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.

Collective communities

February 20th, 2010

THE DOYENNE, it was, who noticed them, pointing out a flock of birds feeding in a field down near the mouth of the River North Esk –  €œAre they geese? €   I reversed back to get a better look and saw that it was a herd or head (yes, those are the accepted collective nouns) of curlews   We counted thirteen   It's been a long time since I saw so many all together.

They are bonny birds, with elegant bodies and slim, curved probing beaks but it's their bubbling, haunting courtship call heard in the spring time that so evokes wild and lonely places   Their burst of trills always makes me think of some special stop on an organ console   If you've forgotten what it sounds like, or maybe never knowingly heard it, you can hear a recording on the RSPB or British Library websites by doing a search for curlew.

They are waders and, like oystercatchers, they winter on coastal marshes and mudflats which don't freeze over and prevent them feeding   In springtime they fly inland to nest. I remember walking with son Robert at the head of Glen Esk in late April and a whaup (the traditional Scottish name my father always used) rose out of the heather.

In the first curlew nest that I'd seen were three enormous eggs – much bigger than I ever expected such a slender bird would produce   Doubtless it's having to accommodate Britain's largest wader, with their long legs, that determines the size of their eggs   Curlews aren't an endangered species, but they are on the RSPB's amber list of conservation importance, meaning we can't be complacent about their future.

Nearer home, in a field between Edzell and Fettercairn, the Doyenne pointed out a group of eleven roe deer feeding on winter barley   The English collective noun appears to be a 'bevy', which of course has an entirely different connotation in Scotland!

There are predictions that red deer and roe deer face an uncertain season due to the extended winter and snowy conditions   We've been lucky in our bit of the north east, near to the coast   We've experienced snow, just like the rest of Scotland, but not too deep to hinder the roe deer from foraging.

They've been absent from the places the dogs and I usually see them and I suspect they have withdrawn into the furthest recesses of the woods for shelter and to escape the worst of the wind chill   Branches nibbled bare of their bark are evidence that hungry deer have had to supplement their normal diet of grass and other ground vegetation.

Deer meat has very little body fat which is why venison is such good meat for us humans to eat   But it means that when the feeding gets scarce the deer run out of energy reserves and can quickly start to fail.

Written on Saturday, February 20th, 2010 at 10:33 am for Weekly.