I shouldn't have been surprised really. It was the perfect morning after all. A morning filled with magic.
After so many clear spring mornings, it was a change to awaken to the land being enveloped in mist. Hiding the sun, the air was cold, so I bundled up in my winter layers and set off on our usual Sunday dog walk amongst our local Highland hills.
The mist would not last long. It was already seeping away with every footstep. Disappearing into wisps that caressed the frosty fields. Like the softest of watercolours.
That is when I saw them. That unmistakable movement that catches my breath. The child inside me is instantly delighted as I watch three hares bound across the fields. They remained just within sight. As I kept perfectly still, I caught glimpses of them between the straggly birch trees that obscured my view. Movements blurred and danced with the mist. A watercolour come to life.
They knew I was there of course. I sensed a stiffness in their posture as they paused in unison. Ears pricked, frivolity was abandoned as they surveyed me for the briefest of moments. Then they were gone. Disappearing with the mist.
There has always been something special about hares for me. As a shy creature, often hidden in the shadows of dawn and dusk, it is a privilege when our paths cross.
For me, they signify a forgotten time. A time when our countryside was bursting with life. In spring, the air was electric with birdsong and buzzing insects. You were all but tripping over an abundance of wild creatures. As someone who has grown up alongside the catastrophic decline of much of the UK's wildlife, it is a time from stories. A faint imprint from childhood. Nothing more.
This knowledge deepens my joy when I watch my beloved hares. A species that has also declined. There are 80% fewer hares now in the UK and, in some areas, they have become completely extinct. Our intensive agricultural landscape is not the same as it was. Thunderous machinery and toxic pesticides cause devastating losses to a species who 'sits tight' in the face of danger. Hares are no longer safe in their farmland home, which breaks my heart.
This morning, however, I allow myself to feel joy. I watch them lollop in their natural habitat. Their endearing scruffiness at odds with their graceful movement. Sun glistening off their upturned ears as the early morning light breaks through the mist. Surviving in a world that is ever-changing around them. Bringing a little extra magic to a countryside walk. As they have done so for hundreds of years and, I hope, will continue for many years to come.
You can find out more about the hare's decline and how you can help by visit the wonderful Hare Preservation Trust website. Lets ensure these beautiful creatures never disappear from our landscape.