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.

woodland walk

July 13th, 2013

CUCKOO SPIT sounds like a magic ingredient for a witches’ brew, but in reality it’s a botanical misnomer.

Cuckoos don’t spit but right now you’ll find cuckoo spit all through the woods and shady places. Froghopper larvae feed on the sap of grasses which they excrete as a white foamy substance – the so-called cuckoo spit – which the larvae hide in. The foam keeps them moist in hot weather and protects them from predators.

Countryside lore is that the cuckoo spit coincides with the hatch of the froghopper aphids and the arrival of cuckoos in the spring. That’s nonsense as far as I’m concerned – I’ve been hearing cuckoos for weeks now but their spit is only just appearing.

Mind you, calling them froghoppers seems out of place too. In a spirit of enterprise and scientific advancement I undertook some research. With the end of one grass I gently scraped away the cuckoo spit from the stalk of another and there beneath was the little bug. Even though it was a greeny colour it didn’t look remotely like a frog.

In its immature stage it has tiny legs quite incapable of hopping but I’ve since read that the adults can jump further than the common flea.

I suppose that in the early days of scientific enlightenment our forebears used practical comparisons to give meaningful names to natural phenomena they couldn’t explain.

Everyone in the family except Macbeth has welcomed the hot weather. It’s to do with him getting older, rather portly and sporting too much hair and he gets out of breath very quickly. We’ve booked him in for his summer strim which should solve some of the problems.

I love taking the dogs through the calm and cool of woodland walks at this time of year.

A narrow road runs from the foot of Glenesk along the shoulder of Strathmore to Fettercairn. There’s a woodland track that I’ve passed dozens of times and on Monday the dogs and I went pathfinding there through a secret birch wood. The sun percolated through the canopy of leaves, piebalding the woodland floor.

There was no wind and I shared Macbeth’s relief at escaping the sun’s direct heat. Even the birds had lost interest and the loudest noise was the buzzing of bluebottles fighting over a decomposing rabbit carcase.

We came out eventually onto a farm track and walked up a ridge overlooking Burn Farm. To the south were The Wirren and Nathro, and the Stonehaven to Montrose coastline lay to the east.

The wood margins aren’t always the best places to see butterflies but I was rewarded with sights of seven or eight ringlets. It’s only been in such out of the way places that I’ve seen butterflies this summer.

On holiday in Sutherland we saw a number of small whites, well dispersed and flying singly, proof if it was needed, of just what a disastrous breeding season last summer was for them.

It’s surprising how fast these apparently delicate insects fly. I tried to get a picture of one of the ringlets but it wouldn’t settle long enough, flitting aimlessly through the grasses and always half a dozen steps ahead of me.

We take the wild grasses for granted. Mark off a square and it’s surprising how many different varieties you can count in a small area.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that an error crept into my piece last Saturday.

As an aside I wrote that cow parsley, or Queen Anne’s Lace, smells of aniseed. Reader Alban Houghton has pointed out that it is the slightly earlier-flowering Sweet Cicely which is scented. I rushed to Mary McMurtrie’s standard Scottish Wild Flowers which confirmed his botanical admonition.

Where I have the least doubt I check before I write, and while I am clearly wrong, I suspect this is one of these things I’ve always unquestioningly accepted as fact – it certainly never occurred to me to verify it before I dashed into print.

I’m grateful for Mr Houghton’s interest and thank him for taking time to point out my error. When I started this column ten years ago I didn’t appreciate just what a boundless subject nature is. As the punchline of the joke goes – Well, ye ken noo!

Written on Saturday, July 13th, 2013 at 1:50 pm for Weekly.