Being a photographer I tend to work in images rather than words however, something happened this week which has inspired me to add a few words to accompany some of my images. After 18 months of watching and waiting I have finally managed to photograph one of the more shy and elusive creatures who inhabit Cradle Valley at Rathfinny Estate, The Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus).
When I discovered that hares were living on the Rathfinny estate I was naturally enthusiastic about this photographic opportunity and felt the need to photograph them quickly before the vineyard developed, became to busy and perhaps scared them away . However, I was later intrigued to discover the fact that hares are often associated with vineyards across the world to the extent that some vineyards and wines are named after them; these are just a few I discovered after a quick search:
- Dancing Hare Vineyard, Napa Valley USA ( produces a bottle of red called Mad Hatter)
- Running Hare Vineyard, Maryland USA (which produces a Jack Rabbit red and a Jack Rabbit white)
- The Leaping Hare Vineyard Restaurant in Suffolk
- Wild Hare Vineyard, Kansas
Clearly hares were enjoying life at Rathfinny long before the first vine was planted but interestingly, and despite the fact that hares are on the decline in the UK, their numbers appear to be increasing at Rathfinny. Maybe they like the shade and the protection against predators that the vines offer and perhaps they just have a fondness for foraging the wild downland grasses that grow on the estate. Whatever the reason, they appear to be respectful of the vines and are living in harmony with the vineyard. The Leverets (young hares) even appear to enjoy playing games of dodge with the tractors as they drive up and down the vines.
For those of you who have never seen a hare and are wondering what the difference is between a hare and a rabbit here are a few hare facts:
- Hares are significantly larger than rabbits, their ears are longer with black tips
- Due to the length of their back legs their gait can be likened to that of a wallaby or kangaroo – almost a lollop in comparison to the rabbits dainty hopping. This almost clumsy walk/hop gives way to a graceful and spectacular run. And at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour hares are the fastest mammals in the UK.
- Hares do not give birth to their young below ground in a burrow but above ground in a ‘form’, which is a shallow depression in the grass.
- Unlike the rabbit, hares are born with their eyes open and covered in hair.
- Generally nocturnal and shy in nature hares change their behaviour in spring where they can be seen chasing each other and standing on their back legs striking each other with their paws (boxing) which is generally the female fighting off the males unwanted attention. It is this spring frenzy or mating dance which has lead to the English idiom “Mad as a March Hare”.
Capturing an image of this elusive creature soon became a bit of a personal mission for me. Hours of fruitless waiting and watching has lead to the phrase ‘bad hair day’ taking on a whole new meaning in our household. On one occasion I had been lying still watching in vain for hours, when I decided to call it a day and stood up to go. A hare sprung and ran from less than 10 feet away from me! It must have been there all the time. When feeling threatened, hares will flatten themselves to the earth to avoid being to noticed – it works! He was too fast and I too slow, all I managed to capture was a blurry back leg.
My mission is far from over, there has been a sighting of some leverets playing amongst the vines at present and I hope to capture some images of the hares boxing in the spring, so keep a look out on the Gallery.
Viv Blakey – Resident Photographer at Rathfinny Wine Estate