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.

Early butterfly

December 22nd, 2012

THE THREAT of a winter as severe as that in 2010 hasn’t materialised – by this time two years ago the snow had been lying for about a month. Not that it’s been a good winter, let alone a good year, for much of our more delicate wildlife.

It was the Doyenne who drew my attention to the small tortoiseshell butterfly fluttering round the bedroom. They are one of our commonest butterflies and often find their way indoors in the autumn to hibernate, but wake up if the temperature rises. Of course, in centrally heated houses the temperature rarely drops too low which is confusing for them and they can wake at any time.

Before I knew better I used to put them outside thinking they would be better off in their proper environment. Apart from the threats of bucketing rain, frost and plummeting temperatures, by this time of year the flowers have all died off and there’s no nectar for the butterflies to feed on.

Butterfly Conservation ( is dedicated to ensuring the survival of our butterflies and moths and their habitats. Their website makes sobering reading. Because of the wash-out spring and summer this year there’s been a general decline of both butterflies and moths not just in numbers but in distribution too.

We can help restore the balance of these attractive insects next spring by planting nectar-rich flowers and shrubs like fuschias, sweet peas, honeysuckle, and buddleia which is known as the butterfly bush. Creating green corridors of butterfly-friendly gardens in urban areas restores habitats lost to commercial development.

Maybe it’s an age thing but I find myself listening more to the radio and being a lot more selective about what I watch on TV. During an interview on the radio I heard the phrase “when all our geese are swans”. Meaning to exaggerate, to give the impression that something is better than it actually is, I hadn’t heard it for ages.

With my enthusiasm for the wild, grey geese it would be a sad day if all my geese turned out to be swans. The assumption would have to be that the swan is a more elegant, exciting bird which is just not a comparison I care to consider.

Whooper, Bewick and Mute swans are the breeds you’ll most likely see and hear in Scotland. There’s no question that they’re bonny birds but any comparison with the wild geese collapses when you hear their calls. Whoopers’ and Bewicks’ call-notes sound like squeaky trumpeting; Mute swans are anything but and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were hearing a truffling pig!

Lots of families celebrate their Christmas dinner with roast goose. If all their geese were swans that would put them in a spot of bother. In days past swan was considered a dish fit to put before a king. Not now; swans are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and you’d find yourself up before the beak if you killed one.

In England and Wales all unmarked mute swans (the marking being a nick on the beak) belong to the Crown and there is the annual ceremony of Swan Upping when the Queen’s birds are identified and counted. If all my geese turned out to be swans would there have to be a ceremony of Goose Upping too? The very idea sounds improper and probably inappropriate for family reading such as this column.

If you are reading the Man with Two Dogs column today there’s a sporting chance the world did not implode yesterday.

1500 years ago the Mayans of Guatemala, in Central America, were amongst the most cultured peoples of the world. They invented what was intended to be an everlasting calendar but found that they couldn’t calculate beyond 21st December 2012. This was interpreted by doomsayers as predicting the end of the world.

There have been similar predictions in the past and people have climbed mountains to escape the apocalypse, only to be confounded when they woke next morning, fit and healthy and all in one piece. Being a doomsayer doesn’t seem to be a very profitable line of business.

All the excitement has left the dogs curiously unmoved – three walks, two square meals and the rest of the day snoring loudly. But that’s how it is with dogs.

Written on Saturday, December 22nd, 2012 at 9:55 pm for Weekly.