Snow scuppered my last attempt to photograph my local hares, and I didn’t have an opportunity to try again until this week. The conditions couldn’t have been more different, and I arrived in semi-darkness just as a smudge of yellow was blooming to the east.
In my initial binocular scan, I spotted two hares in the far corner of a stubble field, so I made my long way around, keeping to the edge beside the dry stone wall. At a respectable distance, I settled on the ground and wriggled into the comfiest position I could manage in hard yet soggy mud. Soon after, golden hour struck with heaven-like intensity, turning the grass to flame. The hares were perky, lolloping around with the occasional burst of a chase.
One hare disappeared and the other started foraging far off in the centre of the field. With my camera propped on my knees, I was watching it through the viewfinder when a blurry blob covered my view. The first hare had reappeared some forty feet from my lens, no doubt having watched me with a hare’s version of amusement ever since I’d been willing its companion closer.
Twisting my back in all sorts of wrong ways, I followed the hare as it ambled in a semi-circle around me, sitting for a few moments to have a nosey before disappearing into the long grass.
Light that molten was never going to last, but I was already covered in mud so I hung around after golden hour to see what else might happen. And before long another hare hopped over. The key with any wildlife is to let it come to you, and hares are no exception – I’ve discovered they can be curious to the point of full-out snooping. If you sit still, they often sidle over for a closer look.
My special sunrise with the hares was well-timed for Easter this weekend. Hares are said to be the companion animal of Eostre, or Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring. The link between eggs and the Easter Bunny doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, but one explanation comes from a bit of lapwing ecology.
Unlike rabbits, hares don’t use burrows but instead lay in scratched-out forms on flat ground. Lapwings are ground-nesting birds and often lay their eggs near a hare’s form or even inside it. Seeing lapwing chicks and baby leverets emerging at the same time could have led people to believe that hares laid eggs.
To be fair, hares are stealthy and mysterious animals, and that’s part of their irresistible charm.