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 in the air

March 17th, 2012

THE FINE weather is all the encouragement I need to jump in the car and take a drive round some of the roads I haven’t been on since autumn. The countryside is looking brown. Farmers are ploughing the last of last year’s stubble fields and preparing the land for the spring sowing – there’s a lot of activity.

Look out for the perennial Butterbur which flowers in damp, shady corners of the woods. It’s not the bonniest spring flower but it’s one of the first and confirmation that spring proper isn’t far behind.

Cut spring flowers used to be associated with the Channel Islands and Holland – tulips from Amsterdam, and all that. Our east of Scotland weather suits bulb cultivation and fields of daffodils are a common sight now. Squads of pickers, bent double, are busy picking the “pencils”, as I believe the immature buds are called, for delivery to the shops. They point skywards like pencils until the blooms open and fall over in their characteristic droop.

I poked my nose out of the back door about 6a.m. to taste the day. Although the dawn was scarcely breaking the woods were already nearly at full throttle. A tawny owl was bidding its lady friend good morning except, of course, for tawny owls it was really goodnight. Several cock pheasants were clearing their throats and starting to tune up. A robin was sounding off at any bird that had the temerity to stray into its territory. The jackdaws were vocal too – their chak, chak, chakking calls nearly drown out everything else and are a bit tedious to listen to unless you’re a lady jackdaw and it’s springtime.

I spoke with a lady who was holidaying in Glenesk and she expressed surprise at the number of mistle thrushes she heard. They are another spring messenger and I reckon there is a healthy population in the glen and that the visitor would find that their numbers are holding up well as far down as Edzell and beyond.

An Edzell lady asked me what a teuchat (teuchit) is. It’s the lapwing or peewit – very much a bird of Scotland’s east coast, and another spring herald. You scarcely hear the expression now but country folk used to talk of a teuchat storm, which is the wild and blustery weather often associated with this time of year which often coincides with the peewits flying inland to nest after wintering at the coast.

They were such common birds when I was a youngster, but their numbers are badly depleted and now they are on the RSPB red list, meaning they have high conservation priority. In the 1950s I was at boarding school in Musselburgh and I remember large flocks congregating on the games fields beside the shores of the Firth of Forth. When disturbed they rose with plaintive, wistful p’weet, p’weet cries and I have the clearest memory of the sharp contrast between their iridescent green back feathers and their conspicuous white undersides as they wheeled and rolled and twisted in acrobatic aerial displays.

I grew up calling them peasies or peesweeps. There’s a Peasiehill Road in Arbroath. I wonder if that’s where the peasies nested in the old days, before the road and the industrial estate beside it was built. Peewit eggs were a delicacy then – did the locals collect the eggs each spring and take them home for a treat? (Just in case you’re thinking about it, it’s strictly against the law now.)

A reader in Laurencekirk has pointed out that a fortnight ago I miscalled Hospitalshields Farm on the Wideopen between Marykirk and St Cyrus, mixing it up with Hospitalfield in Arbroath. It could have been a senior moment, but I’m too young for that. Critics might say it was carelessness but the simple explanation, in this instance, is that an error crept in.

Earlier in the week I gave a talk to the members of the Kilry WRI – in the church hall. I’d scarcely got into my stride when I was nearly brained by a fat moth which flew straight at me. I suppose one of the ladies had inadvertently left her purse open and the moth took the chance to spread its wings and travel the world. They must be very prosperous round there to produce such well-fed specimens!

Written on Saturday, March 17th, 2012 at 12:19 pm for Weekly.