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.

Sweet end to country tale

August 4th, 2018

It’s been a random week, nothing outstanding but nonetheless plenty of interest in the garden and when Inka and I are out together.  So this week’s column is what I call a sack of shakings – a mélange, a mixter-maxter of odds and ends.

The hot weather has brought squadrons of hoverflies to the garden.  For days the yellow Hypericum blossom  and blue Solanum have been covered with the small, honey bee-like insects which are part of the vital network of pollinating insects.

Their larvae are useful too, eating aphids such as greenfly, one of the gardener’s most destructive pests.  I remember visiting an old gardener with my father who planted rows of flowers between his rows of vegetables to attract the pollinating hoverflies.  They laid their eggs and the resultant larvae provided a natural, beneficial greenfly control – a win, win situation.

Bumble bees come to the Solanum too.  As with so much of nature, I never think time spent watching them is wasted.  I’ve identified white-tailed bumblebees and the buff-tailed species and a garden bumblebee.  They collect pollen in pollen sacs like baggy yellow plus fours on their hind legs to take back to their nests.

The protracted period of hot weather hasn’t been good news for some of the garden songbirds.  The top soil has been baked hard by the strong sun and the blackbirds and thrushes cannot forage for the earthworms which are an important part of their diet.  Even if they could, the worms burrow deep into the ground beyond the length of their short bills.

I don’t put out the bird feeders at this time of year.  There’s plenty of natural food such as seeds and berries and insects in the fields and gardens and wild places, so the birds don’t need help from us.  Second, newly hatched chicks are vulnerable so long as they are in the nest.  They need a high protein diet to ensure rapid growth, which they will get from the insects and caterpillars which the parent birds forage for and which are more suited to the young birds’ digestion.

There is continued activity at the nesting box occupied by the tree sparrows which I can see from my study window.  They incubate their eggs for about ten days and the chicks are ready to fly after another fortnight, so it looks as though this pair could be sitting on a third clutch of eggs.  And we think the house martins must be feeding a second brood.  We see them from our sitting room window constantly flying in and out of their nest in the eaves.

Teazles – Luthermuir weeds they used to call them – grow alongside the track to Capo quarry where Inka and I walk.  Luthermuir was a centre of the linen weaving trade, which at its height employed more than 200 weavers working from home. Teazles were used in the finishing process of linen production and each weaver grew his own supply in his cottage garden – hence the origin of the name.

They are in flower just now.  The heads change from pale green to a bonny thistle purple, starting with a wide band round the middle which broadens out until the whole head has bloomed.  They are another rich source of nectar for bumblebees and hoverflies.

Look out not to tread on tiny froglets, newly metamorphosed from their tadpole stage, leaving their breeding ponds and making hazardous journeys to unknown new territories.  They reckon only five out of 2000 eggs survive to grow to adult frogs so these tiny, hardy pioneers deserve every chance to make it in their froggy world.

About this time it can seem as if the mallard drakes have deserted all their usual feeding and roosting spots.  The reality is that they have started their annual moult and are in their eclipse plumage.  They moult their flight feathers and are pretty well flightless and very vulnerable.  Their iridescent green head plumage loses its gloss and the birds generally look like scruffy, dowdy hen birds for about a  month.  By the end of September their new feathers will have grown in and they will be as handsome as ever.

It’s the time of year when the jam pot comes down from the loft and the Doyenne’s kitchen is filled with the bubbling of blackcurrants and redcurrants and strawberries for jams and jellies and, for all I know, with eye of newt and toe of frog bunged in for added flavour.

I’ve picked wild raspberries and by the time you read this they will have been boiled up into scrumptious wild raspberry jelly.  Five pounds of field rasps will become raspberry jam which the family descend on like gannets.

And a postscript – Inka cannot abide thunder and the storms last weekend had him whining at our bedroom door which is normally strictly out of bounds. We haven’t the heart to force him to endure it on his own so we let him spend the night sleeping at the side of the bed.

Written on Saturday, August 4th, 2018 at 9:20 am for Weekly.