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.
The cry had scarcely gone forth, when I was startled by a voice from some hollow quite close to my side : "I'm Philip. Don't moveódon't speak. A man's watching you from the blackthorns at the top of the wood. He hasn't seen me. Don't look his way, but walk along the path below, and when you reach the end of the wood turn up and hide in the cross-hedges, so that you can watch him if he comes out anywhere in the open. And, mind, don't let him see you then. If he goes back to the farm, give the signal again; or, if I give two hoots, one about ten seconds after the other, come to me, but don't pass this place. The fellow isn't of much account, but we must get rid of him before I can stir. He's kept me here for the last half-hour".
Philip ceased speaking, and I walked carelessly down the wood, pausing here and there to peep through a patch of undergrowth and to satisfy myself that the man at the top of the wood had not moved. When outside the wood, I turned rapidly up the hill and found an excellent hiding place among some brambles on a thick hedge. From this spot I could command a view of the meadows above the wood, and could easily retreat unseen if the farm labourer happened to come towards me.
I watched patiently for twenty minutes or so, then heard Philip's welcome signal from a fir-spinney on the far side of the Crag, and hastened to his side. In reply to my question as to what had become of the man who had watched from the blackthorn thicket, he pointed to the opposite hillside, where a dim figure could be seen ascending the ploughland in the direction of a distant farmstead. " I expect to be able to show you a badger to-night," he said, " but of course I'm not sure about it. A badger's comings and goings are as uncertain as the weather. But first we'll climb further up the hill. You were asking me about the leaping places of the hares: I know of one of these leaping places, and I think I know of two hares that use them and have lately 'kittled' in snug little ' forms' not far away. We must hurry, else the does will have left the leverets and gone to feed in the clover. You go first. Wait for me in the furze by the pond on the very top of the hill".
When Philip had rejoined me on the hilltop, he rapidly led the way to the fringe of the covert, where he pointed to a low hedge-bank between the gorse and a peat-field partly covered with water. "Hide in the hedge about ten yards from this spot," he said, " so that you can see on either side of the bank, then watch the path on this side." With a smile he added: " This isn't a bad locality for a fern-owl. So, if you happen to hear the rattle of that bird, you'll know the hare has started from her ' form.'" Then, turning quickly into the furze and taking a bypath through the thickest part of the tangle, Philip left me, and, soon afterwards, I moved to my allotted hiding place.
Before I had waited long, the cry of the fern-owl reached me with astonishing clearness from an adjoining field. Presently, I saw a hare emerge from the gorse and come along the path towards me. At the exact spot indicated by the poacher, she paused, and then with a single bound cleared the wide space between herself and the hedge. With another bound she landed on the marsh beyond, where she splattered away through the shallow water till a dry reed-bed was reached on a slight elevation in the marsh. There she was lost to view; the rank herbage screened her further line of flight.
A minute afterwards, the fern owl's rattle once more broke on the quiet evening, now from a few fields away to my right. For some time, I closely watched the open space around the hedge-bank, but no animal moved on the path. Suddenly, however, I thought I detected a slight movement in a bracken frond beside the furze. It was not repeated, and I had concluded that it signified nothing, when, to my amazement, I caught sight of a second hare squatting in the middle of the path near the bracken. How she came there I was unable to understand; for some time my eyes had been directed towards the spot, and certainly I had not seen her leave the ferns. She seemed to have risen from the earthósomething intangible that had instantly assumed the shape of a living creature. She took a few strides towards my hiding place, but, exactly where the first hare had leaped, she turned sharply at right angles to the path, and with a long, easy bound sprang to the top of the hedge-bank; then with another bound she flung herself into the marshy field. Making straight for the reed-bed, she, too, was soon out of sight.
All that thus happened appeared to be the outcome of long experience; the adoption by the hares of a more perfect plan to mislead a single enemy pursuing by scent could hardly be conceived. A pack of hounds, " checking " on the path, would in all probability have "cast" around, and, sooner or later, would have struck the line afresh in the marshy field, but a fox or a polecat would surely have been baffled, either at the leaping places or where the hares had crossed through the shallow water.
Man's intelligence, united with the intelligence, the eagerness, the pace, the endurance, and the marvellous powers of scent possessed by a score of hounds, and then pitted against a single creature fleeing for its life, should well nigh inevitably attain its end. Nature has not yet taught her weaklings how to match that powerful combination. And so a naturalist, in studying the artifices adopted by hunted animals, should be interested chiefly as to how such artifices would succeed against pursuers unassisted by human intelligence. I am inclined to believe that even a pack of well-trained harriers would have been unable to follow the doe-hares I have referred to, unless the scent lay unusually well on the surface of the marsh.
I stayed in the covert awhile, but when the call came for me to rejoin Philip 1 hastened to the field in which he was waiting. I told him what I had seen, and, together, we paid a visit to the doe-hares' " forms." One of the " forms " lay in a clump of fern and brambles near the corner of a fallow, the other on a slight elevation where a hedger had thrown some "trash" beside a ditch in a field of unripe wheat.