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.

Little auk rescue in full flow

January 16th, 2016

DSC03180IT’S BEEN good this week to see the countryside return to something like normality although there is still so much water sloshing around it hardly feels like winter.

Tuesday looked as though it might fair up. I was fed up with weeks of rain-sodden fields and mist-cloaked hills. I wanted a longer view – to look into the distance – and the best place for that seemed to be the beach and the sea.

Bundling Inka into the car, I drove to the SNH nature reserve at St Cyrus. I hoped I might see some of the little auks that have been in the news, blown onshore by the recent stormy weather. Another dog walker, living between Edzell and Fettercairn had rescued one, exhausted, in her garden which was taken by the RSPB to their recovery unit for subsequent release.

I popped into the reserve office to catch up on the news with Therese Alampo and Simon Ritchie.

Dead little auks have been washed up on the beach and I learned that conditions have been right for a “wreck” of seabirds to occur. This is the description given when large numbers of seabirds die as a result of stormy weather at sea.

Turbulent seas, such as there have been in recent weeks, make it difficult for the seabirds to see to hunt their prey. Storm blown and hungry, they can quickly die.

However, some species have benefitted from the adverse weather. In several saturated fields oystercatchers, curlews and redshanks were busily probing into the soft mud with their long beaks for the molluscs and worms which had come to the surface as the water receded.

Nature’s ways
I was disappointed I heard too late about the leatherback turtle that was washed up dead in St Cyrus Bay. I’d much rather have seen it live and swimming in the sea but it would have been interesting to see such an unusual casualty and one which we are unlikely to see again on Scotland’s east coast.

A volunteer who helped drag the carcase above the tide line to await collection for delivery to the marine research laboratory, told me that by the time she got to it the eye sockets were empty, most likely pecked out by seagulls. Nature isn’t slow to take advantage of an easy meal.

By the time Inka and I started our walk it was raining steadily. On the beach we turned south towards the rivermouth of the North Esk. Shingle and trees have been cast up on the shore and some of the timber would have been brought down the river on the spate.

The white finger of Scurdie Ness Lighthouse, at the south end of Montrose Bay, appeared intermittently through the spindrift blown off the crests of the waves. It was storm conditions such as we have experienced recently that was the reason for it being built, and its flashing light must have provided comfort to countless mariners, especially in the days of sail.

I was drenched by the time we got back to the car, but the cobwebs had been blown away and Inka had had a grand work out. There was little bird activity along the shore but I had a brief sight of a short eared owl hunting amongst the dunes. As we drove away the rain stopped and a weak sun blinked out of the clouds.

On Wednesday the sun rose in a near cloudless sky and I decided to drive to the top of Cairn o’ Mount to take in the views. I didn’t expect the snow gates at Clatterin’ Brig, at the foot of the Cairn brae, to be closed.

Ice may have been the cause. I know from experience what a nightmare it can be trying to negotiate the last sharp bends on the east side of the summit in icy conditions. I’ve had to turn back because of vehicles scattered across the road, unable to go further.

Determined drivers
On one occasion the Doyenne was having high tea in the Clatterin’ Brig restaurant overlooking the snow gates which had been closed. She watched several drivers who clearly were incapable of understanding plain English and were determined to drive over the hill. Two got out of their cars and tested the padlock, obviously hoping to be able to open the gates. Another, in a low Mini, tried to drive under them.

It’s quite amusing in the telling, but it illustrates how inconsiderate some drivers can be. And they would have looked to the emergency services to come to their rescue in the event of an accident.

I was in the company of farmers earlier in the week. I asked what effect the flooding in the fields had on crops like winter wheat and oil seed rape which were sown in the autumn.

After an initial burst of growth the green shoots go into an agricultural suspended animation over the winter months. They can survive for a period under water but the plants will die if their roots can’t get oxygen, and the crop must be resown in the spring.

Written on Saturday, January 16th, 2016 at 10:28 am for Weekly.