MOST mornings as dawn is breaking I venture up a small hillock overlooking Strathdevon where the sky is often streaked with hues of orange and yellow as the sun begins to rise.

By the time I reach the top, I can see nearby Loch Leven to the east, the distant hill of Tinto to the far south and the Gargunnock Hills to the west. It is a soothing tonic of a view; a natural picture-frame of a diverse and rolling landscape.

It is such a wonderful peaceful time of the day and on several occasions, I've been lucky enough to spot the ghostly soft-winged silhouette of a long-eared owl hunting over a nearby sheep pasture.

First it goes down low, then up again into a slight erratic hover, before descending once more. The haphazard nature of the flight is quite astonishing, fluttering moth-like on unsteady wings, swerving and stalling as it covers the ground in search of voles.

Often this long-eared owl will alight on a fence post and then with one final flurry will sweep down the length of the pasture into an impenetrable stand of semi-mature pines to roost for the day.

As I head back for home in the rising light, I occasionally hear it calling – a hollow and low-pitched 'hoo, hoo, hoo' that would be all so easy to miss unless you specifically listened out for it. The 'hoo, hoo' call means that this bird is most probably a male.

Other birds are emerging at this time too; a robin often flickers ahead me on the dark path and I wonder if it is hoping that the crunch of my boots will throw-up small invertebrates which it can swoop down upon.

In the pines I also hear the thin wispy calls of goldcrests. This is a difficult time of year for these tiny birds, and with light now spreading across the landscape, it is a race against time to try and find as much food as possible to sustain them for another day.

Dawn might have broken, but the deathly cold of another winter night is only a few short hours away.