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.

The sounds and sights of spring

April 1st, 2017

DSC04195NEVER MIND the first day of spring, last weekend and Monday’s blue skies and sunny weather had me wondering if we’d skipped straight into the first days of summer. It was good to leave my jacket behind and feel the heat of the sun on my face when I took Inka for his afternoon walk.

On Monday we went round by the lochan at the foot of Glenesk. I wasn’t expecting to see greylag geese but I heard them and called Inka into heel. A pack of five were grazing beside the loch. I couldn’t hope to creep up on such wary birds unnoticed and they took to the water and joined another pair.

Greylag normally pair for life and the pair in the picture are displaying classic courtship behaviour of parallel swimming with the male behind with his neck fluffed out. Another recognised mating ritual involves both birds swimming in parallel, their bodies low in the water but heads, wings and tails raised.

The loch’s wildfowl population increases temporarily in the springtime, but I’ve never seen it so busy. I slipped into my favourite seat at the foot of the elderly beech tree in the corner of the wood where I can watch the activity on the whole loch, although most of it happens on the far shore across from my lookout.

For as long as I’ve walked there oystercatchers have gathered on its shore in the spring before pairing up to nest and this year there seem twice as many as usual. They are such busy birds, always on the move, chattering with their sharp calls amongst themselves. For no apparent reason small packs take flight to unknown destinations, returning shortly with shrill cries of pleasure at being reunited with the ones that stayed behind.

Behind their lochside roost the grass field rises gently to the edge of a wood. Mallard duck had come off the water and were dozing in the sunshine on the south facing slope. For an hour I sat with my binoculars watching the dabchicks and crested duck – the drakes’ tufted crest on the back of their heads lifting in the breeze – diving to feed and popping up again like corks.

I picked out drake wigeon paddling about the rushes. A croaky kurruk call from the rushes in front of my hide gave away the moorhen that was waiting for me to go away and let it get on with its life. A single redshank flew in to join the oystercatchers on the shoreline. They are normally sociable birds but at this time they disperse to pair up and nest.

I heard, but couldn’t see because they were hidden by the trees behind me, the fluid trill of curlews – whaups, the old Scottish name my father used for them. Their bubbling song is associated with spring and mating and it is encouraging to hear them because, with a decline of some 60% in the UK population alone, there is concern amongst conservation organisations about the species’ future.

Many years ago, walking with son Robert in Glenesk we disturbed a curlew off her nest in deep heather. The three olive eggs, heavily spotted with dark brown, seemed improbably large for such a slim bird to lay. As indeed they are, but they have to accommodate a chick with the long, wading legs it needs for the coastal estuaries and wetlands where it feeds.

Skeletal, dead pine trees line the far bank, their roots drowned when the level of the lochan rose some time far in the past. The Doyenne finds them creepy but they have provided handy resting perches for rooks and jackdaws, buzzards and occasional cormorants and sparrow hawks.

For twenty minutes I watched a red kite surveying its world from the topmost branches, its rusty brown plumage glowing in the sun and its distinctive forked tail clearly visible. They were faced with near extinction not so very long ago but have made a comeback and are again a feature of The Mearns landscape.

Walking back to the car a woodcock rose from rough grass beside the track and flitted off ahead of us, jouking and jinking low between the trees. Essentially a wading bird with a long, straight beak but short legs, they have become a bird of the woodland. Their russet plumage and barred head and breast are completely at harmony with its surroundings and, for me, they are probably the most appealing of the woodland birds.

Woodcock have a short, stiff pin feather on the elbow joint of each wing which was prized by Victorian artists for painting very fine lines. As was the way in those days, sometimes the birds were shot just for those two small feathers.

Autumn migrants from northern Europe augment our resident breeding population but, sadly, there are conservation concerns for the woodcocks’ future too. As man and his activities increase, wildlife diminishes, which seems to be the way of the world until we humans seriously make up our minds to turn some of our ideas around.

Written on Saturday, April 1st, 2017 at 8:54 am for Weekly.