Words and pictures: Mat Bingham
I love hares, their kaleidoscope eyes make me feel like I am being hypnotised, I think this must be part of their defence; their eyes burn a lasting image into your mind to distract you as they turn tail and run away.
There is a male right in front of me. I am lying flat amongst the first green shoots of wheat, tense, waiting. Better that I stay where I am and let him come to me. The air is still and warm, too warm to be wearing a heavy camouflage coat, gloves and hat. He hasn’t seen me yet, not more than three meters from me, nose to nose. I can see his whiskers twitching over the blur of green. I hold my breath and look through the camera as he turns his head towards me, our eyes meet for a moment, I take the picture and he is gone. I relax and start to breathe again.
Slowly I retrace my steps crawling with camera in hand like a member of some Special Forces unit, until I reach a set of tractor ruts. The clods of earth are hard as stone and make my knees and elbows hurt but I carry on anyway. I drop into the first rut and there is a leveret watching my laboured movements. He doesn’t attempt to run away, I must look strange to him, unsure of what or who I am. Maybe I am not giving him the credit he deserves. Perhaps he does know and understands I am no threat. He is probably curious because I look different to the farmer he sees regularly, in his boiler suit, cap and bright green tractor. Our neighbour, the farmer, likes hares and so they flourish on these fields. There are crops of wheat and barley sown in fields adjacent to one another. To the hare, the young shoots of wheat provide food and the taller stems of the older barley provide welcome cover from predators.
I move further along the compacted track trying to keep my movements fluid so as not to startle the hare. He sits up on hind legs; I decide this is far enough. We rest near each other, him eating and eying me cautiously and me staring down the barrel of a camera lens at him. Eventually he decides he has had enough, the only sign of his passing, a few stems of barley gently swaying back and forth as if there is a breeze which I cannot feel.
I decide to walk the boundary of the field to see if I can count the individuals. Quietly I head along the field margin between the crops, my eyes scanning for movement. It’s a balmy evening; there is a nice warm glow to everything from the last rays of the sun. I count six individuals, three together near the corner of the field in front of me and three in the middle of the field feeding. I reach the corner of the field but the three hares are gone, the only trace some flattened barley. Walking further I notice a lighter coloured patch of earth five meters in front of me, it moves slightly giving away its presence, it is a hare. He is watching me, trying to gauge whether to take flight or not. I decide to move back rather than force him to break cover. He is looking at me with an intense stare, trembling slightly. As the distance increases the tense moment passes and he relaxes.
I go back to the tractor ruts I crawled to earlier; the same hare has returned and is feeding in the last rays of the evening sun. He sees me, lifts his head above the barley for a few seconds, his ears and head bathed in the golden light and then he too disappears.
The next morning I drive to work slowly along the lane from our house, I am cautious because of all the rabbits that sit on the roadside verge. They scatter in front of me in a state of confusion, like a group of panicked sheep. Something much bigger starts to run in front of me. It has a longer stride than a rabbit and the ears with black tips tell me it’s a hare. I slow right down to give him time to escape into one of the adjacent fields but he just carries on up the lane. We are getting close to the village and at the last minute he runs into someone’s garden sitting up to look at me as I pass by. Hours later in the office I still cannot get those eyes out of my mind.
See more of Mat’s stunning wildlife photography on his website, Tales from the River