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.

What killed bees?

April 27th, 2013

WE –THE dogs and I, that is – went looking for spring colour this week. The countryside generally is still pretty bleak but we set off along a favourite and familiar walk looking for the yellows and blues I associate with the season.

The aconites are finished and by now I expect to find the woodland floor carpeted with drifts of yellow celandine and the dainty white wood anemones which grow as single plants but emerge in great profusion in good years. The colours are certainly there but there’s no doubt these delicate plants suffered a check with the earlier unseasonable weather and haven’t prospered.

Even the hardy primroses, which normally make their appearance in March, are making a poor showing.

We passed a garden where a favourite spring bulb, cornflower-blue scilla, grow in a small bed protected from the wind. Yellow winter jasmine grows against a south-facing wall and a large patch of purple aubretia rooted in the old mortar, is in full bloom. Lenten lilies have held their own against the elements and are flowering strongly.

I was confused by a blue flower which appeared amongst ground ivy. I checked in my Mary McMurtrie, Scottish Wild Flowers, and it was periwinkle growing through the ivy leaves.

At the side of the track there’s a hazel tree which manages to produce a handful of nuts each year. It’s the first of the small woodland trees to flower and now its yellow catkins are starting to wither. The hairy pussy willow catkins have flowered late and look like lasting well into next month. Best survivors of the winter are the flowering currant bushes which are covered in pink blossom.

I saw enough to pick what that noted writer and gardening columnist for The Observer, Vita Sackville-West, called a tussie-mussie – the Victorians called it a nosegay – to take home to the Doyenne. But I knew she wouldn’t mind if I left them for other walkers to enjoy. Mind you, I’d have left the flowering currant anyway – it smells of cat pee.

Living inland as we do, I haven’t seen my first swallow yet nor a butterfly. I’ve seen my first bees though. Dozens of bumble bees, all dead, lying beside a bed of winter-flowering heathers.

I just don’t know enough about bumble bees to be able to identify the species, nor do I have the remotest idea what may have killed them. I’ve walked past that bed of heathers for seven years and never seen one dead bee. So I can’t offer any sort of explanation for the phenomenon but it has to be a matter of concern.
It’s great to wake to the dawn chorus, but 4.37am wasn’t quite the moment I had in mind when I went to sleep the night before. However, I was awake, the sky was lightening in the east although it was too early for the sunrise and you should make the best of these moments.

I made a cup of tea and stood at the back door. It was a bold chaffinch, making a frightful racket, that had woken me. With nesting getting into full swing the birds are establishing their territories.

Generally it’s the male bird that takes responsibility for defending territory, sometimes quite aggressively – it’s essential for the bird’s survival. By claiming its own territory through song it sends out a message to potential intruders that this is where it is nesting and where it forages for food – so keep out.

A song thrush chimed in. It has a loud, repetitive call – pretty dick, pretty dick. Then the house sparrow’s whistling call and a great tit’s high-pitched piping.

I moved to the other side of the house and opened the front door. In the wood across the field the rooks were getting into noisy full-throttle and a familiar klok, klok told me a cock pheasant was clearing its throat and preparing to announce to any hen pheasant that cared to listen that it was very, very gorgeous.

As a seasonal aside, it appears that celandines were a traditional Scottish remedy for haemorrhoids. I cannot tell you whether they were drunk as an infusion or in what other unmentionable way they might have been administered!

Written on Saturday, April 27th, 2013 at 11:10 am for Weekly.