How to see mountain hare, golden plover, adder and cotton-grass
When you encounter a mountain hare, you are looking at a true native to the UK, unlike brown hares, which were introduced from Europe by the Celts during the Iron Age. Smaller than the latter but bigger than a rabbit (which were also introduced here), these fascinating animals are grey-brown in the summer but turn white in the winter (though this change can be temperature dependent), with only the tips of their ears staying dark. This is nature’s design to keep them perfectly camouflaged against a backdrop of snowy mountainsides.
Mountain hares were originally only found in the higher regions of Scotland but they were translocated to certain elevated moorland areas of England, such as the Peak District, for sport shooting in the 1800s. Ironically, they have been culled on some game shooting estates in more recent times, because they reputedly carry diseases that could infect the young red grouse.
Unlike rabbits, mountain hares do not dig burrows; they scrape out a shallow depression in the soil in grassy areas and among the heather then hunker down, making themselves almost invisible in the landscape. If they are disturbed, they will bound away at speed from this ‘form’, using their strong back legs, often expertly zigzagging in order to confuse and slow down any pursuers. Because they make it their business to be so difficult to see, you’ll need luck, patience and a good pair of binoculars to catch sight of one. In winter, your best chance is where they gather together on the leeward sides of hills, sheltering from the wind and scratching in the slightly shallower snow to find food. You can increase your chances, though, if you look for them in springtime. The hares’ white coats are often slow to transform back to their summer coloration and so you can find them sticking out like a proverbial sore thumb, if the snow melts early.
It’s easier to spot a mountain hare in spring, before it loses its winter coat.