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.

Buddleia butterfly bonanza

September 10th, 2016

dsc03716I’LL BEGIN this week’s piece with an update on our butterflies which have been putting on a colourful show and providing a great deal of pleasure.

Last Sunday morning conditions for butterflies waking up hungry and hunting for nectar were ideal. There was heat in the sun from about 7.30 and the Doyenne and I watched Red Admirals coming to feed on the blue buddleia outside the bedroom window.

By 10 o’clock I counted 13 Red Admirals, 4 Peacocks, a Painted Lady and two Small Tortoiseshells. Two species of bumble bee were also busily feeding.

The same weekend last year I reported seeing six or eight Red Admirals, a Painted Lady and a Small White.

I’ve no doubt readers can report better numbers but our garden, as a butterfly and bee-friendly one, is only two years old. It’s encouraging to get such results so soon. We look forward to next year when our planting will have matured further, producing more blossom and attracting more visitors.

I shall be reporting my sightings to Butterfly Conservation, see www.butterfly-conservation.org . This website provides a wealth of useful information for readers interested in knowing more about butterflies and moths, and the charity will always welcome new members.

Two unrelated items have come my way in the past week. The first, a small sepia Victorian postcard which I found in an envelope amongst my mother’s old photographs – why do we wait years to go through our ancestors’ papers?

Some readers may be surprised to learn that the North and South Esk rivers in Angus are not the only ones in Scotland. There are also the Lothian North and South Esks – the North which rises in the Pentland Hills and the South rising in the Moorfoots in the Borders.

They converge not far from the town of Dalkeith to form the River Esk which flows a short half dozen miles to join the Firth of Forth at Musselburgh, scene of my childhood prep school which overlooks the river.

The Lothian North Esk runs along the foot of the historic village of Lasswade. In the eighteenth century, before a bridge was built, foot travellers wanting to cross the river’s ford were carried on the back of a local lass, Jenny, whose service is reputed to have been the origin of the village’s name.

My postcard shows Jenny carrying a well-to-do gentleman brandishing a stick, preceded by his dog. My Loanhead aunties up the road used to quote the short verse accompanying the picture –
When there was nae Brig to cross the Esk river, / On Jenny’s braid back they a’ gaed the gither, / For Jenny was honest, stout, sober and steady / She carried the Laird, she carried his leddy, / Whin he was richt seated the doggie first gaed / Then waving his stick he cried “Jenny Lass – Wade”.

In fairness to Jenny, I don’t think the reference to ‘stout’ in the poem is a comment on her figure but rather that she was sturdy and strong. She likely would need to be to deal with passengers who really were stout! It’s a little story that has everything that Man with Two Dogs thrives on – memories, social history, a dog and vernacular poetry.

As a historical aside, the pub in the village is called the Laird and Dog which the Doyenne and I used to pop into when we lived in nearby Dalkeith, the first year we were married.

The other item is the diary of a keen observer of nature and birdlife. Most of his observations are local but he recorded sightings from the English south coast to the Outer Hebrides.

He knew his birds, identifying chiffchaffs, goldcrests and bar-tailed godwits. He records an albino chaffinch, which I have never seen; and an albino pheasant – which I have.

Spotted flycatchers and purple sandpipers are unusual summer migrants which appear in his lists. Also cirl buntings, and a shrike, which he could only have seen on his visits south. I was amused by his name, Yaffingale, for the green woodpecker. I suspect it is local to an English county rather than to Scotland. The yaffle is the name given to the green woodpecker’s strange, mocking call.

These informal records can be important. Bird populations and species numbers change over the years, sadly downwards more often than not these days. The diary goes back to the 1990s but it contains data on sightings and comparative numbers which are part of a bigger picture.

I’m delighted to have received such an interesting local record and grateful that the family feel I can be entrusted to give it a good home.

The north-east doesn’t suffer from the feared Scottish midge in the way the north-west does. For the next few weeks, if you should find yourself plagued by midgie-type buzzers when out walking with your dog, they are almost certainly harvest flies. They are as pestilential as midges but their bite isn’t as vicious as their west coast cousins’, and they are a temporary nuisance which will be gone by October.

Written on Saturday, September 10th, 2016 at 8:53 pm for Weekly.