Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The hare and the raven...

Well I'm back from my little subjoin to Hertfordshire now and what a cracking day was had by all yesterday. We couldn't have picked better weather if we had tried. In the middle of an unsettled grey, wet and blustery week, we had sun, clear blue skies, hardly a breeze and after a light frosting, warmth on the winter ravished skin. It really did feel like spring was in the air. I even heard skylark song ascending, the first of the season while sitting quietly watching the wildlife I'd come to see, the Brown Hare. (click on an image to enlarge - they spot humans well before we can get close to them)

I don't know Hertfordshire very well, although I did spend a lot of time as a child not far away in Essex, a place called Rickling Green if any of you know that area. I have to say though, being so close to London, apart from the traffic on the main roads, this area was very rural. I liked it, as I'm fond of farmland landscapes and the wildlife they contain. Such a glorious morning, as witnessed by the view as we began our day (above).

So off we went, in search of the hares. Our guide has been studying hares on this farm for a few years now and can count up to 100 individuals, all was excitement. No sooner had we emerged from the woodland edge, but there in front of us was a hare, in its form (below)

From this vantage point our guide then spotted 10 hares around us, all lying in their forms, resting, and easy to overlook if just out for a stroll. We had to plod on though, and so as we did they began to move away from us, not too far though, just enough to see them on the skyline. Sadly, this being open arable farmland, getting close to the hares was impossible, and my camera will not zoom that much, but what you see here is pretty much what I saw. Through binoculars fantastic.

But the best action apparently was to be found further on, this part of the farm being just the warm up act. However moving further on had some risk taking involved - take a peek at the sign (and there was me thinking hare watching wasn't risky)

But the risk taking was worth it, despite the risk of being shot. Mating hares, boxing hares, running hares, as far as the eye could see there were brown objects dotted about the winter cereals.

The farm also has a wild herd of fallow deer, including a white individual. The herd are truly wild arriving in the winter to munch through the farm before dispersing in the spring. I liked this farm, which has to remain secret, for obvious reasons. This farmer is just keen on wildlife. He doesn't get any subsidies, or ask for help in conserving nature, he just loves wildlife. No shooting is allowed on his farm, unusual around these parts, and possibly this is why hare numbers are high. All very good news, as even with the hares and the fallow deer rampaging through his land he still makes a profit. An enlightened hero, who avoids publicity or acknowledgement, as do many other farmers across the UK. They're not all bad.

Above is a view of the fallow deer and infront of them a little group of hares, and if I turned 180 degrees behind me (photo below) more hares. I guess in total we must have seen 25 - 30. Just brilliant.

But that wasn't the only wildlife. Sitting still in the lee of a hedge is the only way to observe wildlife in the wild; in my book anyway (a long way off from being written) which would also include a flask of tea, a groundsheet, and a good pair of binoculars. Skylarks were just everywhere, singing and ascending. Buzzards, linnets, corn bunting, and even a few buzzy wuzzies making the warmth on my face feel like later in the year with their drone like buzzing. As I sat, I heard a cronk. And another. 4 ravens, 2 pairs actually flew over and in front of me for a good 15 minutes. They were sky pairing in a synchronised silhouette flight, tumbling, barrel rolling and a few times flying in formation as a foursome. I never ever tire of ravens in flight.

Can you imaging how I felt sitting there on a warm spring day, hares everywhere, ravens above, peace and quiet, not a soul around us, just magical. I'd forgotten I was there to work, well almost. Oh nearly forgot, one mammal we didn't see, but very common on the farm is a fox. Funny that, a predator of hares in a place full of hares, I wonder why? I did see signs of a fox though, marking its territory.

All too soon I had to pack up and we headed back to Bristol, but just time for one more hare, if you can spot it........

...... and this view of the copse area of the farm, just because I loved the composition of the fields, hedges and trees.


  1. What a delightful day. That is a huge herd of deer. We usually only see groups of 4-10 around here. During a flood I have seen up to 28 together but they were forced together by the flood. That is a lot of hares too. We see them around here fairly often. There is an area of the County where I live that is being conserved for the Marsh Rabbit. I havne't ever seen one. Seeing this makes me want to get out and try to find them.

  2. What a great day, I'm very envious Andrew, and you get paid to do it ????!!! ;) You also managed perfect weather.

    That farmer is wonderful, a real unsung hero. So many farmers have done such damage to our wildlife, I wish there were more like him.

    I love it on the odd occasion I see a Hare and would so like to see them boxing.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, it was most enjoyable.

  3. Hi Lisa, great to know you have a fallow deer herd too in your locale. I've not come across the Marsh Rabbit before, I'm intrigued, could you drop me an e-mail? (on profile)

    Hi Shysongbird, don't worry, I still pinch myself to think i'm being paid for this. I'll enjoy it while it lasts :-)

  4. What a wonderful day you had! Glad we showed you some great weather (I'm just up the road on the corner or Suffolk/Essex/Cambs - great country for hares and deer here too)

    Good to see the hares sensing spring is in the air!


  5. Hi Celia, It's a good part of the world when the sun shines, I may live in the west these days but one can't take the boy out of his homeland in the east.

  6. That looks like a perfect day, I know the area well you cant beat open farmland, all the marks carved in the ground by the tractor plows and harrows etc, its like a giant Zen garden mixed with the rustic beauty of cops and hedge row, great photo's I can almost smell the air and fell the faint warmth of the early spring sun.

  7. Glad you had such a great day, Andrew and thanks for sharing. The words and photos made me feel I was there too.

    Wonderful to see so many hares - I think the maximum I have seen at one time is 3! Its also great to hear of a farmer who encourages and helps wildlife to such an extent.

    Don't forget to post a reminder when the programme is being broadcast.

  8. Hi James, I like that thought os a Zen garden, hadn't thought of it like that before, but it makes sense now why I like rows, veg, cereals, anything really.

    Hi Ragged Robin, Thank you, the programme will go out on February 27th, 06.35hrs on Radio 4. I was there as supervising producer for a new programme maker (and why I had time to take photos - usually it's mad dash recording and home).

  9. Thanks Andrew - I'll make sure I listen to the programme. Caroline

  10. And if you miss that Ragged Robin it'll be on the i-player too :-)