Wildlife photography: Haring about
PUBLISHED: 13:09 25 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:10 25 February 2016
Wildlife photographer Kevin Sawford is ringside for some hare boxing action
March is traditionally known as the month that brown hares can be seen boxing. Actually they can be seen throughout the year, but in the spring the crops and other vegetation are either lower, or not sown, giving us a better chance to see the hares.
Many people think that boxing hares are two males fighting for dominance, like deer stags in the autumn, but in fact it’s usually a female coming into season fighting off an amorous male, as she’s not ready to mate.
Unlike the sport of boxing with its Queensbury rules the hare version can be very rough and one-sided. You will often see a female being chased by a number of males – it looks like a hare train as the animals zig zag across the field. Hares can reach around 45mph so the action can be fast and furious. The classic boxing pose is when the female is caught and is trying to fend off her suitor.
Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in a burrow, but create a ‘form’, a small depression in the ground, or among grasses or a crop. The animals sit out in these forms in all weathers, often in the middle of a field for security, so they can see any predators approaching. Even after a heavy snowfall I have found hares in a field with just their heads poking out of the snow.
A female hare can come into season three or four times a year, which is why the boxing can be seen throughout the year. She will produce a litter of two to four leverets, which will be left to fend for themselves close to their birth site, with the mother only returning once a day for the first month to feed them.
This image of hares boxing was taken close to the village of Risby, near Bury St Edmunds. I’d spent several days at this location capturing a number of different images of hare behaviour, but no boxing. Hares spend an awful lot of time sleeping, so it can be a long wait for some action. But on this particular spring evening I noticed this pair running in my direction. Luckily the female turned, stood her ground and persuaded the male he was not going to get his way.
Brown hares are one of my favourite subjects to photograph and we have a strong population in Suffolk. Hopefully I will photograph a few more rounds of boxing this year.
March is the month that we hopefully see the end of winter, and spring starts to set in. Many species will be starting to breed and the countryside will be full of new life. Many garden birds will be busy feeding their young. On our waterways you will start to see ducklings, goslings and cygnets. Fox cubs will be emerging from their dens by the end of the month.
Many bird species that have spent winter in the warmer climates of southern Europe or Africa will be seen stopping off for a few days before heading to their breeding grounds further north, like wheatears, ring ouzels and whinchats, while summer residents, like swallows, house martins and warblers, will be back to reaffirm their territories.
On warmer days early emerging butterflies, such as red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, orange-tip and brimstone, will be seen on the wing.
And throughout the region groups of volunteers will be out at night with torches and buckets to give toads a helping hand across busy roads to their spawning sites.
Kevin Sawford is an award winning professional wildlife photographer based in Suffolk. He runs photographic workshops for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, plus other days, and he is represented by the RSPB images agency. You can find details at www.kevinsawford.com. Facebook Kevin Sawford Photography, Twitter @KSawfordphoto