On the trail of the distinctive mountain hare
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. email@example.com
A mountain hare
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop