This is a photo of a European Hare near Ogimah Road, Sauble Beach.
The Fox and the Hare
Mark Elbroch writes; “Tracks and trails are truly a script for those with trained senses, and they tell many stories rich in drama, suspense, mystery, love and sometimes horror.” On March 7th and 8th of 2015, I completed a tracking apprenticeship with Alexis Burnett and Earth Tracks. The other tracking apprentices and I had no idea what was in store for us on our last tracking day all together. We woke up on Sunday morning with a plan to head down the road to Allen Park near Durham. The cars drove no further than the end of the laneway. There in the field, south of the laneway was a grand finale to our ten month tracking journey. Well-orchestrated learning opportunities and experiences had prepared us well for the arrangement that lay ahead. We would need to apply track and sign identification, gait analysis, kill site analysis, and awareness training to determine a connection between animal behaviour and wind direction. A wrench was thrown into the mix because we would be tracking two animals that shared almost identical tracks and gait patterns. The main difference between the two species was that one was a predator and one was a prey. By looking at the tracks, trails and sign left behind for us to interpret, here is the tale as it unfolded:
A red fox trotted North along a snow mobile trail. The fox ‘s gait transitioned with a skip into a faster side trot. He had picked up a scent in the wind. The wind was carrying smells from the Northwest. Something was coming up the road on his left. The fox needed to hide his own scent. He planned to bank around the pond and catch his prey unaware.
Captured in snow, his bounding gait held the energy of an animal desperate for food.
Only moments away, a European hare had paused to leave pellets behind, signalling his presence at the edge of the laneway.
The fox suddenly burst onto the hard-packed laneway, his galloping gait was narrow and quick. The hare was nearly unprepared for the attack. The hare managed a quick gallop up the laneway. Both predator and prey were similar in size and agility.
The fox took to the outside of the trail, cutting off the hare’s potential escape into the safety of the trees and the pond. The hare attempted to zigzag into the field to the South. The snow was deep. The fox and hare trails blended into one.
There was a tumble of rolling bodies. Here is where the hare’s journey ended and the fox’s journey continued.
The fox ate as much as his belly could hold.
His tracks sunk deeper into the snow with added weight.
His prize dangled from his mouth as he carried it off. Heading south up the snowmobile trail, he trotted alongside the tracks of a hungry fox. He had arrived at the beginning of a page of his own story, beautifully written in the snow.
A European Hare weighs 11 lbs (2.5 – 7 kg). The head and body measures 51-62 cm (22 in.)
A Red Fox weighs 8 – 15 pounds (3.5 – 7 kg). The head and body measures 52 – 65 cm (20 – 26 in.)
European Hare Track
Rear tracks of a European Hare might be mistaken for canine tracks at a glance. Alexis Burnett says that rabbit tracks show a “leading toe” which creates a “J” shape in the track. This helps distinguish them from canine tracks (Lockyer Pits in Orangeville, May 2014)
Interesting things that I have learned about the European Hare (also known as the Brown Hare):
In Mammals of Ontario, Tamara Eder states that the European Hare is the source of the Easter Bunny legend.
“According to Germanic legend, the Goddess of spring is Eostre and she is a powerful goddess who created the hare by transforming a bird. Ever since this unusual conception, all hares have laid eggs during the week of Easter in gratitude to Eostre and in celebration of their ancestry”* (Mammals of Ontario, page 176).
European hares are from Germany and they were first introduced to Ontario in 1912. The European hare can reach speeds up to 75 km/h. It can also jump more than 1.5m high and make bounds up to 3.7m long. In “Mammals of North America”, Fiona Reid states that this hare “does not seek cover when hunted but tries to outrun the predator. Its main predators are foxes and coyotes.”** European hares are presently declining in North America but their population is stable in Southern Ontario.
*Eder, T., 2002, Mammals of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB.
**Reid, F. A., 2006, Mammals of North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, NY.
The head and body for a European Hare measures 51-62cm. In this photo of a European hare’s tracks, the front foot (left) registers 77 cm away from the rear feet (right) as it moved in a fast gallop (Lockyer Pits in Orangeville, May 2014).