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.

Transitory birds but the music endures

September 22nd, 2018

A small feathered body, looking for all the world like a withered leaf, lay in the grass below our sitting room window.  It was a chiff chaff which had flown headlong into the glass and killed itself.  Probably the way the light was reflecting off the glass at the time confused the bird into thinking that the window space was safe to fly through.

Several days later a garden warbler lay dead too.  To prevent further accidents I stuck PostIt notes on the window panes to warn free-flying birds to bank sharply to avoid disaster.  I took the idea from gamekeepers hanging fence collision markers on the top strand of stock fences, making them more visible to fast, low-flying birds such as red grouse and black grouse.

It’s possible that the birds were being hunted by a predator – most likely a kestrel if they were – and in their panic mistook the window for an escape route

The glass was undamaged but many years ago the Doyenne and I had a dramatic example of the destructive power of a pigeon that must have been flying flat out to escape, probably, a sparrowhawk.  The pigeon flew through an eight foot tall half-landing window with such force that it landed fully fifteen feet along the landing, leaving a trail of feathers, blood and glass – what a mess.

The sand martins are long gone – back to their sub-Saharan African winter grounds.  An occasional swallow hawks over the grass fields, and the house martins that hatched in the nest under our eaves return to it each evening to roost.  When I shine my torch on the nest two small blue-black faces with white bibs below peep over the edge.  It can’t be long until they are away too.  We’ll look forward to them returning next year and perhaps building a second nest.

Everyone except me seems to have heard the geese returning to winter on Montrose Basin – and I’m out at least three times a day.  The late Peter Gladstone of Fasque, who was a noted ornithologist, used to say he expected the first geese to arrive between the seventeenth and nineteenth of September  Perhaps these early arrivals are another example of climate change affecting traditional and established wildlife habits.

Dog report

A reader pointed out that I haven’t mentioned Inka for a week or two.  He is well and thriving – as well he might be, getting three walks a day and fed twice.  He’s ten years old and sporting a wee white beard beneath his chin, but suggest a walk and he’s capering around like a teenager.  If his walk is overdue he shoves his nose under my elbow and pointedly nudges me. The message is clear – get out of your chair, now.

We had a walk round the wee loch at the foot of Glenesk.  The mallard have returned and, going by past experience, their numbers will remain fairly static throughout the winter.  I saw one late hatched duckling with its parent bird.  It’s probably the last of a larger clutch – the others having fallen prey to buzzards, which can be death – excuse the tasteless pun – on ducklings.

Out last thing with Inka the tawny owls are starting to tune up again.  They have been less vocal during the nesting season and their annual moult.  Now this year’s young birds are trying to establish independent territories for themselves, and the older birds are fighting to hold on to their existing ones.  For a time there will be a certain amount of tactical jockeying around but, as always in nature, the fittest tend to survive and the local population will settle for the winter.

Melody in the words

The Doyenne announced over breakfast that we should go to Dundee Rep in the evening to see The Yellow on the Broom, the play adapted from the autobiography of Betsy Whyte who grew up in the Travelling community in the 1930s.

As young Betsy Townsley she learnt the ways and traditions of the Travelling folk and faced the prejudices and distrust of the scaldies, the townsfolk and non-Travellers.

In the springtime when the yellow blossom appeared on the roadside broom bushes, the gang-aboot folk left their winter quarters and took to the roads again to go pearl fishing and planting potatoes, and making clothes pegs and baskets for sale.

The play brought back memories from the 1950s and 1960s when travelling folk, looking for seasonal agricultural work, camped in a little den on the Rossie Braes, just south of Montrose.  They put up their bough houses – tarpaulins stretched over saplings bent over and stuck into the ground.  Sometimes you would see ponies tethered, and usually there was a wisp of smoke rising from a cooking fire.

It’s an excellent production by the Rep’s resident Ensemble reminding us of a culture of an all but vanished way of life, with the familiar melody and words of The Yellow on the Broom echoing throughout.

Written on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 at 9:48 am for Weekly.