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.

Seasonal twist

September 15th, 2012

IT’S GOT quite backendish this past week – lovely sunny mornings, but chilly, and the realisation that autumn has probably arrived. Wouldn’t it be grand to think we might get an Indian summer to compensate for the dismal summer proper (if you could call it such) we’ve had to endure?

The poor weather seems to have affected some birds’ seasonal time clocks. I saw Inka freeze, like a Pointer, on the track up ahead of me, transfixed by a tantalising scent wafting out from undergrowth on the other side of the fence.

Being the time of year, I thought it might be a rabbit or an old, single partridge that had been driven out of its covey. For once Macbeth had kept up with me and he slipped beneath the bottom strand of wire and put up a hen pheasant. Nothing odd in that, but when I looked where she had come out of there was a nest with seven eggs in it.

Pheasants nest generally mid-April to the end of June which is later than most other game birds, but I can’t think that I’ve heard of one laying quite so late as this. Goodness knows what chances the chicks will have if she manages to hatch them.

Perhaps an earlier nest had been washed out with the bad weather and she had lost the eggs, but it demonstrates the perseverance of the reproductive urge in the wild world.

Driving up Glenesk I’ve seen numbers of immature pheasants which have still to grow their tail feathers, running around the roadside. They congregate on the roads to get grit. Because they have no teeth they need the grit, which they retain in their gizzards, to break down hard food such as seeds and help their digestion.

They are probably well enough forward to withstand the onset of the night frosts but they face another potentially more fatal threat. The shooting season for pheasants starts on first October but, whatever you may think of that activity, I don’t think these young birds are going to provide any sort of sport until a lot nearer the end of the year – which may be their salvation.

It was only when their two chicks were almost fledged that I realised that a pair of swallows had nested above a door in the garage that has hardly been open all summer. If it hadn’t been for the growing pile of droppings on the floor I should never have guessed – helps if you keep your eyes open, as I wrote last week!

Overnight they all roost together on the nest. It can’t be long, surely, until they set off for their winter destination in southern Africa. It’s staggering to think of these wee creatures, two of them scarcely out of the egg and weighing just ounces, flying such distances. If we humans could harness such strength and determination for ourselves we’d rule the world.

Moving, now, from late summer to early winter. I’ve been reading the reports in the Craigie page of this paper of the arrival of the geese, earliest of which was at Bankfoot on August 18 – so I certainly can’t lay any claim to seeing the first geese of the season. Out walking the dogs last Sunday, the Doyenne and I heard before we saw eight greylags flying low over the woods behind the house.

The late Peter Gladstone of Fasque, who was a noted ornithologist, used to say he expected the first geese to arrive between the seventeenth and nineteenth of September.

My brooding pheasant can be explained as reacting to a belated surge of hormonal stimulation. The geese’s arrival a few days early I wouldn’t question, but arriving a whole month earlier than the traditional dates seems significant, especially when considered in terms of an over-wintering period of no more than half a year. Do they know something that we humans don’t?

It’s interesting to reflect on the relative sizes and the migration of the geese and the swallows.

It’s an incredibly long journey to undertake but one can appreciate how the streamlined, aerodynamic swallows can travel some 8000 miles to their winter quarters. No less aerodynamic for their size I suspect, but the bulkier, heavier greylag geese’s journey from the Arctic Circle is about a thousand miles.

Written on Saturday, September 15th, 2012 at 8:40 am for Weekly.