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.

Unexpected sight

January 10th, 2015

DSC02187THE DOYENNE came home with an unusual story about a carnivorous robin. A friend walking her own dogs in woods came across a pigeon carcase, probably a sparrowhawk victim as most of its breast had been stripped off. Nothing unusual about that but a robin was feeding on the scraps of flesh left on the breast bone.

Robins, of course, feed on worms and spiders and other insects, and to that extent are meat eaters. I checked in Coward’s Birds of the British Isles which confirmed their diet, and that they also eat soft fruit and berries and seeds. But there’s no suggestion that they eat carrion too. – but perhaps a reader has come across something similar.

It’s been a blockbuster week for birds of prey. At the weekend the Doyenne and I walked the dogs in woods at the foot of Glenesk. We have a healthy population of buzzards and they are a common sight around the woodlands of the Mear ns. We heard and watched several of the handsome birds circling above us.

An unexpected sighting on the drive home was a kestrel sitting on telephone lines. I hadn’t seen one locally for a while and it would be good to think they might be making a comeback as, at one time, they were probably our commonest bird of prey.

Their ability to hover quite motionless is the secret of their hunting technique as they rely on quickness of eye rather than speed on the wing to catch their prey.

In the failing light the Doyenne pointed out another buzzard, but a second look at the slender wings made me doubt. As the bird swung round and I could see the deeply notched tail I knew it was a red kite. It was likely thinking of roosting anyway for it glided off towards woodland when I stopped the car.

I drove to the same spot the next afternoon and watched a pair of them through the binoculars tumbling in the wind.

The following afternoon I took the dogs a favourite walk around the wee loch at the foot of Glenesk.

We walked through the familiar stands of tall beech trees, my footsteps cushioned by springy moss and a bronze carpet of sere beech leaves. Broken patches of low, winter sunlight shining through the bare branches and between the straight grey trunks patterned the woodland floor.

The loch was still half frozen over and the moment they saw us most of the duck swam over and hopped onto the ice, loudly complaining at being disturbed. The resident pack of mallard are the noisiest, but there’s often something else of interest like the visiting pair of tufted duck.

Unusually, a pack of wigeon has remained on the loch since the middle of autumn. In the eight years I’ve been watching the wildfowl there the most I’ve seen have been three pairs at the start of the mating season before they dispersed to nest.

I hear the drakes’ whistling whee-oo calls long before I see them. As soon as they spy us they take flight, behaving more like teal wheeling and dipping over the loch, whistling all the while and reluctant to splash down on the water again so long as we are about.

As we turned to go back to the car a kite appeared – and then another. I have seen them there before so it was no great surprise. But it became very exciting as more and more kites flew out of the neighbouring wood.

Whether they were preparing to roost and we disturbed them I cannot say, but around twelve pairs – yes, pairs – were in the air. Maybe there were more – they don’t line up to be counted. I lost sight of them as they drifted up to the next wood half a mile away.

You might wonder how there can be enough food to support so many birds. They are traditionally known as carrion eaters but their diet includes small mammals and like most large raptors they will disperse across considerable distances in search of food if necessary.

It was not a sight I expected to see, and not one I expect to see again soon!

Written on Saturday, January 10th, 2015 at 9:49 pm for Weekly.