Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (
www.simoncherriman.com). This blog contains updates about various things I've been up to, interesting environmental issues and observations I make regularly while going about my day. It is designed to be fun AND educational, and inspire you about our wonderful natural world. Happy reading!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Alpine Camouflage



Can you spot the animal in this photo? It takes a bit of searching, but once your eyes adjust you can just make out the Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus), which when in moult between winter and summer coat, has the same colour pattern as its rocky habitat. When this Scottish hillside is white with snow, the hare's pure white coat helps it blend in and hide from predators like the Golden Eagle, which is a formidable predator of these mammals.

Mountain Hares are perhaps more visible in the summer, when their coat is fully brown, like this individual which I spotted today while looking for hillside birds.


It is at this time of year when the hares have their young. Females give birth in short burrows dug into the heather and moss, and hide their babies (known as leverets) inside. As the leverets get older they poke out of the burrows and can sometimes be spotted (with a sharp eye!) basking in the sun. You can see how camouflaged they are among the similarly-patterned vegetation in this photo:


Like most baby animals, leverets are incredibly cute, as I found out when I managed to squat down next to this one and take some close up shots.


While continuing to walk along the Cairngorms hillside, the weather changed suddenly and a low cloud cloaked the hills, soon turning into quite steady rain. We took shelter under the verandah of a ski building and waited for the rain to pass, and although it stopped after about 20 minutes, the mist was still hanging in the air, so we decided to walk downslope to warmer ground. It was then that I spotted two male Ptarmigan, a species of grouse that occupy alpine regions in the Scottish Highlands and across Europe. My friend Stuart Rae did his PhD on the species and was quite excited to show me these birds at one of his old study sites. Peel your eyes and spot the two Ptarmigan, and you can really see how this species has also adapted brilliant camouflage to the alpine environment! (Click on the photo to enlarge if you need).


Male Ptarmigan stand out much more when you can sneak below them and see their bodies poking out above the boulder line, although their colours still match the rock patterns perfectly.


A little while later, I stumbled upon another burrow with THREE leverets inside. There's nothing like the sight of tiny, adorable mammals to signify that spring is in the air, and now summer is well on the way. And what a delightful image to finish the day with!


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