Cairngorm Break: Day 2 Mountain Hares

The day dawned brighter than yesterday and the view from Andy’s house was spectacular… over looking the Black Isle and the Moray Firth… a wonderful scene of pastel colours as the sun rose.

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With the weather looking quite promising, we decided to go and see if we could find some Mountain Hare. Pete and I came up in February and photographed them in the snow and it was incredible. We were very keen to go back as the hare are just changing from their brown summer coats, into their white winter ones. They all change at different rates and you get some lovely variations.

Although it felt quite mild at Andy’s, by the time we were on the mountain, it felt considerably colder and when the wind blew, I was very glad of my windproof gear. 

It was good to see this landscape without snow. The mixed muted colours of heather and grass beginning to turn created a great colour palette for the hare…. we just had to find some! We began to make our way steadily across the hillside, regularly stopping to scour the land for the hare. They are incredibly difficult to spot. Using a hollow in the ground, called a form, they ‘mould’ themselves into these hollows as a form of camouflage and to protect them from the harsh conditions they are going to face on this inhospitable mountain environment. Andy’s knowledge and expertise meant we began to spot them dotted around on hillside. Those that were already well into their winter coat meant they stood out more on the autumnal landscape.

We spotted an individual that looked relaxed and that was in a suitable place to photograph. Following Andy’s lead, we crept slowly toward the hare, ensuring we moved steadily, watching the hare at all times. It was essential that the hare’s welfare was paramount… if it showed any signs of unease, then we would back off straight away. Stopping at regular intervals and sitting quietly allowed the hare to relax and become accustomed to our presence. We did not start photographing until we were sure the hare was completely comfortable with us being there. This individual was just starting to change…

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We stayed with this individual  for about an hour and a half. They sit incredibly still and then about every 20 minutes, they actually eat their own droppings because there is lots of undigested goodness in them, so they eat them for a second round of digestion! They then chew on those and that makes for some good shots of their cheeks moving! They then often groom their feet and ears …….

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We left this hare to its day and found another further up the hill. The shot was not as clean and the hare was not comfortable with our presence, so we moved on.

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Our next hare we located was the one that we were most excited about, as we think it is the same individual that we photographed last February in the snow. He is very comfortable with human presence and we were able to creep pretty close. I was able to position myself to get a shot where the background was completely blurred and also I experimented with getting low and using the foreground to create a blur. Andy let me try the Canon 500mm MrkII lens…. WOW!!! This lens is SO sharp! A prime lens such as this is the stuff of dreams… and that is about all it will be for me! Great to try it though!

As you can imagine, I took rather a lot of shots… these are just a few unprocessed images as a taster….

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What a day! I will be dreaming hares tonight… a very special experience….