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.

Blind passion

March 14th, 2009

THREE WOODCOCK in the space of a hundred yards are, in my experience, quite unusual. Macbeth and I were walking beside a dense thicket of self-seeded, wild rhododendron bushes near Edzell, and the first bird slipped from the undergrowth and flitted off low in the familiar zig-zag flight. Unlike the explosive clatter of a pheasant taking flight, woodcock can be so silent and fleeting you sometimes question if you really saw one.

They are rather secretive birds. The rich red-brown plumage on their backs and their lighter barred breasts is a highly effective camouflage, blending wonderfully into their woodland habitat. I've only ever once seen a hen sitting on a nest, when her glittering watchful eye caught mine as I walked past. I called in my dog, at that time a springer spaniel called Stan, and left her to her maternal reflections.

Each winter our resident breeding stock of woodcock is reinforced by migrant birds which fly in from northern Europe. They generally time their arrival to coincide with the full moon in October. A large flight of woodcock is called a  fall' which is appropriately descriptive because they fall into the first piece of rough cover upon arrival on our coast, moving inland when they have recovered. I've read of trawlermen coming across hundreds of the birds floating in the sea, too weak to fly further.

Woodcock have a tiny, stiff feather located at the first joint of their wings known as a pin feather which was prized by Victorian artists for painting very fine lines. A man who had spent a lifetime beating and picking up at shoots showed me a jam jar full of these feathers. They must have represented several hundred shot woodcock and he had no idea that the feathers had a further use.

I suppose it was spring's imminence that brought my three woodcock together, relatively speaking. They are bonny birds and I like to see them. They were luckier than the pigeon I came across – well, just a scattering of feathers on the path – later in the walk. Likely the victim of a sparrow hawk.

Oblivious to such fatal hazards a pair of pigeons were courting on the drying green. The male was making all the running, fluttering into the air to attract his intended. She was a tease and fluttered in the opposite direction. He moved onto the classic pigeon mating display, bowing his beak to the ground and raising his tail feathers straight up behind him. She displayed indifference.

So taken up with their own affairs they were blind to the three squirrels scampering about the foot of the beech trees, and the jackdaws pacing back and forth impudently waiting for me to refill the peanut nets. Not even the woodpecker, flying in for a belated lunch, disturbed the passion of the moment.