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.

A wizard show

December 1st, 2007

IT'S ALMOST five years since I began writing these Saturday pieces and I've had some wonderful encounters with nature. Knowing I've had a weekly column to fill and a deadline to meet has made me more conscious of what goes on around me when the dogs and I set out each afternoon. I'm always on the lookout for things to write about; sometimes I've been in the right place at the right time and sometimes it's been sheer good luck – as happened last Sunday.

The urgent tone of the Doyenne's summons alerted me that something pretty special was happening and I raced downstairs as fast as I could – which is not quite as speedy as it used to be! I joined her peering out of the kitchen window and my first response was to wonder what all the fuss was about for all I could see was a pigeon on the path outside, apparently feeding on the discards from the bird table but the lower part of its body was obscured by the leaves of a fern.

A tremendous commotion of frightened squawks had caught the Doyenne's attention and she had looked out of the window to see the bird standing over something with its wings outstretched like a cape or a mantle. It's what birds of prey do to stop their prey escaping and it's called mantling.

My pigeon turned its head and looked me in the eye from scarcely eight feet away, and it took a moment or two for the penny to drop. This was an altogether bolder bird than a pigeon. Its head was clearly smaller than a pigeon's and no pigeon ever had a short, curved beak like the bird below me.

From its slate grey back plumage I realised I was watching a male merlin, which is our smallest hawk, and this was the first time I'd seen one in the wild.

I could see that he was holding something in his talons which he was tearing at. He looked up at me several times without any hint of fear, almost as if saying – “Can't a chap enjoy his lunch in peace.”

I can't think what possessed me to open the kitchen door to see if I could get a better look at what he had taken, but that was too much for him and he shot into a nearby beech tree, taking the dead blackbird with him. With a little patience we might have seen so much more.

I've always associated merlins with moors and open spaces rather than woodlands, but we're on the march of the glen and the songbirds at the bird table provide a ready source of food for hungry raptors.

It was truly exciting and I wonder if I'll see a wild bird of prey going about its business quite so close again.



After another book successful  signing more copies of

“Man with two dogs – a breath of fresh air from Scotland” will be in stockings for Christmas Day   Still time to order direct from the publishers

Written on Saturday, December 1st, 2007 at 8:30 am for Weekly.