Taking the railway path from Clackmannan, and heading eastwards towards Brucefield, a white glimmer caught my eye amongst the dark tangled branches.

I veered off the track to investigate and discovered it was ‘hair ice’, a most unusual ice formation created by the presence of a certain type of fungus. This strange, wispy candyfloss structure enwrapped a branch, and beside me, there were several other similar patches of hair ice.

Also known as ice wool or frost beard, the conditions required for the formation of hair ice are extremely specific – a temperature slightly below 0 °C, moist and rotting wood, and the presence of a fungus called Exidiopsis effusa. In a complex process, the fungus causes a phenomenon known as ‘ice segregation’, which pushes water out of the wood pores, where it freezes and extends outwards into thin fibres of ice.

It was an intriguing discovery, and on returning to the walkway, I reflected how no matter where you go in Clackmannanshire, there are always wonderful natural surprises around every corner. Further down the track, a mixed flock of fieldfares and redwings cackled and chattered as they bounded along a line of hawthorns in search of haws.

The recent cold snap has prevented these winter thrushes from foraging for worms and other invertebrates, so they were now concentrating their attention on the last of the autumn fruits. Winter is tough, and if the ground remains frozen for much longer, these birds may consider moving further south and west to find more benign conditions.

In amongst a bramble thicket, a diminutive wren bobbed and ducked. Wrens are totally reliant on invertebrates for survival, and like a creeping mouse, this one investigated every nook and cranny for wee beasties to devour. The wren’s scientific name - troglodytes - means ‘cave dweller’, which is most appropriate, for they will disappear into all kinds of cracks and crevices in their ever-constant quest for food.