Hare today…

It has taken me a long time to find hares in my part of the country.  I knew they were, or should be, here but they are nowhere near as common as they once were.  Indeed, there seems to be a new danger for them, a form of myxomatosis that has jumped the species barrier from rabbits to hares.  This was just confirmed in 2018.   It will be extremely worrying if this affects the remaining hare population in the way it did with rabbits when it first infected them in the 1950’s.  Then it was estimated that 99% were killed by the virus.  That’s, by any standard, a quite extraordinary mortality rate*.  Though, rabbits being rabbits, they have since recovered and there is now some genetic resistance in rabbits and it’s also likely that they live more above ground and are smaller than the big burrow inhabiting bunnies that were so badly hit.  

Anyway, after looking for the presence of hares in my home region of north Hampshire, I spotted them today up on the North Downs, a chalk escarpment that traverses from Hampshire or so across to Kent.  There seems to be a good population but they are very skittish.  From field edges, I did a limited amount of photography of the hares in the early winter wheat.  Much of the time, I just spent watching them from a distance and it was an absolute pleasure.  In part because we have been enjoying a few days of unseasonably sunny and warm weather.  Here are a couple from today, I’ll be back before the wheat grows to high.  Maybe, I might even see a bit of ‘boxing’ as its just about breeding time in March and, as the saying goes they will hopefully be “as mad as March hares”.  

Usual kit, Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500 (solidly stuck at 500mm) and f/5.6, ISO 400 and shutter speed around 1/1250 and up. (For sure they spend a lot on time hunkered down in the wheat an not moving which is not very interesting.  The aim aim was to catch them on the move and they have quite a turn of speed.)  These shots are cropped to about half frame - so my next aim is to get a good deal closer in the field edge.   So I see these a ‘first attempt’.  

* Note: I found this an extraordinary mortality rate when you consider that human diseases like the Black Death (bubonic / pneumonic plague) and Ebola have mortality rates somewhere around 50%.  So I double checked (the original figure, I’d found in wikipedia).  References took me to http://wildpro.twycrosszoo.org/S/00dis/viral/Myxomatosis.htm  which is a wildlife literature cross reference library, held by Twycross Zoo. That provided source material links confirming these figures (actually 99.5% for UK) and cites the book “The Private Life of the Rabbit” - By RM Lockley.  It looked an interesting book and seems to cover much more than just myxo’ so I’ve a second hand copy on order.   UPDATE: Having now read this book, it does seem to be an authoritative source.  The author (a farmer and naturalist) had been involved with the earliest experimental introduction of myxomatosis in the UK (1937-8) in Skokholm island in Pembrokeshire.  This was unsuccessful because, as he later discovered while working with the Nature Conservancy in the 1950’s, that the disease in the UK is spread by rabbit fleas.  There were no rabbit fleas on Skokholm.  The book tells a complex and somewhat disturbing tale of how rabbits became so rampant a pest in Britain in the 20th century and why myxomatosis was introduced in an attempt to control them.  As so often seems the case, Lockley suggests that it was man’s intervention that lead both to the rise and fall of the rabbit here.