinks. What I do to avoid making too much noise, is get within 100m of the subject before dumping all but the most essential kit. Then it’s time to hit the ground and crawl…
Hares will see you moving regardless of how sneaky you may be. Some are more tolerant than others so it’s sometimes a numbers game when it comes to getting close. The most important thing is to move slowly and to observe signs of distress from the animal. Twitching ears, head raising, pupil dilation are all signs that the animal is stressed and this can lead to it bolting. Move slow!
Once you’re in the right spot and you’ve tracked the subject though… it’s time to sit back and enjoy the moment. These shots were taken over the course of an hour with the same pair of hares. I would’ve gone for longer if only my fingers hadn’t frozen to death and I couldn’t press the shutter button anymore!
I’m currently offering wildlife tours and photography trips into the cairngorms. If you enjoy these blog posts or know anyone who would love to see hares for themselves, just let me know!