Shy, elusive and perfectly camouflaged on the snowy slopes of the Scottish Highlands, mountain hares are tricky animals to spot. This group was caught on camera recently in the Cairngorms mountain range by the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS). 

"[The] hares like to go to the lee slopes on the mountains so they get out of the winds. As avalanche forecasters, we also often visit these areas, on foot or ski, to look at the snow conditions. It's possible to creep up on them from time to time!" says Paul Noble, who took the photographs after spotting as many as 15 of the animals huddled on the windswept slopes recently.

The hares (Lepus timidus) are an iconic Scottish species – and unlike the introduced brown hare – are native to Britain. Because their range is restricted to harsh alpine habitats, these mountain-dwelling hares have evolved a clever way to avoid being seen by predators like foxes and golden eagles during the winter months: their coats turn completely white, allowing them to blend in!

While estimates put population numbers at around 350,000, the species is at risk and disappearing from parts of Scotland, particularly as warmer temperatures threaten to transform its high-altitude habitats. In addition, the hares have been the targets of some controversial culls by landowners who blame the animals for the spread of tick-borne diseases.

Mountain Blue Hare 2014 01 26
Image: Paul Noble/SAIS Southern Cairngorms
Mountain Hare Blue 2015 01 26
Image: Paul Noble/SAIS Southern Cairngorms