Some books are so beautiful that you just want to frame them and hang them on the wall. It's not possible, of course, but that doesn't still the urge. "The Secret Life of the Mountain Hare" by Andy Howard is just such a book. For anyone interested in wildlife, and especially in Scotland's wildlife, it is a truly remarkable achievement. Could we have spent two years photographing mountains hares for a project such as this? No, absolutely not. But we are deeply grateful that Andy Howard has: and that in doing so he has allowed us to fully appreciate the beauty and character of creatures we had in the past only briefly glimpsed during our forays into Scotland's mountains.
The scene is set on the front flap of the dust jacket. "Among the most captivating of creatures, the mountain hare has inhabited Britain's upland landscape since the last major ice age. Seasonally white or brown, usually shy and always charming, they can run like the wind. When they are at rest their every gesture and facial movement is endearing. Above all else, mountain hares are survivors, but their presence is also an indication of a healthy environment where predators and prey live their lives in a constantly shifting balance." It goes on to say: "Andy Howard fell in love with the mountain hare at first sight and they have, ever since, been the centre of his successful career as a wildlife photographer."
What you get between the covers is a wonderful collection of photograph of mountain hares, plus a few of the species they share their world with, such as eagles, red and black grouse, ptarmigans, otters, foxes and deer. But it is without doubt the hares that steal the show. There are pictures here taken season by season, with hares in summer coats and in winter whites; there are photographs of hares undertaking every conceivable activity; and there are photographs here of some of the individual hares who the author encountered time after time, and whose personalities he came to know. The book begins with a foreword by Iolo Williams, and then an introduction by the author, setting the scene. From there we move through "habitat" and "predators", before a series of chapters that lead us through the hare's annual cycle, season by season. The book concludes with a chapter about the right - and wrong - ways to photograph mountain hares, and an appendix covering mountain safety for photographers.
On first acquaintance, what draws you into the book is the amazing wealth of photography on show, with many of the pictures printed at large size. Each chapter also has an introductory text that could only have been written by someone who has intimately observed mountain hares over a prolonged period of time. It is the end result, the balance of pictures and text, that make this book stand out as something quite exceptional.