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.

Fierce competition

January 17th, 2015

I ALWAYS appreciate feedback from my articles.

Last week I wrote about the scarcity of kestrels in our countryside. It’s not so very long ago that they were probably our commonest bird of prey. You saw them everywhere – on farmland, moorland, hunting along sea cliffs. You could hardly travel down a mile of motorway without seeing one hovering above the verges or the grassed central reservation, hunting for mice and voles. Like another of our raptors, peregrine falcons, they got quite urbanised and were seen hunting in towns and cities too.

A visit to retired gamekeeper Andy Ritchie who has the Moorie Boarding Kennels at St Cyrus where I buy Inka’s dog food, provided a partial answer to the kestrels’ absence.

Sparrowhawks eat only what they kill. On two occasions Andy has disturbed a feeding sparrowhawk and been intrigued to find that the prey was a kestrel. Birds of prey are generally territorial and do not tolerate competition on their beat. In these two instances the sparrowhawks had targeted what they regarded as competition for the available food resource.

Relate that to attacks by other large raptors such as buzzards and the small kestrels are clearly under pressure.

I learnt something new from an interesting conversation with Bert Burnett, a senior member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Where one predator species kills and eats another predator species which it is competing with for shared prey, this is known as intraguild predation. The frequency with which the predator becomes the prey is commoner than one might think, certainly amongst our native raptors.

You could say it’s a version of dog eat dog, although that’s a concept more readily applied to us humans than the idea of Macbeth savaging Inka to death and settling down to devour him!

A reader mentioned to the Doyenne that jays are quite rare in Courier country. My own experience is quite the opposite. Jays are members of the crow family with all the cunning and caution of that family. Shy and wary and quick to respond to danger, they keep to the woods, rarely moving far from cover, which probably explains why the reader so seldom sees them.

Disturb one and you’re lucky if you see much more than a flash of the patch of white tail feathers as the bird flicks out of harm’s way. I hear their skreighing alarm calls much more often than I see the birds themselves when I’m walking in the woods at the foot of Glenesk, the woods round Fettercairn, or those beside Capo quarry on the Lang Stracht, and other woods no more than quarter of an hour’s drive from home.

In recent days, to get some shelter from the winds, I’ve taken Inka walking in a wood I’ve long known as the Crow Wood – on the road running from Upper Northwaterbridge to Fettercairn. It was a favourite with our family when they were small because, being a Forestry Commission plantation, it is criss-crossed with well-maintained access tracks and the walking is easy for even the shortest legs.

Not that I’ve ever seen many crows there, for fir trees are not their preferred roost. Perhaps there had originally been a mixed woodland where crows – or rooks and jackdaws, more likely – roosted and nested, giving the wood its name.

On Wednesday it seemed as if every pigeon in the Mearns had the same idea of escaping the worst of the weather and had pitched into the wood for the night. At almost every step we disturbed clouds of them and they clattered out of the trees to seek a roost in another part of the wood.

Particularly at this time of year a pigeon’s principal daytime activity is one long meal to ensure it can maintain enough body heat overnight to see it through to the morning.

Choosing the right place to sleep can be a life-and-death matter for them (as for all birds) and the dense branches on the tall trees are ideal protection from the chill night winds. They hunch their heads into their necks to reduce exposure, fluff up their soft breast feathers to create an insulating layer of warm air and they have their own in-built downy duvet.

Written on Saturday, January 17th, 2015 at 10:21 pm for Weekly.