Easter Bunny at Sunrise

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.

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An Easter Weekend of Firsts

Despite the cocktail of sun, rain, hail and snow all in four days I managed to have an excellent Easter weekend of wildlife watching. I heard my first chiffchaff this week, which can only mean spring is on its way despite the occasional blizzard!

Osprey season has begun and I spotted my first of the year on Saturday. That was the hottest day in a long time and sunglasses were essential for squinting up at the sky. As well as seeing this stunning male osprey hovering over the estuary, I saw my first sand martin of the year (too nippy for a photo) and my first ever grey plover, which was a rare visitor to the area.

Grey plover

That evening the excitement continued with my first gannets and bottlenose dolphins of the year! It was a gorgeous evening with a cracking sunset, made even prettier by the appearance of three dolphins that cruised all the way around the headland. There were a couple of distant breaches too far away for a photo but it was so lovely to see dolphins again. I can’t wait for the season to kick off properly when there will be sightings on most days!

But the most exciting encounter happened on dry land.

I knew there were hares nearby as I often saw them dashing across the open fields, too fast and far away for a photo. I wondered if I pulled up with the windows down safari style whether they might appear a bit closer. For a photographer, a car can be an excellent wildlife hide.

I passed the time watching pheasants foraging. Every now and then the male would do his screech call and flap his wings, which looked lovely in the early morning light.

I waited for him to do it again but he wasn’t playing ball. My hands were going numb and I was just about to put the camera down when a hare appeared behind him.

I froze, actually hearing my heart thud as it padded towards me. Once it was ten feet from my lens it sat and stared right at me before lolloping back behind the bales. Even though it could see me, there was something about me being in the car that had relaxed it enough to check me out.

Once I was sure it had gone I checked the photos and actually cried looking at them, which has never happened before. The combination of shock, joy and relief was overwhelming and I almost couldn’t believe what had happened.

It’s been an Easter weekend full of treats, from soaring ospreys to sunlit dolphins to breathtaking views of one of the most iconic Easter animals: the gorgeous hare. Thank you Mother Nature!