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.

Spring stirs and Rabbie Burns

January 29th, 2005

NODDING SNOWDROPS and the lengthening days are welcome signs of impending Spring.

I obviously haven't been paying attention to what is going on in the garden and the strip of wood across the road because, suddenly, without my noticing, the familiar patches of bulbs are flowering.

What really heartens me are the lighter mornings and the anticipation of soon waking up with the early morning sunrise.

I'm concerned about the apparent disappearance of red squirrels locally, and some neighbours tell much the same story. Several – red squirrels, that is! – have been killed by cars, but that has happened in previous years without any major effect on the overall numbers. I wrote several times last year about reports I was getting of buzzards targeting the squirrels for food, and perhaps this is the explanation.

There's better news, however, from neighbours Ian and Helen, who live beside the  big hoose', and who tell me that they have some half a dozen which regularly feed at their peanut baskets.

Ian also had a most exciting piece of news. He is seeing a kingfisher working along the banks of the stream and on the pond nearby. Now, if there is a pair, instead of just one, they would breed and we might get some of the offspring coming down the stream to the garden here.

It must be about forty five years since I saw a kingfisher. A pair bred regularly in the bank of the River North Esk on the Gallery stretch, but never returned after a very high flood washed out the nesting hole. I'm told there are several pairs of the birds on the lower reaches of the South Esk.

But if the squirrels are in decline (temporarily only, I hope), the local colony of woodpeckers is in good fettle. I hear their sharp tapping on the trees all around us, and several call daily for the peanuts we put out.

I'm not sure whether their drumming at this time of year is part of their mating ritual, or whether they are excavating a new nest for this year's brood. As one would lead to the other, perhaps it's a bit of both.

Magpies aren't particularly common round here, but the Doyenne reports seeing two on the road from Stracathro Hill to House of Dun.  One for sorrow, two for joy', so thankfully we're in for happy times. The rhyme continues –  three for a girl, and four for a boy'.

It's Burns Supper season. Not many people know this, but in a lay-by on the northbound carriageway of the A90, just past the intriguingly named Temple of Fiddes (on the approach to Stonehaven) is a memorial cairn. It commemorates  William Burnes, father of Scotland's national poet', who left the nearby farm of Clochnahill for Edinburgh, and then Ayr.

The rest, as they say, is history.