Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Beyond the Kitchen Window 1

March 1st, 2011

Since September 2007 my wife Liz and I have lived at the Courtyard House at The Burn, near Edzell   To see a photograph of where this is click on –
and scroll down to the foot of the page entitled -The Burn.
To the left of the main house you will see the cupola of the old bell tower and below it, in the courtyard, the white porch of our house.

Read about the work that goes on in this Georgian mansion, and how it came to be given to the Goodenough College.
 €œThe Burning Issue € is The Burn newsletter and  Beyond The Kitchen Window' is my wildlife diary contribution.

THE KITCHEN window in the Courtyard House at The Burn has a magical outlook down a woody walk between high stands of friendly, old beech trees which I suspect are as old as The Burn itself.

Lord Adam Gordon, who completed the house in 1796, was one of the early great agricultural improvers and planted many thousands of trees on the estate – mostly beech, birch and fir – between 1780, when he acquired The Burn, and 1801 when he died   They had vision in those days, and an ability to see in their mind's eye the mature trees occupying their place in the landscape and in relation to each other   I attended a day conference here in 2005 and, during a break, mentioned this to one of the other delegates   I liked her answer –  €œThey knew what it meant to lift the soul just by looking at nature €

5am is a good time, at this time of year, to look out of the kitchen window   Some mornings it's the best part of the day, when the sun is high in the sky and the wildlife is up and doing, because by mid-morning the weather can have turned and it is raining   The animals and birds don't generally expect much human disturbance so early and I'll likely see a lot more activity than when people and cars are on the go.

Red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers are daily visitors to the peanuts which we provide for them to feed on   They are now so accustomed to cars that they carry on feeding regardless as the vehicles drive past   They get wary when we open the back door, but if I took the time to sit quietly outside to let them get accustomed to my presence they would soon overcome their fear.

At five o'clock in the morning I can expect to see rabbits, a leveret (young hare), hedgehog, occasionally a roe deer framed in the track through the tall trees, or a doe and her calf running across the lawn to the accompaniment of the dawn chorus   Surrounded as we are by trees we don't expect to see the farm and moorland birds so the range of bird life is limited, but mistle and song thrushes, blackbirds, robins, chaffinches, wagtails, starlings, jackdaws, great tits and blue tits, and in season greenfinch, garden warbler, siskin and oyster catchers are some of the birds that give us pleasure.

A stately cock pheasant, profoundly aware of his own importance, stalks up the woody walk, the early light playing on the feathers of his rich chestnut body and iridescent green head, and forages at the foot of the peanut feeders for scraps   Just as grandly he departs.

So it's good to get up with lark (though we'd be surprised to find that   heathland bird outside our kitchen window) and taste the morning.
Sometimes there are surprises   The first was seeing a merlin, our smallest bird of prey   They are really moorland birds but The Burn lands march with Glen Esk's moorland extremity   It was exciting, though, because I'd waited a long time for my first sighting of this beautiful, but lethal, raptor.

Sparrow hawks hunt the woodland fringes   Out walking with my dogs I come across patches of pigeon feathers scattered over the ground – evidence that in nature's constant battle of the survival of the fittest the pigeon lost the contest   Several times I've seen a sparrow hawk burst out of the cover of the woods hoping to surprise an unsuspecting finch feeding at the bird table outside the kitchen window   If their prey escapes they won't usually try another attack but fly on looking for another opportunity.

Buzzards, the largest lowland bird of prey, are the most common raptor that you will see at The Burn, circling in hunting flight over the woods and grass paddocks round the house   If you don't see them you'll hear their complaining mewing call which I always think sounds rather feeble for such an impressive bird.

This spring, however, something special happened at The Burn – a pair of red kites appeared, instantly recognisable from other raptors by their long, notched tail   Not so very long ago these birds were close to extinction but they have made a remarkable comeback   They are magnificent fliers and truly masters of their environment and I've watched them flying tirelessly over the woods along the road up the glen, giving their high whistling call.

I'd only ever seen them on television, in slightly artificial conditions, being fed by hand, but these are truly wild   They have been with us throughout the breeding season so I feel certain they must have nested and will produce chicks.

There's a theory that they came down from the Black Isle, the Ross and Cromarty area of the eastern Highlands, where several pairs of the birds have been released   Others think it more likely that they flew over the hills from Deeside – Royal Deeside   So our new neighbours may have come to us by royal appointment!

Written on Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 at 9:27 pm for Claivers.