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.