This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
In midsummer, when the sun rises over the hillside opposite my home its first bright beams glance between the branches of a giant oak in the hedgerow of a cornfield above the wooded slope, and sparkle on my study window. And when at evening the valley is deeply shadowed, the light seems to linger in benediction on the same cornfield, where the great oak - tree, no longer silhouetted darkly against a golden dawn, shines faintly, with a radiance borrowed from the west, against the pearl-blue curtain of the waning day. Except during the early morning or at dusk, the cornfield does not stand out conspicuously in the landscape. The eye is attracted by the striking picture of the woodland wall stretching across the slope from the brink of the river, or by the lower prospect of peaceful meadows and orchards through which the murmuring stream wanders towards the village bridge; but the peaceful uplands beyond rarely greet the vision. For many years I was wont to look from my window only at the woods and the meadows, and somehow I was accustomed to imagine that the line of my vision was bounded by the top of the wood. It was not till more than usual interest had been awakened in me concerning the wild life inhabiting the cornfield, that my eyes were daily turned in the direction of the uplands, where, every evening, the rooks disappear from sight on their way to the tall elms in a neighbouring valley.
Except during harvest, the cornfield is seldom visited by the country folk. It lies away from the main road, and the nearest approach to it is by a grass-grown lane leading from some ruined cottages to a farmstead in the middle of the estate. Many years ago, it was a wilderness of furze and briar, one of the thickest coverts on the countryside, affording safe sanctuary for fox and badger. But gradually it has been reclaimed, till now only a belt of undergrowth, scarcely twenty yards wide, stretches along the horizon between the upper hedgerow and the wheat.
Here, one starry April night, in a snug "form" prepared by the mother hare, a leveret was born. The "form" was hardly more than a depression in the rank grass, to which, for some time past, the doe had been in the habit of resorting at dawn, that she might hide secure through the day, till the dusk brought with it renewed confidence, and tempted her away into the open meadows beyond the cornfield, where the young clover grew green and succulent. A thick gorse-bush, decked with a wealth of yellow bloom, grew by the side of the " form," and, all around, the matted grass and brambles made a labyrinth, pathless, save for the winding "run" by which the hare approached or left her home.
Unlike the offspring of the rabbit—born blind and naked in an underground nest lined with its parent's fur—the leveret was covered with down, and her eyes were open, from the hour of birth. Nature had fitted her for an existence in the open air. At first she was suckled by day as well as by night, but as she grew older she seldom felt the want of food till dark. While light remained, she squatted motionless by her mother's side in the "form," protected by the resemblance in colour between her coat and the surrounding herbage, where the browns and greys of last autumn might still be seen among the brambles, with here and there a weather-worn stone or the fresh castings from a field-vole's burrow. In the gloaming, she followed her mother through the " creeps " amid the furze-brake, and sometimes to the edge of the thicket as far as the gap, where she learned to nibble the tastiest leaves in the grass. But soon after nightfall, she was generally alone for some hours while the doe wandered in search of food.
Before daybreak, the doe always returned to suckle her little one. Often in the quiet night, the leveret, feeling lonely or afraid, would call in a low, tremulous voice for help. If the doe was within hearing she immediately responded; but frequently the cry, "leek, leek," did not reach the roaming hare, and the leveret, crouching in the undergrowth, had to wait till she heard her mother's welcome call. Soon the little home in the thicket was deserted, and the leveret accompanied her mother on her nightly journeys till the fields and the woods for miles around became familiar.
About a month after her birth, the leveret, having grown so rapidly that she was able to take care of herself, parted from her mother, and, crossing the boundary hedge of the estate, took up her quarters on the opposite side of the valley. The doe and her leveret had lived happily in the cornfield and the meadows above the wood. The mother had attended with utmost solicitude to the wants of her offspring, allowing no intruder among her kindred to trespass on her own particular haunts, and careful to select for each day's hiding place some sequestered spot where a human footstep was seldom heard, and the noise of the farmyard sounded faint and remote.
The leveret had learned, partly through a wonderful instinct and partly through her mother's teaching, how to act when there was cause for alarm. Immediately on detecting the presence of an intruder, she lay as still as the stone beside the ant-heap near, trusting that she would not be distinguished from her surroundings. But if flight was absolutely necessary, she sped away towards the nearest gap, and thence over pasture and cornfield, always up-hill if possible, outdistancing any probable pursuer by the marvellous power of her long hind-limbs.
During the late summer and the early autumn, nothing occurred to endanger the leveret's life. The corn grew tall and slowly ripened. Amid its cool shadows the leveret dwelt in solitude. Her " creeps" were out of sight beneath the arching stalks. A gutter for winter drainage, dry and overgrown with grass, formed a tunnel in the hedge-bank between the corn and the root-crop field beyond; and through this gutter the leveret, when at night she grew hungry, could steal into the dense tangle of thistles and nettles fringing the turnips, thence, between the ridges under the wide-spreading leaves, to the narrow pathway dividing the rape from the root-crop, and across the field to a furrow where sweet red carrots, topped with dew-sprinkled plumes, tempted her dainty appetite.