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.

Harvest leftovers

January 4th, 2014

A PLUMP siskin, readily identified as a cock bird from its black crowned head, has been a regular visitor feeding almost exclusively on the niger seeds we put out.

The winter plumage of these small finches often fades to olive-green similar to a greenfinch but the conspicuous yellow stripe above the eyes, and on the wings and at the base of the forked tail, really leave no doubt. Our visitor is a particularly handsome specimen with striking yellow colouring.

Another black-headed visitor, to the peanuts, is a female great spotted woodpecker. Both sexes have scarlet rumps but the male has a scarlet crown and nape.

Despite the daily parade of chaffinches, more siskins, coal tits and house sparrows – I hardly hear them called spuggies these days – fighting over the peanut and seed feeders, the garden song birds haven’t been so dependent on the feeders as in past years.

It’s been a relatively open winter – so far – and there’s plenty of food available from seed heads, hedgerow berries and woodland nuts, left over from last year’s abundant natural harvest.

Some of our visitors are fussy eaters. I watch them picking out the seeds they prefer and discarding the rest on the grass below. This suits the blackbirds and robins, and the starlings and collared doves too, which are all ground feeders.

Twice I’ve disturbed a heron fishing in the stream that runs past the house. There are no fish in it but there may be enough of the small invertebrates they like to be worth an occasional visit.

Herons eat small mammals and frogs too. The frogs ought to be hibernating but perhaps temperatures have risen high enough some days to fool them into thinking it’s an early spring and time to be on the move again.

I hoped to have seen song thrushes back in the garden, and heard the mistle thrush’s bold song ringing out from the topmost branches of some old beech tree – but nothing so far.

Alastair Wilson responded (December 31, Letters) to my proposition last week that we should exercise a measure of predator control where a predator species, buzzards, puts at risk a quarry species, red squirrels.

His answer, in part, was to restore the squirrels’ natural pine habitat which I readily support (as also control of the non-native grey squirrels which are a real risk to our native species).

However the area I am familiar with, and had in mind when I wrote my comments, is that around Edzell, The Burn at the foot of Glenesk, and the Lang Stracht where there are sizeable mature coniferous woodlands. The complaints I’m hearing are local to these areas and there seems little doubt that red squirrels are being heavily targeted by buzzards.

His further comments that the most vocal proponents of predator control are those who have no interest in re-establishing the natural landscape for fear of harming estates’ income are irrelevant to the point I was making, for I have no estate whose income might be harmed.

Can’t help thinking it was an unfair generalisation anyway. My experience of estate owners is that they are very aware of, and work hard to maintain a balance between the need to be productive and provide an income, and the needs of active conservation. They willingly spend a proportion of that income on habitat management and the rest of us benefit from their enthusiasm for wildlife and the countryside.

Last weekend we were invaded by son James and his family plus Sybil, their Jack Russell. Grandson James and Rosie, his Jack Russell, were already staying. With the Doyenne and me, Inka and Macbeth, our wee hoose was fair busting at the seams.

Sunday, you’ll recall, it was warm enough to be spring and the haill unseemly crew bundled into cars and went for a walk along Kinnaber beach at the north end of Montrose Bay.

I pondered what the collective noun for dogs is. There’s kennel or pack, of course, but where’s the romance in that? I rather like mute or sleuth of hounds, but as I watched our lot running free across the sand, leading each other on to a sort of collective canine daftness, I realised the word I wanted was guddle.

We had a guddle of dogs.

Written on Saturday, January 4th, 2014 at 10:46 am for Weekly.