THE mild weather of late has led to some excellent walking conditions in the Ochils and I enjoyed a recent fine circuit that took in the tops of King's Seat Hill, Andrew Gannel Hill, Skythorn Hill and finally Tarmangie and Whitewisp Hills.

Typically, there is not much birdlife about on these high tops at this time of year, so I was somewhat surprised to discover a flock of golden plovers near the summit of King's Seat.

Normally they are coastal birds in winter, only venturing to the higher ground in spring and summer, so I suspect these birds were in transit, possibly moving between the Tay and Forth estuaries.

They were quite skittish birds and soon took to the air on flickering wings, wheeling above me and calling all the time, a sweet piping sound.

In the not too distant past, these wonderful birds bred on the Alva and Menstrie Mosses high on the Ochil plateau, but they no longer to do so, probably because there is an increased abundance of predators nowadays, including corvids and foxes.

During the course of my walk, I also saw several dippers on the high hill burns, and it is easy to wonder how they are able to make a living in these small tumbling watercourses.

But lift up a stone from the bed of one such burn, and the answer is there, because in all likelihood there will be a multitude of insect larvae clinging to the underside, a nutritious food source.

Ravens too were about on this high ground, often soaring over ridges and tumbling in the air. They are one of our earliest nesters and will already be tidying-up last year's nest in preparation for egg laying.

On the last leg of my walk down through Dollar Glen, a familiar "yodelling" call rang through the air. It was a green woodpecker, one of our more colourful birds and one which thrives on the southern scarp of the Ochils, where the mix of woodland and open hill, combined with sunny aspect, provides the ideal conditions for them.

It had been a good day in the hills, and as I approached home, the memory of the gentle lilting calls of those golden plovers still kept ringing in my ears.