Wildlife in March - the practical photographer's guide

With winter coming to a close (not that it ever really got started), it's time to look forward to spring and its photographic delights, as the natural world starts to reawaken from a few months of slumber. This month we're looking at the amazing brown hare.

It would be very hard for me to pick a favourite British mammal species, but brown hares would certainly come close. They’re a stunning subject that never disappoints, with great looks and personality.

March is the perfect time for working with hares - hyped with energy for the breeding season, they’re often seen bounding around arable land getting into a punch-up while in search of a mate. With all this activity, it’s a perfect chance to grab a few images.

There are a number of ways to locating hares, but assessing for and finding the correct habitat is always the first step. Low arable grasslands or crops that are adjacent to or close to woodland often yield good numbers, as they have a great mixture of both food and shelter for the non-burrowing mammals.

Field signs to look out for are clean-cut edges on fresh vegetation and small depressions (known as forms) on fields that the hares use to hide in. Scan with a pair of binoculars and look for lumps that may seem out of place on the field. After a while and with experience, it’s easy to cast an eye over a field and pick out hares fairly quickly. Getting close is another matter…

Often wary subjects, getting close to brown hares requires a good deal of field craft. The first thing to consider is smell. Excellent at detecting scent, hares will pick you up a mile off if they are downwind of you. Make sure the wind is in your face and you’ll be at a huge advantage.

Fill the frame
To get those frame-filling views you’ll most likely need to get to within 6-10ft of a hare and this can be done in a number of ways. You could use a static hide, although these can be limiting and require a huge time investment for the best results. Stalking on foot is my preferred method - it’s a great deal of fun and often yields the most creative possibilities. Get low to the ground and move slowly in short crawls of 2-5 meters. With luck and a reasonably confiding hare, you can easily get within a few feet for some awesome images.

Tom_Mason_May 07, 2011-_JGH0110.jpg

Another great way of getting close is shooting from a car. Driving slowly (and carefully) around small country lanes, you will often come across hares in the fields. Pull up close and use the car as a hide to get your images.

When you get close you’ll still mostly want to work with a longer telephoto of 200mm or more, but be sure to stop down a little for an increased depth-of-field – f/5.6-8 will help you get a decent proportion of a hare in focus for better looking images. For a support use a beanbag or ground pod for low angle images that will add impact to your photos.

If you’re stalking, another tip is to drop your camera bag and pull on a bum bag - old school, I know. They allow you to easily move on your front and hold all of the essentials you need for a day out shooting (memory cards, batteries etc) and have a minimal impact on a low-angle profile, perfect for getting up close.

If brown hares are hard to come by in your area, other great subjects to look out for in March include little owls, who’ll be setting up territories and starting to breed, or of course daffodils, which can be perfect in early spring for those more interested in flora.

Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here