SPRING might be months away but down by the River Devon I watched a drake goosander engage in a short courtship display towards a nearby female.

Of course, these birds are not yet thinking about breeding, but the neck stretching display by the drake (pictured here) was all about strengthening the pair bond over the winter period.

The next day I was out by the river again but this time my attention was caught by a soft warble in the cold winter air. There, on a rock in the middle of the water flow, bobbed a white-chested dipper.

As I scrutinised it through my binoculars this handsome bird sang several more soft notes. It was proclaiming its breeding territory for next year – it might only be December, but like the goosander, these birds too are preparing for next year.

Up in the birches and alders that line the course of the Devon, it is well worth looking out for twittering flocks of siskins feeding in amongst the branches. They are such delicate and colourful birds, their flickering yellow tail flashes catching the sun whenever they take to the air.

Sometimes these siskins are accompanied by redpolls – a much scarcer bird altogether and always so hard to approach.

There are still some wildlife surprises in other parts of the Wee County too. Up on the southern scarp of the Ochils I came upon a pair of stonechats. The male is a most colourful bird, with his dark head, white collar and shoulder patch, contrasting with a rich chestnut breast.

Unfortunately, these enchanting birds are vulnerable to severe winters and given the recent cold spell, I’m doubtful whether they will still be around in these parts by the spring.