IT WAS a strange, mournful and haunting sound that carried far across the water of the inner Forth estuary just a few miles downstream from Alloa.

In some ways the noise was a bit like a mooing cow, but longer drawn out and higher pitched.

These were the melancholy calls of grey seals and as I brought my binoculars into sharp focus on a small rocky islet I could see three of the animals resting.

Although quite far from the open sea, this part of the Forth estuary is a good place for seals with there being an abundance of flounders, blennies and other small fish to feed upon.

I reckon they’ll take their fair share of migrating salmon too as they head up river towards their spawning grounds.

Indeed, it is not unusual to see grey seals off the mouth of the River Devon in September and October as they wait to intercept salmon.

Out on the mudflats there were a couple of shelducks methodically sifting the sediment with their specially-adapted bills, so as to filter out tiny invertebrates to feed upon.

There were several curlews around too, so distinctive with their long curved bills.

The plight of the curlew should worry us all, for numbers have plunged dramatically in recent years.

Habitat loss due to drainage of damp meadows and rough grassland on their inland breeding grounds is thought to be the main driving force behind this decline.

Indeed, the curlew has been identified by one scientific paper as “the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK”.

In the mid-1970s curlews were noted as being “abundant in the Ochils in summer” and was said to be the most frequently found wading bird on the Menstrie and Alva Mosses.

Sadly, this is no longer the case today.