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.

Elemental spirits of nature

November 24th, 2018

A report in this paper of the sighting of a hoopoe at the Scottish Wildlife Trust visitor centre at Montrose Basin reminded me about a possible sighting of one of these exotic birds on Piperton croft, outside Brechin, in 2005.  I haunted the croft for five days hoping to see it but was disappointed.

My piece at the time brought a response from Mr Edward McBay of Johnshaven who had corresponded with my predecessor, Colin Gibson, about a hoopoe which appeared in the village in September 1969.

Colin’s article was accompanied by one of his trademark scraperboard drawings of the bird.  He also mentioned earlier sightings at Carnoustie and at Ethie Castle and Magungie Park outside Arbroath.

I’ve also come across a cutting from Craigie column of 30th June 2007 in which a reader had seen hoopoes in the summers of 2004 and 2006.  He was challenged by another reader, calling herself Broughty Birdwatcher, saying the birds he described were jays.   Possibly so, but jays are gregarious members of the crow family, and more often than not are seen in groups, whereas all the sightings of hoopoes in Courier country that I have traced have been of single birds.

It’s strange that such an exotic bird, normally associated with warm Mediterranean countries and the south of England should visit the north-east when summer is past, so it may have been blown badly off course by high southerly winds.  But could it be an example of changes in bird behaviour as a result of changes in weather patterns?

I hoped to get a sighting, and perhaps a photo, of the most recent visitor.  Doubtless it was the weather but, frustratingly, it seemed to have moved on.

Unlucky black pheasant

What looked like a black cat lying dead at the side of the road, turned out to be a melanistic cock pheasant – a hit and run victim.  The birds are so-named because they have an abnormally high level of black pigment in their feathers.

From a distance their plumage has a dark, burnished sheen of deepest purple, almost black.

I usually see one or two each year.  Scarlet wattles round the eyes and forehead stand out against the dark body but the collar of white feathers round the neck of the widespread common pheasant which readers see in fields and woods when driving round the countryside, is absent.

This was the first one I’d actually handled and the plumage is even more striking than I’d imagined.  When they catch the light the short, body contour feathers are tipped with opalescent lapis lazulae blue and malachite green, which quite transformed the sad corpse.

I tossed it back onto the verge.  As likely as not a fox will have picked it up on its nocturnal stravaiging and made a good meal of it for it hadn’t been dead more than four or five hours.

Foggy mist

Regular readers know of my love affair with the grey geese.  For me they are the elemental spirits of nature, the authentic voice of winter, flying more than a thousand miles to escape the Arctic winter for our more benign climate.

I watch their ragged chevrons passing overhead, flying east and west when I’m out with Inka for his morning constitutional.  Packs of several thousand have been feeding on stubble fields between Edzell and Fettercairn.

Recently there was an evening of thick mist blanketing the whole countryside.  The geese get completely disorientated when they fly into these conditions, airborne but not able to see the ground to land.

They were attracted to the glow of the village lights and throughout the evening we could hear packs of them flying aimlessly in the cloud, constantly calling to each other to keep contact.  There was a note of desperation in their calls as they tried to make sense of the confusing conditions.  It wasn’t until around midnight that the mist lifted and they could disperse to their feeding grounds.

Warm winter pudding

The visit of a great niece prompted the Doyenne to make Eve’s Pudding from a gift of garden cooking apples.  It shows how times have changed that the great niece had never heard of this staple nursery food.

My father had a very basic recipe – he wrote his own recipe book – using sweet apples and a simple sponge topping.  The Doyenne tarts it up a bit – her expression – adding lemon zest to 1lb of peeled, cored and sliced cooking apples, a tablespoon of water and 3oz Demerara sugar.

For the sponge, cream 3oz butter and 3oz caster sugar together, add a beaten egg and fold in 4oz self raising flour.  Spread over the apples and bake in a preheated oven (180C/350F/Gas4) for 45 minutes or until the sponge is golden.  Serve with cream or custard, or ice cream if you are sinful.

Easy to make and an ideal pudding to keep out the chill in the driech, winter weather.  Megan went home with the recipe in her back pack and stern instructions to make it herself.  Father would have approved.

Written on Saturday, November 24th, 2018 at 8:34 pm for Weekly.