Wildlife Holiday News

The Hare

Paula Preston travelled on our 'Islay and Jura in Summer' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Jura, Scotland 

‘I’ll freeze. They won’t see me.’

Silence, apart from the slight sough of the wind under the dove-grey sky.

‘I see them, but they don’t see me … so why are they waiting there? Are they trying to see me? I can see their faces, some pressed against the window, some leaning forward to look. Who are they?’

A series of clicks, the sound of metal running along tracks for a split second, arms and legs emerging.

‘I’m off.’

The nervous hare bolts for cover across the greensward dotted with daisies, bright with buttercups. It leaves behind an enduring memory of twitching whiskers, ears longer than a donkey’s, snuffing nose, powerful, sinewy limbs and, above all, its frightening, bulging, golden eyes as it leaps, four feet off the ground, crouches and conceals itself behind tussocks of sedge.

But it doesn’t run further, neither does it resume its indolent grazing, grown fussy as the solstice approaches and verdure surrounds it. It lies low in its sedgy concealment, hidden, close to a stream, flagged by yellow irises, swept from side to side by intense green river weed as it flows into the sea. It watches its observers with one eye on their vehicle and their movements behind it. The other covers the stream, the field beyond, the vast sky, ever watchful for flashes of red fur, pointed teeth, sly but out-runnable, or more threatening: hooked beak and talons swooping silent and deadly from above.

Now all is still, only the tappings, rustlings and mutterings and some exclamations from the eight figures emerged from the van. They have forgotten the hare. They are looking up and out towards the sea. The door at the back of the van is raised. Two of them are taking out metal equipment: tripods. Lepus is young , puzzled and curious as they set up these stands and attach dark tubes to them through which they peer intently, beckoning one another to take turns.

The hare raises its head above the sedges to see what intrigues them. The shore line, rock and sand from which the red-billed, red-legged oyster catcher calls its chicks in two-noted command? The sandpiper scurrying, living liminally? Offshore, on rocks, loll seals, plump and idle. Some, fastidious, raise their tails above the water, others let their flippers fall into the sea. Some swim, nose one another and croon. A pale, sated pup rests in its blubber after the exertion of learning.

The people, in sober-coloured clothes, point their fingers, cluster round, nudge one another, mystifying the hare. Then the group breaks up. Some are searching the ground, bending down, calling one another over, taking out small black objects and holding them close to that, which growing in the grass, attracts their eyes but not their appetites. They make no attempt to crop it. As they move away, the hare glimpses the top of a northern marsh orchid beginning to flower. Bog bean, bog myrtle; the botanists shuffle on, delighting in rarity.

The rest of them are scanning the rocks, the wavelets on the water, the clouds. The hare wonders if they have an advanced system for detecting predators in their hands and lingers, to learn. He loves their extended eyes, attached and detached at will from their faces. Telescopes face far out to sea where a dark bird sits on a choppy surface. Suddenly it vanishes, then reappears a distance away. They notice there are two birds, both living on and under the water. The hare’s long ears pick up exclamations, tinged with surprise, the words ‘Great Northern Diver’. Wheel and turn, skuas, wheel and turn, the Arctic Tern. The ’scopes trained on them follow their movements, the sharpest eyes identify: name, plumage, gender. They record each, meticulously.

They are facing the sea, those birdwatchers. The botanists have their eyes to the ground. None of them spot the looming darkness on great swooping wings that has spotted the hare.

Read more about our 'Islay and Jura in Summer' holiday.