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.

All at sea on the lake

July 22nd, 2017

025AFTER LUNCH on Monday I couldn’t stand sitting indoors any longer so I closed my computer and set off with Inka through the woods to Fasque Lake to see what activity there was now that the busiest part of the breeding season is coming to an end.

The sun was beating down and we were hot by the time we got to the lake. Inka slipped into the water for a cooling swim.

A pair of swans – they pair for life – and eight cygnets starting to lose their sooty-grey juvenile plumage, glided across the lake, stopping occasionally while the whole family went bottoms up to feed on the aquatic plants. Their nest must have been well hidden by the high rushes round the edge of the lake for I’d not seen any signs of it, but it was a pleasure to sit for a while and watch their close-knit family relationship.

Electric-blue damselflies were out in force, skimming over the water and resting on the flags and sedges. Some had paired up and were mating, which is a fairly brief event.

Damsel flies and dragonflies are related and can be mistaken for each other as they both have two sets of wings. But dragonflies are bigger and more aggressive-looking insects and hold their wings out from their body like aeroplane wings when at rest. Damselflies fold their wings down their backs.

The lake has a population of little grebes, or dabchicks as they are better known in Scotland. They are shy birds, tending to keep close to the cover of reeds and rushes, so it is difficult to know just what numbers there are.

At this time of year they are quite vocal. Their call – a rippling trill – is surprisingly loud and carrying for such a small bird. It is part of their courtship display and, as they will rear two broods in a season, some of them are thinking about nesting again.

The RSPB website is a useful resource to hear the calls of all our British birds.
Click on Birds A-Z and scroll down to Little Grebe to hear their bubbling call.

Sand and sea
My spirits rose as Tuesday dawned as bright and sunny as Monday and I answered the call to go down to the sea.

By the time I got to the car park at the St Cyrus nature reserve visitor centre it was filling up, and families were on the beach enjoying the sea and the sand. It’s good to let Inka run off his excess energy but long ago I accepted that he will never learn that drinking seawater simply makes him thirstier.

Something unusual was going on in the sea. Hundreds of gulls, mostly herring gulls and black headed gulls, were wheeling and diving in the shallows. It was something I’d only ever seen once before.

A shoal of sprats or herring fry (immature fish, whitebait size) had swum, or perhaps been driven by mackerel, into the shore and the gulls were having a feeding frenzy on the helpless fish.

Some, in their desperation to escape their predators, had flung themselves onto the shore. Kind hearted bathers were picking them up and putting them back in deeper water, not realising they were returning them to the death they were trying to escape.

The picture shows the scrambling mass of feeding birds. I can’t usually get so close but the gulls were intent only on hoovering up the little fish while the opportunity lasted. You can’t anticipate a natural event like this – it’s just being in the right place at the right time

About quarter of a mile offshore I saw the splashes of gannets diving into the sea, possibly after mackerel. They may have come down from Troup Head on the Moray coast or, more likely, up from the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. As the tide receded taking the shoal of sprats with it, the gannets came inshore too.

Inka was taking an unhealthy interest in a tawny lion’s mane jellyfish which was stranded on the beach until the next high tide. I presume their tentacles can still sting when they are out of the water but I saw no sense in letting him test the theory and taking him home with a throbbing nose.

Two’s company
I really couldn’t enjoy a day like this on my own and phoned the Doyenne at her office and told her to drop everything and I’d collect her and we’d come down together for the afternoon.

I’ve known St Cyrus beach all my life and it was good to see so many families and youngsters enjoying the freedom. The Doyenne and I walked along sand that was warm under the feet. We paddled but, guess what, we’d forgotten our dookin’ suits.

At the margin of the low tide we found what looked like a glistening, gelatinous, old-fashioned, string mop head. It was a squid egg sac. They get washed up on beaches often after spring tides when low tides are lower than average.

Written on Saturday, July 22nd, 2017 at 8:56 pm for Weekly.