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March 2012: Hares boxing clever

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Hares - too clever to be caught out boxing

Hares - too clever to be caught out boxing

Wolds wildlife artist Robert E Fuller watches hares box in the snow as featured in the Gazette & Herald March 2012.

AFTER the last two particularly cold and snowy winters, this year I decided to get my self better kitted out for arctic outdoor photography. But until the snow arrived last this month I was beginning to feel a bit cheated of my chance to try out my new gear. My new white ski suit and arctic explorer boots, which, according to the manufacturers have been tested to -100°C, are perfect both for keeping warm, and for camouflage.

After a day of heavy snow fall, I set off to the very spot in which I managed to get some photographs of hares boxing in the snow last year. I have some good ones to paint from, but I still wanted that full on, hares raised on their hind legs, their front paws flailing against a snowy backdrop. Sure enough, as I scanned the vast arable field with my binoculars I spotted a group of seven with a female at its centre busy rebuffing the advances of the males with swift boxes.
This was the shot I was after for a perfect, winter version of an activity that is usually associated with spring.

Few people realise that hares mate all year round. The females will test the strength of a potential mate by racing and boxing them, eventually choosing the strongest and smartest contender. Unfortunately, I was too far away to photograph this group of hares so I set off across the snow field towards them. It was a bright, crisp day, the sort of day when the sound of my footsteps carried. So, checking the wind direction, I approached downwind of the group, the biting wind blowing in my face, so that they wouldn't smell me.

When I got to within 100 yards of the group, I slowed my pace right down, to let them get used to my presence. It was like a game of grandmother's footsteps. Whenever the hares looked in my direction, or there was a twitch of an ear, I froze. Sometimes I had to pause, mid-step, for a good five or 10 minutes. Then off I would set again, one step at a time.

After about an hour of this, I was just close enough to take a photograph when a bank of fog rolled in and the group disappeared into a white haze. It was like sitting in a white, featureless, margarine tub. I used the white out to my advantage and crept to within 25 yards of where I knew the hares were hunkered down, also waiting for the cold fog to pass.

It was an hour and a half before the mist began to clear and the hares became visible. They stood up and stretched, then loped off some distance away to feed on a few leaves that were poking through the snow. And so the whole game started afresh, and I set to starting and stopping as I tried to get close enough for a good photograph once the boxing, hopefully, resumed.

After a long while I was in range again and managed to get some photos, but not of the one I wanted. As the day drew to an end and the sun was setting, I headed home a little disappointed. But at least my feet were warm!

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