NATURE NOTES - Mad as March hares

THE distinct black spots on the top of some pretty long ears was a good clue that gave it away immediately as a hare.

March is just about to come to a sunny warm end so the chances are it could well have been a mad one at that!

He didn’t seem particularly ‘mad’ as he basked in the warm sunshine.

But with hares you can just never tell – one wrong word and off they go.

It’s better never to mention ears or thin legs or boxing either, just a quick nod and pass them by is the best idea.

The mad hares of March are the males, which bound, kick and stand on their back legs to box with each other in a ritual that impresses the females before mating.

Or so it was thought.

Now latest research indicates that some of the fighting takes place between males and females when the female is not ‘in the mood’!

Hares are easily distinguished from their relatives the rabbits by their larger size, longer ears and longer hind legs.

Normally the two animals do not mix. Hare tracks, especially in snow, can be distinguished by the longer stride and the absence of toe and pad marks due to the hairy soles of their feet.

Hares live in well-defined territories spending the day lying in shallow depressions under cover known as “forms”.

Mountain or blue hares (not many of these around Wigan but they are not that far away in the Pennines) are slightly smaller than brown hares and have shorter ears.

They live mainly around rocky habitats in the Scottish mountains, although there is a population living in the Peak District.

They choose a terrain with enough cover to avoid their enemies, such as eagles or buzzards.

During winter their coat turns white, camouflaging them against the snow.

They are called blue hares because their fur has a bluish appearance in the spring and autumn when the white hairs of the winter coat are mixed with the brown hairs of the summer coats.

The ear tips always remain black.

Talking of buzzards we had three in the air over the cottage yesterday/

These buzzards were calling loudly as they circled like vultures with their long ‘fingers’ (primary feathers in their wings) spread wide.

This is the time when they start their aerial displays.

So keep your eyes to the heavens if you want to catch a glimpse of one of these birds.

Believe it or not the buzzard is our commonest bird of prey and now breeds regularly at several sites in the borough.

A few years ago I remember writing – “it’s only a matter of time before they are a common sight in our skies” well they definitely are now.

So watch out Mr Rabbit and Mr Hare you are being watched from above.