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.

Festive flights of fancy

December 12th, 2015

P1030762THE DOYENNE and I took advantage of last Sunday’s good weather to deal with all the garden jobs that we’d been finding excuses to put off for the last month or so.

There seem to be two lines of thought about cutting back dead flower heads and leaves. One is to leave it till spring and the old growth will provide protection for the plants in severe weather. The other is to do it now, or earlier, and the plants will survive anyway.

The Doyenne is one for doing it now. It’s most satisfying and relieves the conscience to see tidy flower beds and pruned shrubs.

Nesting boxes
I cleaned out the one nesting box that was occupied this year. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 you may only clean out boxes between August and January. Some birds have two if not three broods a season and should not be disturbed during their extended breeding period.

Keep an eye on the box for several days for any late activity before you open it as even August may be too early. Some years ago I wrote about Macbeth disturbing a hen pheasant and finding a nest with seven eggs on 13th September. As the shooting season for pheasants starts on 1st October, that was late. I wouldn’t expect to find eggs much after July. And I recall a swallow producing a brood in the garage at much the same time when it should have been enjoying the heat of a South African summer. As with so much in nature, there are no hard and fast rules about nesting times.

Old nests can get pretty fousty and attract unwanted insects and parasites. Boxes should be scoured out and sterilised with boiling water only; don’t use proprietary chemicals or detergents which can stay in the wood and affect delicate chicks next spring. And you’ll be doing your garden birds a favour if you put a little hay – not straw, which attracts bugs – in the bottom of the box and hang it up again as a warm roost when the severe weather comes.

And I’ve only just put out the bird feeders. It’s been a good autumn for winter berries but they are past their best now and I want to keep the song birds coming to the garden.

Red kites return
A year ago I wrote about an invasion of red kites in the woods at the foot of Glenesk. I was told later that eighty one had been counted one night roosting in the trees. When spring came they dispersed over just a couple of days to mate and breed. They are one of a number of species of bird, like mute swans, that pair for life.

A reader phoned to alert me that they are back again and the Doyenne and I went looking for them on Sunday afternoon. Enigmatic birds – one moment we were looking at an empty sky, the next, half a dozen kites had shimmered in, floating effortlessly on the wind on long slender wings and steering with their unmistakeable deeply forked tail. We stopped counting when we got to fifty.

Kites are principally carrion feeders as their claws are not as strong for killing as other raptors’, but they are quite capable of taking rabbits and small birds. Undoubtedly many will fly long distances each day to feed, but one has to wonder where they find enough food locally for such numbers, and the effect such numbers has on the local populations of small mammals and birds.

On Monday I took Inka up to the wee loch at the foot of the glen. A fine mist was falling and even at half past two we were walking in Stygian gloom. The reflection of the trees cast a deep shadow on the water. It was clear from the noise, because I could hardly see to the other side of the loch, that there were considerably more mallard than usual. I also heard the familiar whistle of several wigeon and presume that the visitors had sought shelter inland from the unsettled weather on the coast.

What a fleg I got when a large cock pheasant, big enough to be in his second year, rose at my feet with a tremendous clatter. Listening to the throb of his wings in the still air brought home just how heavy pheasants are and how hard they have to work to get airborne, climbing sharply to clear the trees, and get themselves up to getaway speed.

Christmas rituals
My hunter-gatherer instinct has reminded me it is time to look for holly for Christmas decorations. When we lived at Logie Pert we had a marvellous holly tree in the garden that faithfully produced berries every year, but it’s hard to find holly trees in the wild. I had two local sources but one was effectively destroyed when a neighbouring tree blew down on it.

As the Doyenne gets into the annual routine of the mince pie conveyer belt, the kitchen is filled with the seductive aroma of her sweet pastry. What chance has my shadow of ever diminishing!

Written on Saturday, December 12th, 2015 at 5:39 pm for Weekly.