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.

Flights of fancy with sting in the tail

August 18th, 2018

A fortnight ago I wrote about what seemed a near infestation of hoverflies in the garden, but I see from the Scottish Wildlife Trust blog that mine is not an isolated experience and there has been a population explosion throughout much of Scotland.

Hoverflies are cold blooded insects which come out in hot weather and the long, hot dry period will have aided their reproduction.  The ones in the garden are the attractively named marmalade hoverflies which look like a cross between a wasp and a honey bee, with narrow, wasp-like stripes but with lighter body colouring and lacking the “wasp waist”.

Unfair bad press

Because wasps have a painful sting they get a bad press which they don’t really deserve for they are another of the countryside’s valuable pollinators.  They also prey on smaller insect pests which they feed to their larvae, providing an important social service to gardeners.

We have become conditioned to swatting wasps which come into the house in search of sugar which is why they are so often found clustering round the rim of open jam jars.  But this year there has been a distinct drop in their numbers.  So much so that I have been trapping the occasional intruders in the house in a glass and releasing them outdoors – which we all should be doing anyway.

And what a miracle of nature’s ingenuity their nests – bykes in Scotland – are, constructed of paper made from chewed wood pulp mixed with their saliva, in which they lay their eggs.  Our son James lives in a wooden eco-house and when conditions are very still he can hear wasps scraping at the wooden walls gathering the building material for their own.

When I brought the Doyenne home as a bride of scarce one summer, she used to drive an elderly neighbour to Marykirk Post Office every Monday to collect his pension.  Jim had worked locally on farms all his life, and almost entirely within the boundaries of Angus. The Doyenne came from Bradford, and was keen to integrate. They enjoyed racy conversations all the way to Marykirk and back but neither understood a word the other was saying!

One Monday Jim warned her about – “twa bykes i’ the (garden) dyke”. To a Yorkshire lass a ‘byke’ is a bicycle and a ‘dyke’ a ditch.  She was profoundly nonplussed about the significance of the ‘two bicycles in the ditch’. It took a little serious explanation to get her round that one.

Butterfly moments

It’s been a strange summer for butterflies.  For weeks I have seen Large and Small Whites daily to the exclusion of almost all others.  I’m tempted to think this means they will be equally abundant next summer.  Past experience suggests otherwise.  Two years ago I reported counting 13 Red Admirals, 4 Peacocks, a Painted Lady and two Small Tortoiseshells and two species of bumble bee feeding on our buddleia.

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

Four years ago I came across clouds of Ringlets in a wooded area we walk in regularly. I stopped counting at sixty.  Several days later I went back and there was scarcely one to be seen.  And I haven’t seen any in the same spot since.  So an abundance one year seems to be no indication of what to expect the next.

Three unusual visitors, and a first for me, were daytime flying moths feeding on the buddleia.  I’m not good on moths – day or night time flying – so I sent a photo of one to Dundee Botanic Gardens who kindly identified it as a Silver Y, so-called because there is a silver Y marking on the brown wings.

Some of our other moths have the strangest names which seem to have no relevance to their appearance.  What do you make of Vapourer or Common Footman?  On the other hand the Gipsy Moth has entered aviation legend as the plane – De Havilland Gipsy Moth biplane – flown by Amy Johnson, pioneering English pilot and first woman to fly solo to Australia.

The sun was shining and after a bowl of sustaining soup at The Retreat in Glenesk I decided to take Inka a walk further up the glen.  I took the turning off to Dalbrack and we walked back along the river.  The comforting monotony of running water hurrying on its way clears the mind of the clutter of everyday life.

I found a sheltered spot and was soon lost in my own thoughts.  Inka never goes far and I lay back in the sun.  I awoke to find my faithful hound stretched out beside me.  He leapt to his feet impatient to be up and going again.  There are moments when I don’t share his enthusiasm.

As an ornithological – or perhaps it should be a pharmacopœial – aside, in the Middle Ages goose dung was recommended as a remedy for wasp stings but I’m afraid you just can’t get it over the counter any more.

Written on Saturday, August 18th, 2018 at 9:29 am for Weekly.