A Summer with the Leverets

2020 will no doubt be remembered as the year (hopefully the only one!) of Covid-19, but for me it is also my first full year living in the Scottish Highlands. One of the real joys that this has brought is my close proximity to the mountain hares – and I have made the most of that this summer. In previous years I have been up to the area on holiday and of course visited the hares, but actually living here and going up so regularly has given me the opportunity to follow a few leverets, watching as they mature. It’s been wonderful! So… I thought I’d write a blog about the characters I’ve been hanging out with. Here’s hoping all stay healthy and make it through their first winter on the hill, and that I can continue following them.

I took a couple of clients to the hares in early August and this was the first time I “met” two of my summer leverets. The first of these I saw briefly but by the time I’d alerted the clients it had disappeared down its form. It was so small! We then spent an hour watching, hoping it would reappear. Sadly it didn’t. Over the next couple of months I think I’ve spent more time watching this hare’s empty form than watching the hare itself, but I don’t mind, as he (could be a she) has been the sweetest of the bunch.

I called this hare Tiny Tim – he was tiny and timid. After that first brief encounter I always checked the form to see if this little hare was out and about, but it was three weeks later before I first spotted him sitting at the entrance. I was delighted! He was still very timid and disappeared down into his form a couple of times, but adorable, and still tiny. This is the first time I photographed him.

There’s something very vulnerable about Tiny Tim, even now. He’s still smaller than the other leverets I’m following and still just as timid. Sometimes when I approach he immediately dives into his form, other times he sits facing into it (see final image below). Yet, on other occasions he is completely at ease with my presence. I never know quite which of the above is going to greet me! His form isn’t easy to find, but can be seen from a long way away if you know where to look. It is in the shade most of the time though, which isn’t helped by the fact that Tim sits tight against the bank. However, it’s lovely just to sit with him and watch him grow up (very slowly!). He’s still small but definitely a little less fluffy than he was originally!

Here he is having a groom

This next hare I also met that same day, sadly he’s now disappeared and I just hope he’s relocated to new accommodations somewhere else on the hill. This is Speedy, named after the fact he was chased down the hill by an over-enthusiastic young labrador – his tiny little legs still outran the dog much to my relief although I wasn’t best pleased with the owners. He was my hare of August – every visit I made to the hill he was out and about, even on days so hot and bright every other hare had disappeared to seek some shade. This was Speedy on our first encounter.

Speedy was a confident leveret. He split his time between two forms and had no issues with me sitting with him which was wonderful. We spent a few happy days together. An image of him is now on my kitchen wall.

Here are a few more:

The third of my four summer leverets is Victor. He’s named for Victor Meldrew, the grumpy (but very funny) retiree from comedy One Foot In The Grave. As the name suggests Victor often looks a tad disgruntled and enjoys a good staring match. He’s not the most dynamic of animals although I have come across him out and about a couple of times, and on the latter I was treated to a short groom which was fab. I do think he’s a beautiful hare though and he has wonderful eyebrows and a characterful face. I took my parents to see him (Tiny Tim was absent) and they did question whether or not he was stuffed…

Last, but certainly not least, there was Goldie. I gave this hare that name because his form is surrounded by yellow moss. I first spotted him from quite a distance away when I was sitting with an inactive Victor. I eventually went over to check him out and, as with most of the others, he was completely unphased by my appearance and had a groom and stretch. Unfortunately his form is in an indent and surrounded on 3 sides by grass shoots which made it a bit challenging/frustrating for me.

However, he had potential, and on my next visit I went to see him again and found a slightly better position. This was one of my favourite summer experiences this year (the other being when Speedy grazed in the heather in front of me). Goldie stretched, yawned and groomed before finally settling down for a snooze in the autumn sunshine. It was wonderful!

Goldie has such a large personality, he is an absolute joy to sit with. I introduced a client to him in October, and again, he didn’t disappoint!

This summer with the hares has been a unique experience for me. Never in the 4 years I’ve been photographing them at this location have I had the privilege to watch the same hares repeatedly and, because they are all leverets, see them growing up. Leverets do tend to be a bit more confiding than the adults and are out and about more than them too. Plus there’s the added advantage that they stay in pretty much the same location as they grow up. It’s a bit like what I’ve experienced with my local red squirrels – a chance to really observe the different personalities of the individuals and learn more about them. I never get too close, although some of the hares do approach me! I use a full frame DSLR – Nikon D850, a fab camera, with an equally excellent lens – the Nikkor 500mm pf 5.6. This is a dream combo and means I can stay a good distance away and still take excellent, detailed images.

Summer mountain hare photography is difficult. Very few photographers visit over the season, and that’s partly because it’s hard to locate the hares. I’d have found it just as challenging if I had only had a week in the Highlands. I’ve seen a fair few this year struggling and have been contacted by a number of folk asking if there are actually any hares there. In fact, the last two years almost all the leverets died due to dehydration, so 2020 has been a very good year. Given how many leverets I’ve seen, there must be a lot more, and the survival rate seems to be relatively high. This is encouraging as numbers on the hill have decreased significantly over the years I’ve been going. It’ll take another good year or two to bring numbers back up, but this is certainly a start.

I know most photographers are now excited for the winter season, and yes, of course I’m looking forward to that too, but truth be told I’ll really miss this summer on the hill. I don’t know how many of the leverets will remain in their nursery forms, so every time I visit now I fully expect to find them gone – Speedy has. However maybe one or two of them will stick around and I can watch them progress through the winter months, that would be wonderful.

If you want to join me at the hares then please do get in touch, whatever the season. You can read more on this blog I wrote recently. I realise with current ever-changing restrictions booking in advance is difficult and I am currently available at relatively short notice. So, if you are coming to the Highlands, or find yourself here already and want to come see the hares drop me an email and if I can I’ll be delighted to take you to see them – you don’t have to be a photographer but you do need warm, waterproof clothing, patience, some degree of fitness and a means of transport to get there as government guidelines do not permit me to share my car at present. They are fabulous creatures and I’m sure you, like me, will fall in love with them when you meet!

I have 2021 mountain hare calendars and greeting/christmas cards available in my Etsy store, and prints can be purchased via my website.

Highland based nature photographer and guide specialising primarily in Scottish wildlife but available to cover live music and events.

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