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.

Welcome visitors in winter

December 19th, 2015

DSC03125LAST WEEK I reported that I’d just put out the bird feeders as the hard weather was beginning to bite. The response from the birds was almost instantaneous. Within an hour the feeders were mobbed with the local house sparrows, chaffinches, great tits with their sooty waistcoats and coal tits.

It’s been my experience that the blue tits almost all disappear from the garden at the outset of winter. They retreat into the comparative warmth and shelter of the woods and forage about in the tree canopy where they can find plenty of the insects they need. Coal tits, the smallest of the tit family, take their place in the garden over winter and disappear back into the woodlands in the spring.

Life is pretty precarious for the small garden songbirds when the frosts come. They don’t build up large fat reserves and during winter their day is spent almost ceaselessly hunting for food to ensure they have the extra energy needed to keep warm during the long winter nights.

Bramblings are winter migrants and I’ve missed seeing them in the garden for several years, but they have returned and are daily visitors. At a glance they might be mistaken for cock chaffinches but bramblings have dark head plumage. Both have pinkish-brown breast plumage but the bramblings’ colouring extends only half way down the body.

Exotic goldfinches, a striking mix of scarlet, white, black, yellow and brown are always welcome visitors. Throughout the morning there’s a constant shuttle of pairs feeding on the niger seeds.

Friendly robin
I’d not long started tidying up a dark corner of the garden, getting rid of the last of the autumn leaves when a robin slipped through the fence. It was almost as if he – or it might have been she, because males and females share the same plumage – had been waiting for me, and he began hunting over the grass for bugs and creepy crawlies disturbed by the raking.

They are pugnacious little birds and very trusting of people – indeed they have an affinity with humans that other garden birds take much longer to acquire. More than most other garden birds they take us humans very much as they find us. There is a well-known photograph of the noted ornithologist, Lord Grey of Fallodon, with a robin which greeted him whenever he went into his garden, perching on his hat.

Jackdaws come visiting, attracted by the peanuts and chasing off the small birds. They have their place in the family of birds and need food as much as any of the others. They don’t stay long because their beaks are too large to get into the small holes in the metal feeder to peck out the nuts, and they soon leave in a cloud of black frustration.
South African curlers
For the past ten years the Doyenne and I have joined a party of South African students staying at the Burn House, near Edzell. The students are a multi ethnic, multi racial group, the top undergraduates of their respective universities and winners of travel bursaries from the Sir Abe Bailey Trust.

Their annual visit to Scotland is the culmination of a three week trip to the UK.
Members of Brechin Rotary Club introduce them to Scotland’s first national sport of curling. The only ice most of them have seen has come out of the freezer compartment in the fridge so walking, sliding, playing and falling on it is a very different cultural experience to take home.

Sooner or later one of these students will go home fired up with enough enthusiasm to build an ice rink and introduce curling to the sub-tropics, and it all will have started in Courier country.

Talking about their wildlife one student told me that there are more than 900 species of birds in the part of South Africa she comes from. Inevitably she asked me how many species we have in Scotland and I had to admit that I didn’t know.

A benefit of being a man with two dogs is usually knowing a man – or a woman – who knows the things I don’t. I phoned a very experienced ornithologist who advised that as at September 2015 the Scottish Bird List stood at 523. I shall be keeping that up my sleeve for future use.

Mobile shops
Fifty years ago when I brought the Doyenne as a bride to live in the old manse at Logie Pert, near Marykirk, travelling grocery shops were commonplace serving the outlying country districts. The drift away from the countryside to towns, the rise in car ownership and the unstoppable growth of supermarkets eventually made it uneconomical to keep these vans on the road.

I don’t imagine the wheel will ever turn full circle with the return of a full grocery service but it is interesting that two fish vans serve the Mearns, and a travelling butcher clearly finds it worthwhile to come all the way from Coupar Angus to Fettercairn.

Tradition has a way of reinventing itself and perhaps we’ll see more services taking to the roads to serve the country communities.

Written on Saturday, December 19th, 2015 at 10:16 am for Weekly.