Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus): Charismatic arable athlete.
JACK FOLLOWS JILL WHEREVER SHE GOES, and often gets no more than a punch on the nose for his troubles. That's how it works for the brown hare, a mammal superbly adapted to a life out in the open and perfectly at home in the vast expanses of arable farmland that Norfolk is renowned for. The punch on the nose is a result of the Jack (male) getting too amorous, too soon for the Jill's (female) liking, and she will waste no time in cooling his ardour by rising-up on her long hind legs and drumming his face with her forepaws before he has a chance to show his affections.

For an animal that is mostly active during darkness, it is probably not surprising that much of the information characterising the brown hare is nothing more than folklore, from its apparent madness during the month of March or its habit of running headlong into objects lying directly in its path. Most of the hare's apparent eccentricities can be partly explained, although moments of high spirits never seem to be far away. Despite having large, tawny coloured eyes that provide them with superb all-round vision -- if not a slightly glazed, staring disposition -- they have a 10° blind spot directly in front of and behind themselves, hence their habit of galloping into field furniture. And the March madness? Well, it's springtime after all.

When you live out in the open, you need to be prepared for all eventualities, and the brown hare is equipped with an essential ingredient for survival out on the plain -- speed. The gangling, slightly uncomfortable gait they seem to have when at ease soon disappears if danger threatens, when these superb farmland athletes show a remarkable change of pace, their stride lengthens to four-and-a-half metres and they literally become airborne at mid-gallop, tearing across the cereal fields at up to 35 miles-per-hour; only when they reach the cover of a ditch or hedgerow will they stop and catch their breath. Nevertheless, this athleticism is a last resort, as the lagomorph's preferred method of staying safe is to do absolutely nothing. By taking refuge in the furrowed trough of a ploughed field and resembling a clod of turned earth, or lying low in a shallow, self-made depression (the hare's form) in long grass, they are virtually undetectable from ground level; it is possible to gaze across a field of winter wheat and see nothing, yet it may be refuge to a dozen or more hares.

Despite all of the fable and myth surrounding the brown hare's March madness and the high jinks that seem to affect them at this time of year, it is most certainly the best time to observe their frolicking and interaction with each other.The usual timidity they exhibit is forgotten as the nights shorten and they become more active during daylight hours. Don't worry if you think you are in a good location yet can't see any hares; it is possible to watch a field for hours staring at nothing but bare soil, yet as dusk falls the animals unaccountably emerge from the ground, often in surprising numbers.

Interesting fact…
The modern translation of the Anglo Saxon word hara literally means 'to jump'; an appropriate way to describe the animal we fondly recognise as the brown hare.
During the summer it is possible to wonder where all of these animals have gone as the tall crops and vegetation disguise their every move, yet this is peak breeding time and the females will be busy looking after their young leverets. Only visiting after sunset, she will return to their milking forms neatly sequestered in the fields and briefly suckle them before continuing her nocturnal activities; she may even allow the young of another female to suckle so long as her own kin can feed in safety. She finds sustenance for herself in sweet herbs and grasses, tender cereal shoots, and root vegetables; even eating her own droppings should they still contain nutrition.

Brown hare crouching in cereal crop.
Brown hare in a field.
Brown hares frolicking in cereal field.
Bright eyed and alert in the early morning gloaming, a brown hare halts in its tracks. Aware of a strange presence hidden in the field margin, the lagomorph pauses for a moment before bolting across the cereal crop at high speed.
During the late winter female brown hares become ready to mate for very short periods of time, leading to competion and rivalry amongst the males. Up to twelve hares were involved in this madcap pursuit of a single female.

Crouching low in a winter cereal crop, a brown hare is careful not to twitch a whisker in an effort to stay undetected. Their ability to vanish in flat terrain
keeps them out of danger and the worst of the weather.


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Text and photography © James Williamson |
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