Wildlife artist ROBERT FULLER wraps up warm to head out for a day in the snow

AFTER the past two particularly cold and snowy winters, this year I decided to get myself better kitted out for arctic outdoor photography.

But until the snow arrived last month, I was beginning to feel a bit cheated of my chance to try out my new gear.

My new white ski suit and arctic explorer boots, which, according to the manufacturers have been tested to -100°C, are perfect both for keeping warm, and for camouflage.

After a day of heavy snowfall, I set off to the very spot in which I managed to get some photographs of hares boxing in the snow last year.

I have some good ones to paint from, but I still wanted that full on, hares raised on their hind legs, their front paws flailing against a snowy backdrop.

Sure enough, as I scanned the vast arable field with my binoculars I spotted a group of seven with a female at its centre busy rebuffing the advances of the males with swift boxes.

This was the shot I was after for a perfect, winter version of an activity that is usually associated with spring.

Few people realise that hares mate all year round. The females will test the strength of a potential mate by racing and boxing them, eventually choosing the strongest and smartest contender.

Unfortunately, I was too far away to photograph this group of hares so I set off across the snow field towards them.

It was a bright, crisp day, the sort of day when the sound of my footsteps carried. So, checking the wind direction, I approached downwind of the group, the biting wind blowing in my face, so that they wouldn’t smell me.

When I got to within 100 yards of the group, I slowed my pace right down, to let them get used to my presence.

It was like a game of grandmother’s footsteps. Whenever the hares looked in my direction, or there was a twitch of an ear, I froze.

Sometimes I had to pause, midstep, for a good five or ten minutes.

Then off I would set again, one step at a time.

After about an hour of this, I was just close enough to take a photograph when a bank of fog rolled in and the group disappeared into a white haze. It was like sitting in a white, featureless margarine tub.

I used the white-out to my advantage and crept to within 25 yards of where I knew the hares were hunkered down, also waiting for the cold fog to pass.

It was an hour-and-a-half before the mist began to clear and the hares became visible. They stood up and stretched, then loped off some distance away to feed on a few leaves that were poking through the snow.

And so the whole game started afresh, and I set to starting and stopping as I tried to get close enough for a good photograph once the boxing, hopefully, resumed.

After a long while I was in range again and managed to get some photos, but not of the one I wanted. As the day drew to an end and the sun was setting, I headed home a little disappointed. But at least my feet were warm