As both a young child listening and a parent reading, the Beatrix Potter stories will always hold many happy memories for me. Apart from anything else they almost certainly contributed to my anthropomorphic tendencies whenever I’m photographing and whatever the species! I’ve recently become a grandparent for the first time and so her books and tales are re-appearing over my personal horizons once more and never more so when a few weeks ago I managed to fulfil a rabbit related quest that she would been proud of.
This is a pretty typical setting for the rabbits around my small Shropshire town – thick clumps of woodland nettles and other such vegetation from which they will emerge nervously (there’s often a lot of dogs on walks for them to contend with after all) and so clean shots have never been easy. It hasn’t stopped me checking local warrens out every year though and especially after around 12 years ago spotting a pure black rabbit in amongst one of the families. My first instincts back then were that it had to be an escaped domestic animal but the location was so far from any houses and situated on a busy road junction too so it was more than likely that it was in fact a pure wild black rabbit – a melanistic individual that can occasionally pop up when or if both parents carry that recessive gene.
At the time I was working on a book to celebrate the golden jubilee of Shropshire Wildlife Trust for them and so was keen on some different rabbit images but try as I might, the setting where I had seen this black individual firstly didn’t lend itself to any sort of photography and the individual animal in question was so sporadic in terms of appearances that the book had to make do with a more traditional image.
I still looked there every year but as the vegetation grew thicker and myxamatosis carried on its impact in the area combined with the rarity and short-lived nature of a black rabbit anyway, my hopes of finding one disappeared into the extreme back of my thoughts. So imagine my delight when a few weeks back a good friend asked me if I’d seen the black rabbit where she walks her dogs!
The area was several hundred yards from the road junction so almost certainly the same gene pool just many years later and so over a number of evenings I sat and watched and sure enough a few days later there he/she was!
It was, inevitably, still not the cleanest of settings and of all the individuals in the colony this was among the shyest, but whilst they are most certainly not images that will win any awards the following handful of pictures have given me as much satisfaction as anything I’ve photographed locally.
Aficionados of Beatrix Potter will know that there was indeed a little black rabbit character in her stories – he turned up in Appley Dappley’s Nursery rhymes when courting Peter’s sister Cottontail and then again as her husband in The Tale of Mr Tod: amongst all of the characters in all of her books he achieved just those two fleeting appearances. Maybe she too appreciated just how unusual it was to see a pure black wild rabbit and restricted him accordingly!
As for me, well I was away much of last month and on my one foray since he wasn’t to be seen. Hopefully it won’t be another 12 years until I get to enjoy this unusual sight again.