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.

Fury over dumped settee

December 29th, 2018

Words are my seed corn and I am rarely lost for them, but words failed me when I saw an expensive cream settee dumped in a layby on the road between Fettercairn and Edzell.

Tipped out beside a strip of woodland it is an affront to passers-by and those who care about nature and wildlife.  Was it really easier to drive into the country and dump such an eyesore than to take it to a recycling centre to be properly disposed of?  Could it not more easily have been sold on Gumtree or offered to a charity?

It’s at moments like these that the urge to lapse into lower deck fluency is most compelling.  But I feel a restraining hand on my shoulder.  What I should like to write about such senseless behaviour, and what the Editor of this family newspaper will permit, are probably mixed metaphors apart.

Dogs

Small, volatile Rosie, the bane of Inka’s life, who I wrote about last week has returned home.  I noticed she was fed on a grain free diet for digestive and allergy sensitive dogs.  Previously she had been given a proprietary small bite mixer but our daughter and son-in-law noticed her becoming sluggish and a fussy eater and sometimes not eating at all.

Within several days of the change to a wheat free diet her whole behaviour improved.  She has more energy, has taken off weight, is less ‘pongy’ and is altogether a happier wee dog.  A change of diet like this may not be an answer for all dogs but it’s something to consider if you have concerns.

Walking with Inka at one of my secret ponds which had frozen over, he bounded straight onto it, slipping and sliding on the ice.  I pulled him straight off as I had no idea how strong it was.

Dogs and ice don’t go well together and it can be a real nightmare if they fall through.  Their claws can’t get a grip to pull themselves out, their hair becomes waterlogged and heavy, they get cold and panic, it is very distressing to watch and it can be fatal.  So the message from the bridge is, as a matter of course don’t let dogs run around on ice – ever.

Hungry hawks

Neighbours were surprised to find a bird of prey sitting on the wing mirror of their car.  It showed no fear of humans and made no effort to fly off as they stood watching it.  They identified it as a kestrel and it eventually flew clumsily onto another neighbour’s roof.

Kestrels, like other raptors, are wary birds and my guess is that this one may have been starving and lacked the energy to fly far.

It’s a misconception that birds of prey kill every time they stoop on prey.  As one of our smaller raptors, kestrels feed mainly on mice and voles and insects rather than small song birds.  The  cold weather will have tended to drive their prey into cover and the bird had simply not found enough to eat to keep up its energy levels.

Two winters ago I came across a young buzzard lying dead at the foot of a tree.  It was skinny and its breast bone jutted prominently through its feathers.  The most likely cause of death had been starvation as there had been snow on the ground for a week and the bird hadn’t fed.  The kestrel was suffering the same fate.

Butterfly moment

A small tortoiseshell butterfly appeared, possibly from behind a bookcase, and fluttered round my study.  Nothing unusual about it for they come into the house in the autumn and find a quiet spot to settle for the winter.  Come the cold months, the central heating is boosted up and the butterflies awake prematurely in the high indoor temperature.

Don’t be tempted  to put them outside.  There’s no nectar for them to feed on and the night temperature will kill them.  Put them in a cardboard box, or similar, and let them settle.  Gently persuade the sleepy butterfly onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room which it can escape from when it wakens properly about March – and leave it alone.

Mince pies galore

This column is driven by the seasons of the year but its heart beats to another set of seasons.  Right now it’s the Doyenne’s mince pie season.  It creeps up on me each year but I should recognise the signs when she’s making mincemeat a month beforehand.  I suppose being one of this paper’s commentators on the Great British Bake Off for the last two years gives her an edge now.

Evenings are filled with the clatter of the electric mixer and before I know it she’s up to her oxters rolling out pastry, cutting mince pie cases and the kitchen is filled with the tantalising aroma of fresh baking.  There’s nothing to beat the first batch of mince pies, still warm from the oven and comfortingly full of cholesterol.   Small wonder that my generous shadow shows little sign of diminishing.

Written on Saturday, December 29th, 2018 at 9:58 pm for Weekly.