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.

A dreich week

November 22nd, 2014

IT’S BEEN a grey week. The Doyenne and I were speaking about it, and we’ve scarcely seen a blink of sunshine and just occasional glimpses of blue sky in breaks in the clouds. More often than not the hills at the back of the house have been blanketed in thick mist or we’ve watched the rain being driven across the brae faces on blustery winds.

Not that it bothers the dogs. Whatever the weather, they are ready for a walk. Well, Inka is; Macbeth is getting grumpy in his old age, and a bit choosy about what he’ll venture out in.

The whole of the countryside is affected when the weather is as dreich as it has been. Monday was a good example. There was a dripping mist, everywhere was sodden and it wisnae cheery.

Inka and I took ourselves off on a walk round the local woods to one of my secret ponds, and it felt as if the countryside had closed down. There was just no activity – most unusual.

No cock pheasants strutting grandly about the margins of the woods or bursting from the high branches with outraged klokks at being disturbed as they settled down to roost. No geese overhead, not even hearing their far-carrying voices in the distance.

In late afternoon, as the rooks prepare to roost, the rookery in the neighbouring wood normally sounds like a pub on a wild Saturday night with the noise of chattering birds – but it was silent as the grave.

Robins which often keep me company along the track were not to be seen or heard. There’s an overgrown corner beside old steading buildings where I more often hear a wren than see one – only silence.

They talk about wrens being shy and retiring birds but they are a lot more common than you might imagine. They are so small and well camouflaged and, busily hunting for food all the day long, they have little time to spare for us humans.

Despite the uneventful start to the walk I expected to see teal which flight into the secret pond – but nothing. Teal are our smallest native duck. The handsome drakes have chestnut heads with a conspicuous green stripe running from the eye to the nape of the neck.

Mallard, which often join the teal on the pond, had deserted too.

It was a strange afternoon, for all the song birds were silent. The hedges were silent, the woods and the fields and the sky too.

The only sounds, apart from distant traffic, were the woodpigeon which we disturbed clattering out of the tall beech trees and the single, harsh challenging cry of a watchful jay. I felt disconnected from the rest of the world.

The Doyenne once wisely observed that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Sensitive to everything she says, I do my best to be appropriately dressed whenever I have to face the elements!

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of supposing that beauty in a bird is an indicator of its nature. Our smallest bird of prey, the merlin, is beautiful to look at but, as I tell my audiences when I give talks, it is a beautiful killer. That’s how they survive – by killing and eating smaller prey. The osprey is a magnificent bird, but it is no less a killer, or it certainly wouldn’t survive.

A member of the audience spoke to me after a talk I gave on Wednesday, and told a story which was clearly distressing for her.

Blue tits had nested in the nesting box in her garden. A great spotted woodpecker was a frequent visitor at her bird table. She enjoyed watching both and looked forward to seeing the fledged blue tit chicks when they were old enough to fly.

But it never happened because the woodpecker, with its strong beak, broke into the nesting box and ate the chicks.

It’s not so unusual. We lost a nestful of great tits the same way. An example of survival of the fittest in nature.

Many people are unaware that woodpeckers are carnivorous opportunists if they get the chance. It’s one of the ways they survive. We humans eat chicken.

Written on Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 at 9:42 am for Weekly.