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.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

An awakening of the senses

May 9th, 2015

COLOUR AND sound underscore spring for me. I used to wonder which might be the more important sense if, for instance, I lost my sight but retained my hearing – and vice versa.

How might it be if I could no longer enjoy the scent of flowers, the visceral smell of newly turned earth, or the pleasure of standing on a rocky shore and absorbing the complex smell of the sea? It’s not the sea, as such, that smells – it is the blend of everything in it that conjures up the evocative experience we call the tang of the sea. Along with touch, and to a lesser extent taste, we can never properly appreciate our natural world without smell.

Agonising over the problem provided no answers and I’m just thankful to have lost none of the faculties and can enjoy our countryside as much as ever.

At this time, more than anything, it is the short-lived fresh green of emerging foliage on the trees, and the green shoots transforming a brown field with the promise of the harvest to come, that colour my landscape.

A month ago an impersonal wind blew through the bare branches of the woodland trees. There’s music in the same trees now as the voices of nature whisper through the shivering leaves.

We have a healthy population of blackbirds and several pairs are well on the way to fledging a first brood. Only the hen incubates the eggs but both parents look after the chicks. I’ve been watching several pairs tirelessly hunting across the lawns hotly pursued by demanding offspring.

Their gaping juvenile beaks, which are a stimulus to their overworked parents to stuff worms and tasty creepy crawlies down their throats, soon slim down to the adult shape. They will be deserted by the parent birds and be on their own then to fend for themselves.

Jackdaw the culprit
The Doyenne discovered one blackbird chick that didn’t make it. The blue-green egg with brown markings was lying on the path below a garden seat. It’s another of nature’s conundrums as to how it got there and how it remained intact.

A jackdaw seems the likely culprit. They come to the garden to feed on the peanuts but a fresh blackbird egg would provide a welcome tasty snack. Did the dogs frighten off a thieving daw before it could break into its plundered egg – we’ll never know?

A discussion that crops up most springtimes is whether we should feed birds during the nesting season. The argument is that garden and songbird chicks may be fed packaged proprietary bird food which has been treated and is quite unsuited for their undeveloped digestive systems, and we are doing more harm than good by making such food available.

I’m inclined to accept the view that as the season progresses the supply of insect and other uncultivated food increases to meet all demands.

I compare swifts and swallows, which hunt only insects on the wing to feed their chicks, with the house sparrows which are nesting in the box just ten feet from the empty feeders on the other side of our garden shed. So long as we kept them filled the spuggies came daily to the feeders, but they will hunt for insects and larvae in the hawthorn tree beside the shed, and amongst the leaf mould, to feed their young until they are old enough to be introduced to weed seeds in the hedgerows.

For the time being we don’t have the same range of species visiting the garden but the countryside hasn’t fallen silent because I have stopped feeding the birds. And it never takes long for the jungle drums to get the word out when we start feeding again in the autumn.

I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to the summertime feeding question but perhaps there’s an expert out there who can provide it.

First cuckoo
The Doyenne saw her first swallow of the season as she drove past Gossesslie Farm, between Fettercairn and Upper Northwaterbridge. She’s beaten me to it but I reckon I can trump her – on Tuesday afternoon, walking with Inka, I heard my first cuckoo calling in woods near Fettercairn.

It called for less than a minute which makes me think it may have been in transit to a final destination like Glenesk. At one time, from June to September, the glen was alive with cuckoo calls. It’s a different story today and for reasons, not all altogether understood, there has been a serious decline in the numbers coming to the British Isles to breed. They are on the RSPB’s Red List, meaning they are considered to be a species under threat.

I’m thankful to see a rising sun and blue skies as I finish this week’s piece – I might hear bumble bees foraging amongst the spring flowers or see another butterfly.

I’ve seen a small tortoiseshell which had wintered indoors and woken from its hibernation, an early peacock and a couple of small white butterflies. The recent heavy rains seem to have sent the rest into a dwaum – at least, temporarily. I’m ready for some more colour in my life.

Written on Saturday, May 9th, 2015 at 9:05 am for Weekly.