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.

Looking and listening

March 14th, 2015

DSC02425SWANS ARE rare visitors to the wee loch at the foot of Glenesk. I’ve got very excited when an occasional pair has appeared for several days in the spring, hoping they might settle and nest – but they move on.

The Doyenne and I took the dogs round that way last weekend. The Doyenne counted thirty swans sitting out on the water. Surely this must be the year for a nesting pair. But, no – on Tuesday, when I went back with a camera, they were away.

There was plenty of activity otherwise, however, and I settled down in the natural seat formed by the roots of my favourite, ancient beech tree close to the water’s edge. Inka lay beside me on a carpet of scratchy old beech mast, deep sighs leaving no doubt that good walking time was going to waste. Macbeth was sound asleep in the car and got his shorter walk later.

A squally wind coming in from the south-west put a ripple on the water. Once I was out of their field of vision the wildfowl settled and went about their various business. I had my binoculars and the next hour was spent looking and listening.

The regular pack of mallard had taken over the top of the loch. The drakes broke into spasmodic outbursts of noisy quacking, asserting their dominance. What looked like fresh molehills turned out, when I put the glasses on them, to be ducks sunning themselves on the shoreline. Chestnut feathered heads and buff crests of drake wigeon were mixed in with the mallard.

Tufted duck which, like the wigeon, had overwintered on the loch, patrolled their own stretch of water – up and down and across – as they must have done endless times.

As with many species of bird – cock and hen pheasants is another good example – the male is more striking than the female. The wind whipping up the feathered tuft or crest at the back of their heads readily identified the tufted drakes. Their body plumage of dark brown on top and white flanks and breast is a bold contrast with the drabber ducks.

Each spring I look out for the return of the oystercatchers which take over the same stretch of shingle on the other side of the loch for about a month, before pairing up and moving on to nest.

They’ve been back now for a week, flying inland from the coast where they spent the winter. They really are snappy dressers with their black clawhammer suits and white waistcoats.

They are sociable birds and small packs take to the air and circle the loch for the sheer joy of flying. They return, skimming so low over the water’s surface it seems inevitable that at least one must surely dip a wingtip in and flip over. Then a long glide for the final run in to make a perfect two point landing to a chorus of admiring calls.

Amongst their sharp kleep, kleep calls I heard the raucous calls of black headed gulls. An avian misnomer – their head plumage, which gives it its name is, in reality, dark chocolate brown. The hood of dark feathers is lost in winter and grows in again in spring as part of their mating plumage. But they can always be easily identified from other gulls by their blood red bill and legs.

A sneaky, chill wind blowing off the snow-capped back hills finally forced me to my feet. Macbeth had to be walked anyway. I’d seen two jays, which for me is unusual, and heard woodpeckers drumming a noisy paradiddle deep in the wood. It had been an altogether satisfactory afternoon.

I took a walk to one of my secret ponds to see if there might be any frogspawn. Inka kept to heel and I crept in. Nature’s wild things have far keener hearing than I have the ability to move silently through the undergrowth. A long, pickaxe beak shot up from amongst the reeds fringing the water and a heron cast round to pinpoint the danger.

I didn’t see the second one until they took flight. They look gangly and ungainly but, in the air, their deliberate, economical wing beats propel them with unexpected speed.

Written on Saturday, March 14th, 2015 at 10:35 am for Weekly.