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.

Gin to the rescue of damson in distress

October 6th, 2018

I know when Inka trots by my side without panting he has picked up something particularly foul that he is holding in his mouth to present to me later.  His most recent offering was a a dead pigeon chick, or squab, which was more interesting and less revolting than usual. An ugly looking baby, mostly still bald but with its primary wing feathers starting to grow.  It can’t have been much more than a week old as they fledge and are ready to leave the nest after about a month.

I’ll never know how it fell to the ground, but a pigeon’s nest is a flimsy rickle of twigs held together on a wing and a prayer.  I’ve found unhatched eggs below nests which have fallen through the loose lattice and perhaps this unfortunate chick’s nest just disintegrated.  It may seem late for chicks to be hatching but pigeons are probably the only one of our woodland birds that have been recorded hatching chicks in every month of the year.

Woodpigeons have two other unusual attributes.  Rather than foraging for nutritious grubs and worms like most other birds, they feed their young on crop-milk, rich in fatty nutrients, which they regurgitate for the squabs.  And when drinking they are able to suck up water and swallow it without having to tilt back their heads as most other birds do.

Second harvest

When we talk about the harvest I suspect most of us think of fields of cereal crops and potatoes and carrots – all the things we grow in our gardens or buy from the supermarkets.  But there’s the wild harvest of nuts and berries which follows the agricultural harvest.

It’s turning out to be a pretty good autumn for conkers and acorns.  Most mornings Inka and I pass a tree of each and the ground is littered with their nuts.  Woodpigeons feast on the acorns, as do the woodland jays which bury them in food caches to be recovered in the event of winter shortages.

Chatting with a neighbour walking his dog I wondered whether the local kids would be coming to pick up the conkers for conker fights – fond memories of my own schooldays.  He reminded me of the folklore of putting a conker in each corner of a room which stops spiders coming into the house.  “We do it”, he told me, “and the grandchildren too – and it works.”  Well, you can’t argue with authority like that so I waited until no one was looking and filled my pockets with the glossy nuts.

The rowans have been exceptional.  I picked some beauties in Glen Isla for the Doyenne’s rowan and apple jelly.  There’s a tremendous crop of haws ripening on the hawthorn tree in the garden.  The branches on the whitebeams just across the road are hanging with waxy scarlet berries.  And holly trees which have produced few berries in recent years look as though they’ll be providing plenty of Christmas decoration.

There’s a Spanish or sweet chestnut in the corner of a neighbouring field, planted probably a couple of hundred years ago as an ornamental tree in the estate park.  The spiny, hedgehog-like shells are breaking open and the wee nuts, about the size of beech mast, will be devoured by the pigeons and the red squirrels.

Coloured black

A roadside field between the Lower Northwaterbridge and St Cyrus has been planted as a wildflower meadow.  It’s starting to die back but it’s still a blaze of red poppies, white oxeye daisies, yellow tansy (I think), blue scabious and I’m sure if I walked through it I’d recognise a lot more.

It coincides with a newsletter from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust advocating that adding wildflowers to arable field margins could provide welcome insect banks for our declining swallow population.  Sowing wildflower margins alongside hedgerows can benefit not just birds but bats, which also forage for flying insects, and bees too.

Inka was invited to join two other black Labradors – two year old Inca (note the different spelling) a slinky, quicksilver bitch, and Fin a seasoned ten year old dog, ages with our Inka.  We walked round fields that were familiar to me and would have been to Inka 1, the present Inka’s grandfather.

It’s good for dogs to have other dogs’ company and after the initial exploratory sniffing they all set off to enjoy the walk.  It’s more than a dozen years since I walked round the stubbles and the woodland strip along the bank of the Cruick Water.  We lived nearby for six years and, buried in the woods is Sheba, another black Lab and a dear dog, who was Inka One’s predecessor.  Nailed to a tree over her grave is her collar, put there by a grandson in her memory.

As I was leaving I was handed a bag of damsons.  I was delighted and thought we’d make damson gin with some of them.  “Ah”, came the parting shot, “gin, jam and journalism.”  I thought it was a bit under the belt.

Written on Saturday, October 6th, 2018 at 9:59 am for Weekly.