Hello everyone, hope you are all doing well.
Today I want to talk you through a magical wildlife encounter I had last year, which added fuel to the fire of my love of the natural world and UK wildlife. That’s not to say that there has only been one occasion – that would be a complete lie. But this was so magic, I just have to share it with you. I know as I begin to write that I will not manage to convey just how special this moment was, maybe you had to be there? But thank goodness you weren’t or it wouldn’t have been the same.
I am going to write this in a way that most bloggers, writers and journalists would avoid like the plague; no pictures, no bright colours or videos – just my words, black and white on the page.
Let me take you back…
To set the scene; I must take you to the highlands of Scotland in 2019. It is May, and despite the particularly wet and windy weather over the past few days, I am now back out on the hills, conducting bird surveys. I cannot tell you where exactly.
I set off from my location and reached the start point of my survey site a few kilometres later. Slightly tired already, I take a sip of cold water from my bottle and take off my waterproof jacket as it is too humid and muggy to walk with it on. Having stored this safely in my rucksack, I check my coordinates on my GPS and set off.
The ground is soft, with sphagnum moss and you can hear the gurgling of an underground spring – at least you hope it is underground and that you’re not going to fall straight in – it has happened before. Although the sponginess of the moss sounds as if it would be comfortable to walk on, I can assure you that it isn’t. Whenever you take a step, you sink a good few inches, or your ankle rolls as the moss envelopes your feet and you will likely fall over and get wet. You quickly figure out what the worst parts to walk on are, but there is always the odd place that tricks you.
Occasionally you would brush past a twiggy protrusion of Bog Myrtle, and it smells sweet, this made a nice contrast from the stagnant pools that you would occasionally stumble upon.
So there I am walking (or attempting to) across this landscape, it is slightly overcast, it certainly isn’t a particularly stunning day in terms of the weather. Sedges and rushes spring up out of the mossy landscape and heather dominates over the higher ground of the hill, to the left of me. To the right of me and way off in the distance directly in front of me, there is a pine plantation, and the absolutely gorgeous smell drifts through the still air, and I really feel like I am in Scotland.
But I think to really understand how magical this was, you should have a little perspective of my mental state; how I was seeing the events that unfolded.
Through my eyes and imagination…
I had just moved to Scotland on a summer contract and threw myself into the unknown. I did not know who I would be working with, living with, what working there would be like, living somewhere without any friends and away from my family for the longest period of time I had done in my life. I also had a pretty rough previous year for various reasons, and a stressful few weeks running up to my moving to Scotland. I think it is fair to say that I was feeling pretty fragile, plus I was getting used to new medication and trying to get my head around that.
At the time, I had a lot of anxiety. I would worry what people would think of me, if they were laughing at me and I worried that I was completely out of my depth and floundering around.
But on this particular day, I was feeling quite optimistic, the sun would break through the clouds and I really appreciated my surroundings of the hills, and on higher ground I could see the still snow covered tops of the Cairngorms. It was stunning! Part of my coping mechanism I guess, was to imagine how my ancestors would see me or imagine that I was a character in a book or film, and she was excited to see what was around the corner. And a common one I often use, is to imagine what my terrified 7 year old self would think of me now – heading out on my very own adventure and proving all of my critics wrong.
Now because of these thoughts, I would say it is pretty fair to think that I was romanticising my situation and surroundings – which probably contributes to why I found this event so enchanting. As I was walking through the hills I would imagine what they were like in centuries passed and I would wonder who had walked where I was walking, folklore and mysteries etc.
So what actually happened?
So as I said I was walking along, and I was pleased with my progress so far. It was slow, but I had made a note of a lot of species. I came to a particularly boggy bit and my boots began to glitter and then turn a much darker shade as they soaked through. I soon approached quite a large section of sedge, I altered my path slightly to avoid a particularly boggy patch and continued past it.
Now, I don’t know if I heard something or if the movement caught my eye. Whichever came first, I looked over my left shoulder and saw something moving in the sedge. I turned around and waited, it seemed quite large – much bigger than a Meadow Pipit! My mind was racing with what it could be but it was going so fast I couldn’t order my thoughts to actually see them (if that makes any sense at all!). I waited about 20 seconds and all of a sudden a mountain hair came lolloping over, straight towards me. Now the sedges were only about 10 foot away, and brown hares are quite reclusive so this was an experience in itself.
That’s not all. It was being pursued, by another brown hare, who was also heading straight towards me. The two hares were so un-phased by my presence – and I didn’t dare attempt to reach for my phone to video it – it was like time had stood still, but would go in a flash. They lolloped (not racing) towards me and then proceeded to run in a circle around me, with about a 2 foot radius as me as the centre point, chasing each other.
I was stood there dumfounded. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Now I know some of you may be thinking ‘is that it?’ ‘What an anticlimax?’ And you may have a point, but this will be one of my most magical wildlife encounters ever. It felt like a beam of ‘wildlife grace’ or something had shone on me like Snow White! And I know that hares, in folklore of times gone by were believed to be witches transformed or fairies and sprites etc. so it is quit easy to let your imagination run away with you.
I was so thankful for this experience and it fuelled me to carrying on with my work, no matter how hard it got and hopeless I felt. I was so inspired that whilst on a holiday in the Lake District, Ivisited an art gallery; La Galerie d’art, where there was a print of… you guessed it – a running hare through the countryside. It was a stunning print from artist Lucy Grossmith of a hare running through a cold, crisp and sparkling winter night, and I just had to have it. It will forever remind me of this event, and I will remember it for the rest of my days.
Have you had any magical wildlife experiences?