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.

Memories of peasies

August 31st, 2013

AGED NINE I was packed off to boarding school in Musselburgh where it was expected everyone would participate, unquestioningly, in all manner of manly outdoor sports.

The playing fields, running down to the shores of the Firth of Forth, were exposed to the vagaries of the east coast weather. In summer there were grassy banks where we could lie back in the sun and pretend we were watching the cricket First XI playing.

Winter was a different kettle of fish – February, in particular. Piercing winds, originating somewhere north of Iceland and filled with biting hail and sleet, swept up the Firth. The best reason, they thought, to send us out to play rugby and hockey. Character building they called it – it was all part of the conspiracy between parents and public schools to make little gentlemen out of callow youths!

A memory from those happiest days of my life is of the flocks of lapwings, or peewits, which congregated on the playing fields. When disturbed they rose wheeling, rolling, twisting in acrobatic aerial displays, all the while uttering their wistful, plaintive p’weet, p’weet cries. I can still see in my mind’s eye their quizzical crests and the sharp contrast between their iridescent green back feathers and conspicuous white undercarriages.

They were such familiar birds in the 1950s, but their numbers are badly depleted and now they are on the RSPB red list, meaning they have high conservation priority. In recent years, to see even a couple of these bonny birds has been something to remark on but this experience was turned on its head last week.

The dogs and I were on the regular walk to the little loch at the foot of Glenesk. I could hear the peasies’ lisping calls and as we came into view at one end a flight of them lifted off the far end and went tumbling round the shore and over the water. As they landed, more took off and then yet more.

It was hard to judge but I reckoned I saw about three hundred in all. They were as jittery as the devil and wouldn’t let me close enough to take a photograph. I watched them where we stood and eventually they broke into two large packs and wheeled away behind the trees.

Was this a rendezvous of all the peewits in Glenesk, their breeding season over, flocking together before flying to the coast for winter? I’ve no idea, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

To be honest it doesn’t much matter. I’d not expected to see so many peewits and if I never see so many again it’s another memory in the memory bank. Which would be a pity in one respect because I’d like to think that the peasies’ numbers would recover so that my grandchildren, and my grandchildren’s grandchildren, could experience the pleasure their ancestor so enjoyed.

Driving down Glenesk on Tuesday evening about half past nine, bowling round a corner I nearly brought the aspirations of a Tawny owl to a premature end.

Caught in the glare of the headlights it lifted off the road, banking urgently to avoid a nasty prang and all I could see was its lightly mottled breast and the underside of its wildly beating wings.

It had been hunting. The tail hanging from its talons could have been a mouse or a shrew which had optimistically hoped to be able to cross the road without attracting the attention of its silent killer.

Some mornings I awake around five o’clock as the dawn is breaking and I listen to the tawny owls’ quavering tu whoo calls from the neighbouring trees. They are settling down to sleep for, of course, our daytime is their night.

Peasies, peesweeps, peesieweeps – all vernacular names for the haunting lapwing. There’s a Peasiehill Road in Arbroath where the peasies must have nested before the road and the industrial estate were built.

When he was a young man my father used to take an egg or two from a peasie’s nest because they were considered a delicacy hard boiled. Conservation issues aside, he’d be hard pressed now to find the peasie nests to make it worthwhile.

And just in case you’re considering it, it’s strictly against the law now!

Written on Saturday, August 31st, 2013 at 10:09 am for Weekly.