I remember our last night on Safari back in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa like it was yesterday. We had been searching, without luck up to that point, for a Leopard. As time ticked by (we were actually driving towards the gate for the final time) it seemed like we were going to be unsuccessful until our spotter, Given, noticed something in the thick bush. A quick reposition of the jeep (aka hold on tight, this search just got real) and there she was - an adult female. I can still remember the feeling as we watched her stalking. The hairs were standing on my arms as I excitedly took Nicola's hand - we both just sat there awestruck at the sight of this beautiful creature.
Wildlife encounters can leave you breathless
Fast forward a few months later (to this morning in fact) and I was reminded that I don't need to head to Africa on Safari, the Arctic Tundra in search of Polar Bears or indeed the rivers of Alaska for the great Salmon run to be treated to a wildlife experience that not only gets my blood pumping, but fills me with the same excitement I felt that balmy evening back on the truck in South Africa.
Over the past few weeks I had been neglecting the Hares in my area so with a favourable sunrise forecast I headed out to a spot I knew not only had good numbers, but also was favourable for dawn shooting due to the direction of the light. Using my car as a mobile hide I got setup and within 20 minutes was treated to my first encounter - although looking at the image below I'm not too sure this particular Hare was too pleased to see me - how rude !!
What I was really interested in however was to see if there would be any male / female interaction, chasing or boxing. And it would seem my luck would be in. Across the other side of the car (and directly into the sun) I spotted a couple going at it hammer and tongs across the field before watching them disappear behind the car and out of view. I flicked a few switches on the 7D MK II in anticipation for what was hopefully to come.
Heart racing, dirt kicking, full on adrenaline rush
Suddenly out of the scrub, and despite me thinking I was ready, without too much warning came the two Hares - at full throttle. Now I'm not the smallest of chaps and my car (which as I said was being used as my mobile hide) is a 2 seater MX5. Certainly not the easiest to move around in, especially when wielding a 400mm lens out the window. Still I managed to get them into the frame, lock on AF, and fire off a couple of shots. I love the menacing look of the eyes of the male behind in the shot below.
They were zig-zagging left and right as the female tried to loose her pursuirer and I have to admit I lost them a few times with the 7D (mostly my own lack of experience) failing to lock on (aka plenty of sharp grass shots if there is a market for those). Still the last frame on the sequence, before they disappeared behind the car and out of sight, was quite pleasing. Still not as sharp as I would like but that's to be worked on.
The whole sequence lasted less than 5 seconds and as I paused to reflect I realised that the hairs (or should that be Hares) were standing on my arms and my heart was beating as fast as it had been that night in South Africa. The encounter once again showed me that magical wildlife experiences can be found right on your doorstop - and that is the most exciting thing of all.
Now excuse me while I go and try to dislodge the seatbelt buckle from my nether regions after a few hours spent in the MX-Hide ...