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.

Against the odds

April 6th, 2013

I SPOKE to farmer Alex Sanger who farms Prettycur Farm at Hillside, near Montrose, to find out how the extended winter weather was affecting him. He was positive as ever but, like very many farmers, his optimism has been tested over recent months.

It’s been the wettest, darkest, most drawn out winter in his experience. The land has taken real punishment and is slow to recover. He’s started barley drilling on his lightest, most easily drained soil but he’s fully three to four weeks behind his normal sowing programme.

He gave me a farmer’s adage that by this time of the year the growing wheat should be tall enough for a hare to hide in. There’s hardly the growth right now to conceal a mouse!

The ground is cold and wet and sour and the grass has suffered too and Alex has concerns about his cattle. They should be outside feeding on young spring grass and putting a healthy shine on their coats. They are still indoors in the cattle courts, eating their heads off, and Alex is facing up to feeding them potatoes, carrots and turnips until May.

Prettycur Farm looks across the Montrose Basin and, as I have noticed myself, the geese are delaying the start of their migration back to the northern breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland.

They are flying off the Basin to feed on what little young grass he has. However Alex is thankful he didn’t plant any winter cereals which would be well forward now and an attraction for hungry birds.

It’s avoided the damage they can do with their grazing habit of not just eating the young shoots, but pulling the whole plant up by the roots. And their large webbed feet puddle the ground to a hard pan, hindering growth of the plants they miss.

On a more domestic level we agreed that buds are late developing on the trees and the daffodils are making a poor late showing too. That said, I’ve come across a couple of examples of wildlife’s uncompromising urge to reproduce despite the negative conditions.

I could hear Macbeth chewing on something forbidden which he had picked up on our walk. When that happens there’s usually an unseemly struggle as I prise open his jaws to remove the offending object and he rapidly tries to chew it small enough to swallow.

I won this time and the remains of a nestling fell into my hand which were so well chewed as to be almost unrecognisable. This was within the last week and there was still snow on the verges and in the fields and I can only think that it was a casualty of the hard weather. The hen bird had hatched her eggs but the parents just couldn’t find enough food to support the whole brood.

My first thought was that it was a mistle thrush which are one of the earliest nesters. However the remains of unfledged black feathers and the skinny black legs made me doubt. I checked in my TA Coward on The Birds of The British Isles but I’m none the wiser.

The time of year apart and taking account of the adverse conditions, I reckon we should expect a late nesting season. The point really is, I didn’t expect to find a newly hatched chick.

Inka bounded up with the tiniest baby rabbit in his mouth – so small it looked like it had been on one of its earliest ventures above ground. It was stiff with frost and I can only think that it may have been startled away from the safety of its burrow and hadn’t survived the night.

Rabbits don’t normally breed in winter unless it is very mild. And, as with the birds, this spring I would have expected mating to be delayed.

An explosion of feathers on the ground and a carcase beside them showed that one hungry bird was hungry no more

Again, you have to interpret the evidence as it presents itself. It looked like a classic kill of a pigeon by a sparrow hawk. The hawk had plucked its victim to feed on the breast and the carcase had been well and truly stripped of meat. Maybe crows had finished off the job.

Written on Saturday, April 6th, 2013 at 9:22 pm for Weekly.