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.

Thriving birds and beavers

August 6th, 2016

DSC03600WE THINK we have a third clutch of tree sparrow chicks ready to fledge and leave the security of the nesting box.

There are signs that tell us something about the nestlings’ progress. Accumulating droppings from a clutch of 4 or 5 chicks can become a health hazard in a small nest, and while the chicks are very young the parent birds eat their droppings. But we have watched the parents carry off white gelatinous sacs containing the droppings of the more mature chicks which are deposited away from the nest so as not to draw attention to it.

The best indicator that the chicks are close to leaving the nesting box is that whenever a parent bird arrives with food, a chick is poking its head out of the entrance hole waiting to be fed. We’ve watched the adults flying to the entrance and then dropping to the ground as if to coax the chicks to take their first, decisive step into the wider world and fly. By the time you read this they probably will have done.

The Doyenne and I have sat out in the warm evenings, enjoying a glass of wine, as the sun dips towards the horizon of the Glenesk hills. We’ve watched the swallows flying higher and higher over the village rooftops. There’s a country lore – and one should always be wary of country lore – that birds flying high is a prediction of good weather. I’m inclined to think there’s a far more straightforward explanation, that the insects they feed on fly higher in the evening air.

In the 18th and 19th centuries most of Scotland was in the ownership of major landowners. Their estates have mostly been broken up but the legacy of those who were agricultural improvers and botanists is seen in the woodlands they planted. Most were enthusiastic tree planters and, especially in the policies round the big hoose, they planted ornamental trees amongst the ubiquitous beeches and other hardwoods.

On my walks with Inka I come across occasional sweet, or Spanish, chestnut trees. Some are very old, their massive trunks deeply fissured and gnarled. They have narrow tapering, regularly toothed and glossy leaves and right now they are producing, pale yellow catkins – just one of the ways they differ from the more familiar horse chestnut, even though they share the same generic name.

The catkins transform into spiny casings containing up to three of the edible nuts we enjoy at Christmas roasted over a fire or in stuffing for the Christmas turkey. Only once have I found sweet chestnuts growing locally which were big enough to consider using for cooking. Our climate is generally too cold for the nuts to grow much bigger than beech mast which is why we rely on the imported ones.

Horse chestnuts produce their seeds a month earlier from clusters of white or pink flowers which grow into conkers enclosed in the thick, shiny shells which can be seen now growing on the branches.

Loch Dubh in Knapdale Forest in Argyll is the only place I’ve had a fleeting glimpse of the beavers reintroduced to Scotland under a trial approved by the Scottish government and run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They are shy animals, active mostly between dusk and dawn which makes sightings difficult.

However, over recent years there have been reports of increasing numbers of beavers, presumed originally to have been escapees from private animal collections but now living wild, which are populating the banks of the rivers Tay, the Earn and the Isla and their connecting burns and waterways.

Earlier in the week along the bank of the Kerbet Water, which flows into Forfar Loch, I saw evidence of their activities on the adjacent agricultural land. River bank trees and saplings have been most efficiently felled. The beavers’ two powerful front teeth remove chips as big as a 50p piece.

Their diet comprises bark from waterside hardwood trees such as willow, alder and birch which, once stripped off the base of the tree condemns it to die, and also roots and edible twigs and tubers. An easier option at this time of year is the ripening fields of corn which are not only a food source but presumably provide them with the cellulose that their digestive systems require.

A field of wheat looked as if there had been a botched attempt at making crop circles. It was the effect of beavers foraging further and further into the field to feed. At one point they had broken down a section of an old drystane dyke to gain access.

They are large, lumbering creatures on land as can be seen from the track they create. Left unchecked their numbers and activity will increase exponentially leaving a progressively intrusive footprint on the countryside.

I can’t say that I think there is anything inherently wrong with it but I have reservations, and generally find it hard to drum up enthusiasm, about reintroducing wild animals into a landscape which is so changed from the one that once was their natural habitat.

Written on Saturday, August 6th, 2016 at 9:13 pm for Weekly.