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.

Foxy problems and sticky solutions

June 23rd, 2018

We think of sticky willy as a tiresome weed that leaves its seed pods sticking to our clothes.  It’s the plant’s way of spreading its seed and it would normally rely on passing animals such as rabbits or foxes catching the sticky burrs in their fur and depositing them along the way.

It’s in flower just now and, along with heath bedstraw, their tiny star-shaped, four-petalled flowers must be about the smallest wildflowers of our countryside.  It’s another of these sparks of colour that I so enjoy seeing when Inka and I are out walking.

I’ve read that country folk used to make a cold infusion or tea with the young leaves.  And the dried seeds were ground up to make a coffee substitute, which must have required a tremendous number of seeds for even one cup.

I suspect most of us take grasses pretty much for granted – part of the countryside greenery – and we wish we didn’t have to cut the grass in the garden because it just encourages it to grow again.

At this time the variety of wild grasses adds real interest to country walks – with or without dogs.  There are tall grasses and short grasses, pale grasses and straw coloured ones and some with a purplish tinge.  Some have pointy heads, some densely tufted heads and others are quite fern-like.  I find it calming to sit by the side of a stream watching these elegant plants bending and dancing in the breeze to the accompaniment of the running water.

The Doyenne and I came back from holiday in Moidart to find a pair of house martins had built a nest under our eaves.  Two years ago a nest which had been built on wood cladding dried out and fell to the ground.  There was a single, very newly hatched chick in it which I could not save.

Last year a pair started building, flying in with beakfuls of mud.  I made the mistake of cutting the grass when the nest was in the early stages.  The noise of the mower seemed to have been enough to frighten the birds into deserting, for the nest was never completed.  So we’re hopeful that this year’s pair will successfully hatch a new family.

Missing migrants

In past years perhaps a hundred sand martins – it’s near impossible to count them as they dip and swoop through the sky – have returned from wintering in south Africa to nest in a small sand quarry not far from home.  Numbers have dropped to around a dozen this year but they seem to be busy feeding young in the nesting chambers they’ve excavated two or three feet into the sand banks.

I see fewer swallows hunting over the ponds and lochans that Inka and I regularly walk to.  And so far I haven’t seen a swift – indeed they seem to be an endangered species in our part of The Mearns.  They are the first of the summer migrants to leave for their wintering grounds in Africa and if I don’t see one soon I may not see any this year.

But there’s renewed activity in one of the garden nesting boxes and it looks as though one of the pairs of tree sparrows has started a second brood.

There’s been fledgling activity elsewhere in the garden.  For twenty minutes I sat watching a parent pied wagtail feed a fledged chick sitting in the grass hardly ten feet away.  Neither bird paid the least attention to me.  The parent bird was run ragged hunting for insects while the chick loudly demanded food.

Another success story has been the pair of swans that nested on Fasque Lake and produced the four cygnets in the picture.  I first saw them three weeks ago just before we left for Moidart when they were newly hatched and just balls of downy fluff – they leave the nest and are ready to take to the water a couple of days after hatching.  Mute swans pair for life and are good parents and both adults will look after their young until they are ready to fly at around four months.

Curious remedy

It is extraordinary the solutions that people find to problems.  My sister, who lives in Brighton and has been staying with us, tells us that she is plagued by six grey squirrels which eat the buds on her camellias, attracted to them because they are sweet.  She hasn’t found an answer to that problem but believes she has discovered how to discourage the urban fox that has been causing damage in the garden.

The local pet shop told her that the smell of human hair is a deterrent, so she has spread hair cut-offs from her hairdresser round the damaged plants and at the fox’s entry point to the garden.  It seemed to be working before she left to come north but she will know better when she goes home.  For good measure she also spread red hot chilli powder on the ground in case the hair doesn’t work.

Written on Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 at 6:07 pm for Weekly.