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.

Reflections at mirror loch

February 2nd, 2019

The local great spotted woodpeckers have been drumming their tarradiddles in the trees across the road from the house.

They have favourite elderly, resonant tree trunks that produce a satisfying loud rattle.  I’ve read that they strike a tree trunk in short bursts of 10-20 times a second and that, comparatively, each tap is more than ten times the force needed to knock out a man.

I used to think it was only males which drummed – their mating call and also their way of demarcating their breeding and feeding territory.  Current thinking appears to be that females drum too.

When we lived at The Burn House, near Edzell, great spotted woodpeckers came daily to the peanut feeders which I kept filled all through the winter.

There was also a small population of the bigger green woodpeckers and I often heard their uncanny, mocking call known as the yaffle.  They are even shyer than their great spotted cousins and never came to the nut feeders as they are mainly ground feeders whose diet is principally insects such as ants and beetles.

For whatever reason they seem to have died off or, more likely, failed to hatch eggs because I’ve not heard them calling for five or six years.  It’s a pity because the only other nesting site I know of is in Montreathmont Forest, near Kinnell crossroads, between Montrose and Forfar.

Flights of salmon fancy

I was accosted by two ladies, walking their own dog downstream of The Loups, the narrow gorge in the River Northesk on the walk through the Blue Door, who asked if I lived locally.  I confirmed I did and they asked what the purpose was of the blue rope looped along the foot of the steep cliff on the far bank of the river.

I pointed out the flight of steps cut into the cliff and explained that this was how the fishermen got down to the water.  They could make their way along the bank hanging onto the blue rope to stop them falling into the river, to fish the salmon pools.

It must be the most difficult stretch of salmon water to fish but I learned long ago that a fever afflicts the most addicted salmon fishers who will go to any lengths in their pursuit of the king of fish.  I haven’t seen anyone fishing that south bank for some time but the explanation may be that we were looking down onto the ominously named Coffin Pool.

Winter reflections

On Tuesday I made a call to the head of Glenesk and took the opportunity to take some pictures of Loch Lee.  There was a strange light and with the fall of snow on the brae faces everything looked almost black and white.  The loch was like mirror glass – not a breath of wind to raise a ripple and the hillsides and trees reflected in every detail.

My picture shows the boathouse tucked into the bank of the loch and at the top the keeper’s house at Inchgrundle.  Sandy Duncan, a beat keeper on Invermark, who lived at Inchgrundle, told me of the winter, I think, of 1963 which was particularly severe with deep snowdrifts.  For six weeks his wife didn’t get further than the garden gate and Sandy had to walk the length of the loch daily to the head keeper’s house to get provisions.

Frozen in time

Wednesday was a complete contrast.  I took Inka his early morning walk into the fields at the back of the house, white with a heavy frost.  There had been a further fall of snow on the hills overnight and The Wirren, at the mouth of Glenesk, sparkled in the strong, early morning sun.

It’s on mornings like these that you realise how good it is to be alive.  But you need to keep on the move for the cold is nipping at the tips of your ears and fingers and toes.  I could never retire to some sun-drenched paradise and lie on a beach doing nothing – I’d miss these sort of mornings and the sun-drenched walks that go with them.

In the afternoon Inka and I walked across the fields to Fasque Lake.  Inka put up three pairs of partridge from the sides of a ditch so it looks as though, early as it is, they are starting to pair up for spring.  Jays set up their grating alarm calls as we neared the wood.  With plum-pink plumage, electric blue wing patches and black and white barring, and a white patch on their rumps they are the exotic members of the crow family.

The Lake was frozen again and, with snow on the ice, looked magical.  Several dozen bleak-looking mallard had packed themselves into the one small corner of open water.  A solitary heron rose from beside bulrushes, but it knew it would be short commons if stayed around much longer and it headed off in that awkward head-tucked-back, long spin’le trams, trailing flight that nonetheless carries them through the air at a surprising speed.

Written on Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 at 10:54 pm for Weekly.