On the trail of the dis­tinc­tive moun­tain hare

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

OVER 28 years at Crow­den I be­came well ac­quainted with the moun­tain hare, in fact dur­ing re­ally harsh win­ters I used to feed them over the back wall, which stood at 800 feet above sea-level.

So it was re­ally pleas­ing to hear that the RSPB at Dove Stone, Green­field, is now or­gan­is­ing guided hare walks.

When there’s no snow the moun­tain hare in its white winter coat re­ally stands out against the dark grit-stone. The winter coat is longer and thicker than the sum­mer coat and lasts through un­til about March. The change back into the sum­mer coat is a grad­ual one but come May they’ll be mainly brown again.

The moults are trig­gered by day­light and tem­per­a­ture changes. Al­though brown hares moult as well there is no great dif­fer­ence in coats.

Moun­tain hares are usu­ally found above the cul­ti­va­tion line, around 1,000ft lo­cally, liv­ing in areas of heather and mixed moor, wet heath, blan­ket bog, mixed heath and grass­land as well as at sites be­low rocky moor­land edges.

They of­ten lie up in a tem­po­rary form. This can be in var­i­ous places: amongst rocks, in shal­low heather, in clumps of vege­ta­tion such as bil­berry or crow­berry, in run­nels, be­tween tus­sock grasses or in the open on the side of ex­posed peat hags. In se­vere winter weather they may also shel­ter in oak or birch wood­land and conif­er­ous plan­ta­tions.

Their diet is al­most ex­clu­sively veg­e­tar­ian. Grasses, bark, heather and grain are sup­ple­mented by lichen in winter. They will dig down into shal­low snow to feed but not when it’s piled deep.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, moun­tain hares are fast. At Dove Stone you may see them on the move when dis­turbed - run­ning away in an arc­ing curve, al­though they can also lie flat in the clas­sic pose to es­cape de­tec­tion. In con­trast, the brown hare more of­ten zig-zags away.

The moun­tain hare is gen­er­ally soli­tary al­though from Fe­bru­ary to April they can be seen in com­mu­nity groups. You might even see fe­males fight­ing or box­ing away males be­fore mat­ing.

Around the rocky out­crops above Whim­berry Moss and Al­phin Pike dur­ing the spring months up to ten in­di­vid­ual moun­tain hares have been seen at one time, in­clud­ing box­ing be­hav­iour.

An­other good van­tage point at Dove Stone is from the Chew Road, walk­ing up to­wards Chew Reser­voir. On a sunny win­ters day they are eas­ily seen warm­ing them­selves on the rocks which re­ceive the af­ter­noon sun, clearly stand­ing out as white against grit­sone.

They will some­times al­low closer in­spec­tion, but binoc­u­lars or tele­scope make view­ing sim­pler and more de­tailed with­out disturbing such a beau­ti­ful wild crea­ture.

Num­bers have been ris­ing for over 40 years af­ter a crash due to the se­vere win­ters of 1962/3. Es­ti­mates of the lo­cal Pen­nine pop­u­la­tion range from around 1,500 to a few thou­sand.

In terms of preda­tors the moun­tain hare’s main lo­cal preda­tors are foxes and stoats. The main threats to their survival though are pro­longed bad winter weather.

The next guided walk is on Sun­day, March 12, 10.30am–2.30pm, price: £4 RSPB mem­bers, £5 non-mem­bers. The talk will start at Dove­stone Sail­ing Club. No dogs on this walk. Book­ing es­sen­tial on 01457 819881 or email miriam. bi­ran@rspb.org.uk

A moun­tain hare

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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