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.

Adaptable raptor

November 10th, 2012

OPINIONS DIFFERED in the past whether buzzards are true birds of prey or carrion feeders – do they eat animals which they have hunted and killed, or eat dead and even decomposing flesh? The reality is that they do a bit of both.

A century ago they were persecuted ruthlessly as predators of game birds. They were damned by the fact that they have curved beaks and eat meat, even if it might be carrion, and their perceived threat to shooting and sport was one step short of blasphemy for the Victorians and Edwardians.

Now they are probably our most successful large bird of prey and I see them regularly when I’m out with the dogs, drifting gracefully above the woods, and hear their high-pitched peeiou call which seems rather unassertive for such a robust-looking bird.

Their listing with the Scottish Raptor Study Group is a good reason to acknowledge that they are, indeed, raptors. They have a varied diet ranging from small mammals like rabbits and mice to beatles and earth worms. I’ve not seen it myself but I’ve heard several stories locally of buzzards snatching red squirrels from the high branches of trees, and I’m told they are partial to red-legged or French partridge.

You’re most likely to see them when they are on the wing so, when I saw one hunkered over something in a stubble field and oblivious to the noisy traffic whizzing close by, it caught my attention. On my return journey I stopped to investigate and found a long-dead rabbit neatly filleted down both sides of its backbone. So, when there’s nothing better on offer, carrion clearly is the best dish on the menu.

Driving with the Doyenne past West Pittendreich Farm, near Brechin, our attention was caught by a finger post directing us to Friendly Park – a name with a welcoming ring to it.

The road goes to Little Brechin and I have it in my mind that there used to be a site along there where travelling folk could pitch their bow-houses (or is it bough-houses?) and graze their ponies without being chased off when they came to spend the summers working at the harvest.

Continuing the agricultural theme, there are the remnants of a network of old raik roads across Angus and the Mearns.

These were ancient rights of way used by the drovers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who brought cattle to sell at the markets or trysts. If they haven’t been absorbed into cultivation they can still be identified as heavily overgrown tracks between the boundaries of farms. There used to be – probably still is – a good example at Westerton of Rossie Farm, south of Montrose.

North of Brechin, at Murlingden, and part of the Brechin Path Network, is the start of what I suspect is another old raik road because it finishes at Trinity (Taranty, locally) Muir. My own view is that it is the last section of a drove road which would have been used by drovers bringing cattle down from the Angus Glens

A centuries-old annual fair was held at Trinity where cattle, and horses and sheep, were traded. From there much of the cattle would go on to the great Trysts at Crieff and Falkirk and many would eventually be walked all the way south to feed hungry London bellies.

As a historic aside, Trinity was named in honour of the Cathedral Church of Brechin founded by King David the First about 1150 and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. There’s still an annual fair but it’s a funfair now – the switchies we used to call them, after the switchback rides. Are they still called that?

Tomorrow will be Remembrance Sunday when we honour the dead of the two World Wars and the other conflicts of the last hundred years. It was a bit of a coincidence to be rearranging a lot of my books and discovering again an anthology of poetry by First World War poet Sergeant Joseph Lee called Work-A-Day Warriors.

In The Carrion Crow, a crow contemplates the death of a soldier – “I look upon thee live, it said, / That I may better ken thee dead; / That I may claim thee for my ain / When ye are smoored among the slain.”

War is never a pretty business.

Written on Saturday, November 10th, 2012 at 11:32 am for Weekly.