by Paul Cormacain
WE rose a hare up Colin Mountain last week. It was an Irish hare, a subspecies of the arctic hare, and by far our most common hare, but not too common.
In Scotland, there is a not dissimilar subspecies of the arctic hare, but is known as the blue hare, or mountain hare.
The latter animal has a 'bluish' brown coat, and it turns white during the autumn moult. This is believed to be concerned with adaptation of colour for movement in the snow. A white creature is less noticeable in the snow than a brown one. The Irish hare also turns white, but usually not completely, so you may see a part-white hare in winter.
Also found in this country is the brown hare. This is only found in the north-west, although there is a change that it has spread over more of the country. The Irish is smaller than the brown, although it has a larger head. This gives it a higher head to body proportion, and may help identification, especially in the north-west.
The tail of the brown is brown above and white below. When it is running, the tail is held down so that the white part is invisible. On the other hand, the Irish hare has an all-white tail which makes it more highly visible. The ears of the brown hare are long.
The Irish hare's ears are much shorter.
The brown hare is a native of southern Europe, turning up in England and Wales. The arctic hare occupies the more northern parts of Europe, but it turns up in high altitudes in the Alps. Its range extends to northern Scandinavia, even into Iceland.
Hares and foxes tend to observe humans in the wild, will frequently lie in the sun and if we do not get too close the animal will not reveal itself. When I used to roam the fields with a dog in tow, the dog rose many hares and foxes, but now when I roam dog-less, I see far fewer animals. But there is more to this. There are fewer hares now.
Remember looking out the window at Aldergrove airport and seeing many hares? These were Irish hares, and there used to be about 100 of them roaming the airport.
As well as airports, this bare frequents golf courses, unimproved and semi-improved pasture, and will extend into improved pasture.
In the higher altitudes, heather dominated heath and bog is preferred. At the seaside, dunes, coastal strips and sea shore are all used.
Now what do we have but the Irish Hare Biodiversity Group.
Some folk lately identified three creatures as having declined, and as now being under threat in Northern Ireland, the Irish bare, the chough and the curlew. So they set up the above-named group. Action plans have also been drawn up for the chough and curlew.
The Belfast Hills brigade, based at Bryson House, is as concerned as others about the scarcity of the bare. Lead partner in the Irish Hare Biodiversity Group is the Ulster Wildlife Fund, but Belfast Hills have a smaller local brief for the hills around Belfast.
This organisation is now very concerned at finding out the whole picture, and is now asking the public for reports of sighting of hares around Belfast.
Details would include numbers of hares, time, date and location. If you like you could send reports to me or to Belfast Hills, Bryson House, Belfast.
So now you know.