An encounter with a brown hare and a white-tailed eagle

The hare was almost invisible in the stubble

The hare was almost invisible in the stubble


Knowing it had been spotted, it bounded off

Knowing it had been spotted, it bounded off

I’ve had two lovely walks over the weekend. The first was on the outskirts of my home village, Methven in Perthshire.  There were no rarities amongst the bird species that I saw, though some interesting sightings of bullfinches, long-tailed tits and a couple of dozen coal tits very active in feeding under some Scots pine trees and letting me walk almost right up to them. As I crossed a stubble field I spotted a hare crouching low in its form in a stubble field.  Many times I have walked round and round a hare or rabbit that thinks it is invisible, getting closer with each circuit. I finished up getting to with seven or eight yards from this hare, and had the camera ready to take a photo. I was sure that when I stopped the hare would take off, but it sat for fully a minute and let me take a few photos. It was not until I started to back away to leave it in peace that its confidence in its invisibility evaporated and it took off.

It was interesting that the hare immediately ran off in a bounding gait, and in fact none too speedily. This is completely in contrast to a hare that runs off while still thinking it has not been spotted. In this case it runs with ears flat along it back, keeping as low a profile as possible until it has gained some distance, when it then reverts to the normal bounding gait with ears up. It is great to see a decent number of hares around, though unfortunately if they are in high numbers they often attract hare coursers, and it’s not the first time I’ve known a distraught farmer to shoot them to keep coursers off his land.

My second walk, this morning, was on the Highland Perthshire estate where I had been carrying out a wildlife survey during 2011/12. Unfortunately there was a gale blowing, and while it made an energising walk, most wildlife was rightly lying low. I walked out the hill road, seeing only red-legged partridges, a handful of buzzards and a single red kite. I caught the slightest glimpse of a bird dipping below the horizon. I seemed far too big for a buzzard and I waited in vain for it to rise above the skyline again. I wondered if it was a golden eagle but the fraction of a second that I saw it was not enough for positive identification.

I walked two miles out the hill, then cut left-handed down the gorge know as Spooky Valley, bringing me back to the lower ground again and giving some respite from the wind. I walked along the bottom of the Craigmore Face, round the back of the L Wood then down the side of Low Wood, where I crossed a fresh fox track in one of the remaining patches of snow. At the side of Pond Wood the head of a huge rainbow trout lay on top of another patch of snow. There were no tracks near it and I wondered if it had been taken by an otter. It puzzled me a bit as the head is often the part that is eaten by an otter, leaving uneaten the chunk that we would certainly prefer to eat. It will remain a mystery.

As I was photographing the trout head (the kind of photography I am good at where the subject can’t run, fly or even swim away) I had a call from the estate owner. He had earlier seen a white-tailed eagle circling the field beside the Henhouse Strip, then landing. He had watched the bird on the ground for a while before coming home to let me know about it. As it happened I was only half a mile from this field so went to have a look, but alas the bird had flown. This, of course, was maybe the large bird I had glimpsed earlier.

Returning to brown hares to finish, we had a pet brown hare many years ago. It was a leveret, only a day or two old, that had been picked up by a boy during a potato-picking operation (in the days when there were potato squads rather than potato harvesters). I took the hare from the boy, who hadn’t a clue to do with it now he had caught it. I’d no idea where the hare came from so I took it home and hand-reared it. The hare, now named Herbert, fed greedily from an eye dropper of milk and became a great house pet. If I sat watching the TV it would quite happily sit on my shoulder like a parrot. As it grew it had a predilection for two particular household items. It loved nothing better than to jump on to the windowsill and munch on a money plant. I could see how this plant would appeal to it as the thick cactus-like leaves looked particularly juicy. Its other love was tearing wallpaper. It would start with a small piece near floor level, then pull upwards, the torn wallpaper strip widening like an inverted V the more Herbert pulled.

Eventually, when I thought Herbert would be able to fend for himself (I’m saying him, but rather unusually for me I never did look to see what sex the hare was) I took him to a part of Perthshire where there was no risk of being shot and little risk of being squashed on a road, and released him.  It was a lovely experience having a wild hare as a pet, but his place was in the wild.

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