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.

Feathering of spring nests

March 26th, 2016

DSC03299I PUT up another nesting box last Sunday evening. It wasn’t even eight o’clock the following morning when the Doyenne called me to the window to watch a pair of tree sparrows, which had taken up immediate occupancy, flying into the box with beaks full of nesting material.

Cleaning old nests out of the nesting boxes is one of the autumn chores and I often find the cup of the nests lined with soft feathers. I picked up a dead pheasant from the roadside, a hit and run victim, and plucked several handfuls of small feathers from its legs and neck and breast.

Back home I threw some of the feathers onto the grass in the back garden. Our pair of sparrows swooped down and flew off with a feather each. Several house sparrows soon spotted the useful nesting material and helped themselves too until they were chased off by a bully of a starling which filled its beak with the remainder. Another handful disappeared as quickly.

It was an informative exercise as I hadn’t expected so much nesting activity so early. It’s good to know that our garden songbird chicks will be cosy when they hatch out. Now we’re just waiting for tenants for the other nesting box.

What a miracle of creation a bird’s nest is. If we humans could build such complex constructions so quickly there would never be a housing shortage.

Old and new
Spring is gathering pace. Out driving, the last few fields of faded stubbles are disappearing under the plough. But mostly it’s a patchwork of brown soil, and sowing the coming season’s crop is in full swing. Squads of daffodil pickers are out in the bulb fields, bent double – it’s work for young backs.

The catkins on the alder trees beside the burn running past the house are starting to die. They turn into dry, hard little cones which remain on the branches until the following spring. There’s a hazel tree on one of our walks which produces loads of slender, hanging catkins in the spring but only a handful ever turn into the sweet nuts which attract the squirrels in the autumn. And March is the month for the furry lime-coloured pussy willows. I’ll cut some branches for the Doyenne to use in her flower arrangements.

Earlier in the week Inka and I took a turn round the policies of the Burn House, near Edzell. It’s a familiar walk as the Doyenne and I lived there in the Courtyard House for six very happy years.

It was perfect for dogs because we opened the back door and walked straight into woodland. We had Inka One then, the current Inka’s grandfather, and Macbeth of course, who regarded himself as the unquestionable king of the midden.

The Burn House was built in 1796 by General Lord Adam Gordon who was head of the army in Scotland. He was also one of the early great agricultural improvers with a particular interest in planting trees on much of his estate. So the grounds are protected from the vagaries of the weather by tall stands of mature beech trees more than 200 years old.

The snowdrops are dying back but there’s a good show of daffodils in the sheltered corners, and lenten lilies are flowering in the beds round the house. Crocuses are in full bloom and primroses are out along the drive. In a shaded spot beneath a beech tree the first violet-blue periwinkle flowers have appeared. Gleaming splashes of golden-yellow gorse blossom illuminate the roadside verges. Colour is returning to the countryside.

Easter memories
Last Sunday was the vernal or spring equinox, traditionally the first day of spring, when the days get longer and brighter. There was a full moon on Wednesday night and Easter is always the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. The phases of the moon, which govern the date of Easter, are never the same year on year which is why Easter is called a moveable feast.

Sir George Cockerill was Director of Special Intelligence (which became MI5) during the First World War, with responsibility for counter espionage, censorship and propaganda. On retirement he bought a handsome holiday house in Montrose called Grey Harlings, which sits beside the 1st tee of the Medal Golf Course, on the way to the beach. My parents were often invited to the house for parties when Sir George came north, and once in a while my sister and I were included too.

As Easter presents Sir George gave dark chocolate cockerels, about sixteen inches high, which were specially made for him by Harrods in London. My sister and I were lucky to be on the present list and my sister remembers calling these special treats, “chockerills”.

This was in the early 1950s when there was still a mood of post-World War Two austerity and our mother dealt out the rich chocolate sparingly to make it last.

Don’t forget that clocks go forward tomorrow morning. If you turn up for church as everyone is leaving you’ll know that an error has crept in!

Written on Saturday, March 26th, 2016 at 8:36 am for Weekly.