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.

Velvet lawn raiders

January 24th, 2015

DSC02236ALL MY secret ponds have been frozen for several days and the wildfowl have migrated to the coast and open water where the feeding is easier. Mallard will certainly be amongst them but they are the only ducks I know that will remain on their usual roost pond even if it has frozen. This was what I found when Inka and I took a regular walk to the small loch at the foot of Glenesk.

Mallard usually feed between dusk and dawn and during the daytime they rest and preen on the open water, or on the ice as has happened this past week. Their diet includes grain, water plants, and worms, snails and insects sifted from the mud.

We’re about twelve miles from the Montrose Basin as the mallard flies and they may well flight there each evening to feed. Otherwise there are still stubble fields to forage on, and all the streams and ditches and other running water courses are open.

Mallard will also eat animal matter. The gamekeeper on an estate near Ullapool, where we holidayed when I was a youngster, told me that whenever he killed a rabbit in wintertime he tossed the guts into a pool in the burn that ran past his house to attract the duck, which fed on them.

The lochan had been frozen over the previous time we had walked there but a splash of open water had melted in the centre.

I made Inka sit and walked out onto the ice to test the thickness. The Doyenne and I both curled for many years and I wondered if it might have been thick enough to hold an outdoor bonspiel.

Marks of the ducks’ triangular webbed feet were scattered over the thin blanket of snow. Half-thawed patches on the ice showed where the birds had rested.

I didn’t tell the Doyenne about any of this, of course. If I’d fallen through the ice and returned home with wet breeks, but without a suitable explanation, she would have been more than usually robust in our exchanges!

On a more serious note, keep dogs off ice at all times. I’ve only once seen a dog fall through ice and it’s a frightening experience for the owner and onlookers.

For the dog it can rapidly turn into a life or death situation. They quickly lose body heat and have difficulty getting a purchase on the slippy ice with their front paws to pull themselves out of the water. They start to panic and their efforts get more and more frantic.

The occasion I’m talking about ended happily, but the owner had to walk out in the freezing water above his waist, breaking the ice, to rescue his dog. So it’s best all round to avoid such excitement.

I had noticed a rash of molehills erupting in the fields and along the verges where the dogs and I walk.

A mole needs to eat more than half its bodyweight of earthworms each day. As soon as frost comes the worms burrow deeper and deeper as they cannot move through frozen soil – pursued, of course, by hungry moles. When the thaw comes they’ll all return to the surface, which can be bad news if you have a manicured lawn that you are especially proud of and you get an infestation of the little gentlemen in black velvet.

Regular readers know that I like the idea of reviving and maintaining words and expressions which were commonplace in our grandparents’ time but have fallen out of current use or are forgotten. They are usually pithy and couthy and the best ones can encapsulate a whole philosophy of life in just a short phrase.

Such a phrase appeared in an article in a monthly newspaper called The Scottish Banner which has a mainly Scottish-interest readership overseas. A colourful Australian bushwhacker, in the same mould as the infamous Ned Kelly, was described as “grog blossomed”.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I keep doubtful company, but I can recall a number of people in the past who were decidedly grog blossomed.

My mother would have described the condition more sympathetically, saying that they seemed to have taken on a distinct “tea flush”!

Written on Saturday, January 24th, 2015 at 12:15 pm for Weekly.