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.

Avoiding an icy swansong

January 12th, 2019

On Wednesday Inka and I were out around half past eight, the morning sun shining out of a clear sky streaked with high trails of cirrus cloud.  There wasn’t so much as a whisper of wind to shiver the topmost branches of the leafless trees or the dead grass heads, bleached ghosts of their summer glory, crowding the burn side.

Frost pebbled the car roofs and a lethal skim of black frost made the pavements dodgy for unsuspecting walkers.  Nippy on the tips of my ears and my nose, I was glad I’d remembered to put on gloves.  But it was just the sort of morning when you know that the world is a good place and we’re lucky to be able to enjoy it.

Countryside sounds are often as big a giveaway of what’s going on around you as actually seeing.  I heard the throbbing music of great wings before I saw the pair of swans flying towards the top of Fasque Lake.

It’s one of the unmistakeable sounds ingrained in me from childhood and I knew what they were before I saw them.  Their steady, almost metronomic wing beats are deliberate and powerful and displace a great volume of air because their actual speed through the air is deceptively fast.

The Lake was frozen the previous time we were there and, wondering if  the birds had found clear water to land on, in the afternoon Inka and I walked across the fields to check.  At this time of year we need to get out early – preferably in the morning – otherwise the light fades and the heat goes out of the day.

The Lake is a figure of eight shape and there was a patch of open water in the top pond and my pair of swans bottoms up, were feeding on the aquatic plants.  Disgruntled-looking resident mallards crowded round the edge of the ice.

Mute swans mate for life and are early nesters, laying five to seven eggs as a rule in April.  Most years since I discovered the Lake a pair have nested there and I wondered if these two were reconnoitring nesting sites.

Icebound

I was concerned to see a single swan apparently frozen into the ice in the lower part of the Lake.  At a loss to know what to do, I watched it for fifteen minutes and, while it shook its head from time to time, its body never moved.  I wasn’t going to venture a hundred yards onto questionable ice which might break up under my weight and I carried on walking round the shoreline, giving the matter some thought.

I’ve never heard of a swan being icebound and I didn’t know how long it could survive without being able to feed.  You can imagine my relief when I saw the bird haul itself out of its icy prison.  After a few ponderous steps on the slippery surface it made a clumsy takeoff and headed off towards the coast.

The loud, harsh krornk call was a heron standing on a fallen tree jutting out into the ice.  It was clear it would be on short commons if it hung around much longer and with a last raucous cough it too headed off to more rewarding feeding grounds.

Ow-l

A newsletter from the Lake District brought us up to date with the development of water gardens we had seen several years ago in their early stages.  Stars of last season had been a pair of moorhens which hatched six chicks which were now reduced to two by predatory buzzards.  No surprise in that but I was certainly surprised to read that the owners had watched a buzzard take a tawny owl straight off its roosting perch.  I’ve written in this column about buzzards, on the wing, taking red squirrels off high branches -but a tawny owl is a first.

Black and white

Snowdrops are January’s flower and some readers will have them flowering in their gardens by now.  In woods just across a field from the house I expect to at least see their emergent green tips poking through the ground – but not so far this year.

Fettercairn is about 275 feet above sea level and I can only think that such frosty weather as there has been has been enough to check their growth.  But I have great faith in Nature’s ability to restore the balance and there will be a burst of growth shortly.

There’s a rookery in the same woods and, in the late afternoon, the rooks begin to wheel in the sky above their nests calling to one another.  They are joined by jackdaws and for half an hour there’s a wild cacophony of noise until suddenly they drop down into the roost and into silence.

After that only the blackbirds are active, still foraging beneath the shrubs and loudly scolding Inka and me when we disturb them.  And if I wake early enough it will be the blackbird’s melodic song that I hear first in the garden.

Written on Saturday, January 12th, 2019 at 10:20 pm for Weekly.