EVEN in the fading late afternoon light, the colour was quite astonishing; a deep vibrant orange that shone out like a glowing orb from the trunk of a birch down by the River Devon near Tillicoultry.

It was a clump of velvet shank, one of our most stunning species of fungus and a real joy to discover, for it brought so much colour on this short winter day.

Indeed, velvet shank is a real winter specialist and comes into its own at a time of year when few other types are about.

I stopped to examine the tightly packed tiers of these velvet shanks more closely, so striking with their orange-brown caps that glistened and shimmered under the weak watery sun.

Velvet shank is edible, and is even farmed commercially in Japan, but I would never recommend picking fungi for food because identification is always tricky, and it is easy to make a potentially serious mistake.

It was good to be down by the river, and before my fungus find, I had accidentally flushed a resting snipe from the fringes of a rushy bog on the haugh.

Teal were about in these flood meadows too, their gentle piping whistles floating across the cool air. And on the river itself, a drake goosander fished in the shallows.

As I headed for home in the ebbing light, a slender silhouette in a tree caught my eye, framed by skeletal branches set against a waning pastel sky. It was a kestrel, scanning the ground below for voles and mice.

It will be dark soon and this little falcon was using every last ounce of light to try and catch a meal before the cold cloak of darkness descends across the strath.