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.

Still life is so second nature

July 7th, 2018

We’ve not had such a prolonged period of hot weather since 1976 and it’s affecting Inka.  On the plus side he enjoys the heat, running into the back garden and stretching out on the grass.

But Labradors were originally bred as water dogs, not by the fishermen of Labrador as their name suggests, but by the fishermen of Newfoundland to help pull fish-laden nets from the chilly Atlantic waters.  So on the minus side Inka’s water-repellent black pelt, developed by natural selection as a onesie hair shirt akin to a modern insulated wetsuit, is quite unsuited for such warmth.  He is torn between getting over-heated and panting like a runaway train or passing out if I wasn’t around to chase him into the shade.

Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting, and they sweat through their paws.  Walks are taken meantime later in the afternoon when the temperature has begun to drop and where there is shade under the trees at least part of the way, and the availability of water for Inka to flop into and cool off.

Butterflies and bees

It’s a strange year for butterflies.  Out on my walks I’ve seen an encouraging number of Small Whites but, with the exception of a single Small Tortoiseshell, no others.  I would have expected to have seen an occasional Peacock or a Ringlet by this time of the season.  Perhaps they are late in hatching and will appear with the Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.  We have a pink and a white buddleia (known as the butterfly bush because of its attraction for them) which have yet to flower and I’m pinning my hopes on getting a good showing once they do.

We planted our garden with bee-friendly flowers and shrubs in anticipation of attracting these useful pollinators.  A Solanum has been smothered in blue blossom which is a magnet for bumble bees.  They come to the clover in the grass too, but I haven’t seen a single honey bee in the garden.  I’ve heard similar concerns from several people and can only hope that the honey bees are thriving elsewhere.  We’ve enjoyed gifts of honey from our grandson Fergus’s hives and from the Doyenne’s nephew living in Northumberland and hope there will be enough for us again this autumn.

Wildflowers are more predictable.  Inka and I took a walk along the Kirkton Burn which runs through the home policies and gives its name to The Burn House and estate outside Edzell.  Water crowfoot, a pretty white-flowered aquatic buttercup, has appeared in the Kirkton Burn and I see rafts of it in the  ditches and burns on my travels.

There’s a great show of yellow mimulus and tall candelabra primulas at The Burn.  Mimulus, called the monkey flower, is said to resemble a monkey’s face.  I don’t see it – it’s much more like a snapdragon and I reckon the monkey idea is just another Victorian fantasy.  The protruding lower petal, or lip if you prefer, is marked with distinctive red spots which surely must have a folklore explanation, representing the blood of someone or something – can any reader help?

Waiting for nature

Much of what you read in this column comes from the walks I take with Inka when I look and listen and come home and write about what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard.  Sometimes it pays to let nature come to me.

I sat down on the bank of Fasque Lake in the baking sun and waited.  Inka lay down in my shadow.  A dabchick called from a bed of reeds – its rippling, chirrupping call is surprisingly loud for such a small bird.  The cygnets that I wrote about several weeks ago are filling out and learning to dabble, bottoms up, for the aquatic plants on the lake bottom that form the main part of their diet.  A mallard with a tail of five ducklings cruised past and a heron drifted silently overhead, landing on a wind-fall tree trunk lying in the water.

A flash of electric blue caught my attention.  It was an azure damselfly which had landed on the rushes.  It was joined by what my insect identification book tells me was a large red damselfly.

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

A pair of birds shot past close enough to touch and landed ten feet away in a patch of plantain and began to feed hungrily on the seeds.  It was a pair of bullfinches and it was a real treat to see them because I can remember clearly when and where I last saw only one of those handsome finches a dozen years ago.

Sit still and quiet, and before you know it the wildlife will accept you as part of the countryside and carry on living their lives as if you had always been there.

Written on Saturday, July 7th, 2018 at 8:56 am for Weekly.