I'm delighted to welcome back top photographer Tom Mason to the Nature's Home blog for some more expert advice on seasonal photography. Here's Tom (and some rather superb photographs taken by him).
As a wildlife photographer I love March, I’d got as far to say that maybe its even my favourite month. Why? Well for starters, it signals the start of spring, longer days, warmer conditions, but even more importantly, it means I can get out and photograph one of my favourites subjects of all: the brown hare.
Introduced in the iron age, the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is an unmistakable asset to much of the UK, seen bounding around arable fields and parkland. A different sight entirely to the common rabbit. Brown hares are widespread and can be found on most low-lying ground. In upland areas of the UK and Scotland, the brown hare is replaced by the mountain hare.
The hares’ most notable features are their large powerful hind legs and long black-tipped ears. Their coats are reddish, which, in addition to their significantly larger size, make them easy to distinguish from rabbits at a glance. When disturbed, the animals will flatten themselves low against the ground. If the danger moves closer, they will flee with impressive speed, reaching up to 35mph!
Locating hares in your area is often fairly straightforward. Focus firstly on identifying the correct type of habitat, as this will lead you to an area where hares can be found. Search out an area where arable fields lay adjacent to a small patch of woodland or hedge line, as these often yield good results. One of the most useful tools I have found for searching out new locations is Google Earth. The program lets you take a bird’s-eye view of the planet and is perfect for scanning your local countryside to find possible locations that might be worth checking out.
A few locations that are certainly worth a try around the country include
If you want to get close to brown hares you have three real options. Waiting it out, Stalking or a drive by, each technique can give great results and are all useful in certain situations.
Waiting it out - Get to the location where you have identified hares, settle in on the ground, lying down camera out in front and wait. Often Hares will eventually return to areas that frequently visit and with time and persistence you will be able to get close up shots of your subject. Of course this does mean long waits out in the cold and damp conditions…but you want to be a wildlife photographer don’t you!
A bit of a stalker - As mammals, brown hares can be efficiently stalked out in the field with a little field craft and persistence. After spotting a hare at distance, make sure you are down wind of your subject, get low, often on your hands and knees and move slowly, periodically looking up to check for any signs of disturbance. If there are, stop wait and then slowly proceed. With time and consistency you will eventually get the shots!
Drive by - With hares often in arable fields you can regularly access them from roadsides, Slowly drive round country lanes, when you spot your subject, pull over (safely!) and then use your car as a hide. If the weather isn’t great, it's far nicer to be in a warm car than a bunch of wet clothes!
So with the above ideas in mind, get out this March and spend some time working with brown hares! I would love to hear how you get on out in the field, Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto and to see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
Thanks Vanellus and Biking Birder 2010 for your top hare sites. Hope you've had some luck seeing them so far this March. I used to do a lot of my birding by bike (around the Cambridgeshire Fens), but hadn't realised that they think you can't see them when in the saddle. Must give it a go!
RSPB Otmoor is also good for hares, with the benefit of a comfortable hide to view them from.
Just to say, Normanton Down RSPB reserve near to Stonehenge had some hares.
Fabulous photos and article. I saw lots of hares as I cycled through Wiltshire and Dorset. Always fascinating creatures and I love the way they think you can't see them when you're on a bike. All the best Biking Birder 2015