It took about an hour of painful shuffling on my hands and knees to get close to a pair of brown hares that were busily feeding along the edge of a wheatfield. I spotted them from the car as I drove along the lanes on the lookout for wildlife, periodically stopping and scanning for signs of life.
This is arable farming country, and the wild creatures here have to cope with modern agriculture and very few concessions. At the time they were making the most of the bonus food from vast wheat and barley fields, and both brown hares and roe deer love hiding in the crops and nibbling at the ripe ears of corn.
The earth is hard and flat with barely a tree or hedgerow to break the rigid skyline. It is archetypical Norfolk, and represents the uncompromising way in which farming is done here.
I had been coming out every afternoon throughout August (2021), waiting and watching for the late afternoon animals to appear. On this particular day, I spotted a pair of hares that almost always appeared along a slender margin between maize cover and a wheat field. I managed to get into position, sitting perfectly still with a very relaxed brown hare just metres away.
The Harvest Hare, helping itself to a little of the farmer's crop.
I was dressed from head to toe in camouflage, but I got the distinct impression that this particular hare would not have been at all bothered if I had been dressed in a fluorescent safety jacket.
I make it sound as if it is easy to get close to hares in the big open fields of East Anglia, but it really isn’t. I have spent many uncomfortable hours just trying to get close. Brown hares absolutely love these wide-open spaces. With their amazing eyesight – hares have near 360° vision, with only a small blind spot in front of their nose – and acute hearing, it means that they feel relatively safe and secure from predators.
Caught in a summer rain shower.
In truth, I have always had my best encounters by sitting very still and waiting for the wildlife to come to me. However, this hare really did not seem at all troubled by my clumsy stalking technique, and it allowed me to sit and watch while it quietly went about its business until darkness fell.
At the time I had recently bought a Canon EOS R5, which I paired with my trusty 500mm lens. It facilitated a way of shooting that was previously unachievable. For example, to get a low angle, I lay the camera and lens delicately on the ground beside me and was able to flip out the rear screen, using it to gain focus (the animal eye tracking worked beautifully), change settings, and take a series of images. I used the silent electronic shutter, and in addition to this, the cameras in body stabilization enabled me to achieve sharp results at much slower shutter speeds. It was a revelation.
Handheld footage of the Harvest hare, illustrating just how amazing the IBIS (in body image stabilisation) of the Canon EOS R5 is.
The images I took that evening remain my favourite brown hare pictures, and I think that is because not only did I manage to get close without disturbing the hare, but I captured it reaching up to nibble the ears of wheat. In one shot there is the slightest blurring and movement in the animal’s whiskers, yet the eye remains in focus, and I believe this adds a sense of the hare’s energy and contrasts against the stillness of the scene. This was only possible because of the R5.
I went back almost every evening throughout harvest, never getting quite as close, but nevertheless following these magical creatures as their world changed around them and they went about their business seemingly unperturbed by the farming endeavours around them. I will return this summer to see if I can find the harvest hares once more.
The Harvest Hare
You can also purchase prints of The Harvest Hare in my online shop.