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 hard rain falls

July 21st, 2012

HAVING SPENT months devising ways to outwit the jackdaws which used to descend on the bird tables outside the kitchen window, chasing off all the songbirds and gobbling up the peanuts, I’m facing a new quandary.

The red squirrels seem to have had a good breeding season and I think at least two families of adults and their young visit our bird tables each day. We regularly see five at a time and try to identify them from the colour of their coats which range from red to brown to brindle, and the tails on several are bleached almost cream.

But now it’s the squirrels which are hogging all the peanuts and not letting anything else have a share. Not only that, they get irritated and destructive when the feeders are empty.

Their latest ploy is to unhook the empty feeder from the bird table and carry it off – I can only assume they think there are hidden nuts somewhere inside. So the tits and finches and woodpeckers have to forage for their natural diet instead, which luckily is plentiful at this time of year.

As the Doyenne wisely points out, we have only ourselves to blame – we encouraged the squirrels.

When the breeding season is over and the weather is still warm and there is plenty of food available, many species of birds start their summer moult when they shed and regrow their feathers. This uses up energy and they become less active and vocal.

The blackbirds usually roundly scold us for disturbing them when the dogs and I are out walking, but there’s scarcely sight or sound of them at present. We have a healthy population of song thrushes and mistle thrushes but they are keeping a low profile too. And there were house sparrows earlier in the year, but no sign of them now.

We used to be plagued by buzzards but I’ve hardly seen or heard one this season despite a marked increase in rabbits and ready availability of squirrels which are favourite prey species.

The butterflies are faring badly too. In the last fortnight or so I’ve seen three Small White butterflies, a Peacock and a Ringlet. Bees are having as bad a time – the bumble bees cope better with the wet weather than the honey bees, but there’s few enough even of them.

Only the oystercatchers haven’t deserted us.

Jays are members of the crow family and for maybe only the second time one has turned up at the bird tables. There are plenty in the woods but I normally hear their grating alarm cries well away from the house. With electric blue wing patches and large white patch on their rumps they are gaudily plumaged for such cautious and canny birds.

Magpies are another striking member of the crow family and for the first time I saw one in Glenesk, flying out of The Burn woods across the road to the glen caravan park. They are quite common along the Lang Stracht so it’s little surprise if they are extending their territory.

St Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain, / For forty days it will remain. / St Swithin’s Day if thou be fair, / For forty days ‘twill rain nae mair.

The good saint was Bishop of Winchester and a man of great humility, and he instructed that on his death he should not be buried within the church like other bishops, but outside where he might be ”subject to the feet of passers-by and to the raindrops pouring from on high”.

A hundred years after his death the clergy decided to reinter him and moved his remains inside the cathedral which so displeased the old boy’s spirit that a violent rain storm broke out which continued for forty days. The legend is that if it rains on 15th July, St Swithin’s Day, it will rain for forty days. However, if the weather is fine it will continue for a similar period.

Last Sunday was the saint’s day and I can’t help feeling Swithin rather let us down this week. We should be enjoying forty days of clear, open weather but Wednesday was a total washout with teeming rain. A neighbour told me that a whole month’s rainfall fell on that one day. It’s just not playing the game, y’know!

Written on Saturday, July 21st, 2012 at 10:53 am for Weekly.