THE damp air hung like a pervading blanket over this small cluster of pines between Coalsnaughton and Gartmorn Dam - such a still and haunting place.

The ethereal atmosphere of the woodland was soon broken by a gentle and rather metallic repetitive call, which reminded me a bit of clinking wine glasses.

The noise gradually grew louder and over the trees bounded a small party of crossbills that quickly alighted on the top of a towering pine. I brought them into focus through my binoculars but no sooner had I done so than they were away again.

I emitted a weary sigh, one I have no doubt repeated many times over the years whenever a creature I have just spotted suddenly disappears.

But that’s life – and for crossbills such brief encounters are typical as they are restless by nature and seldom stay still for long.

Crossbills are handsome birds, especially the males with their vibrant brick-red plumage and deep bills that has led to them sometimes being likened to parrots.

They are also one of our most specialist feeders, with their unique crossed-over bills specially designed to extract the seeds from pine cones.

It is only in recent times that it has come to light that Scotland hosts three distinct species of crossbill, including one that is found nowhere else in the world.

I don’t have the expertise to tell them apart with certainty as they all look so similar, although the ones I had just seen in this little corner of Clackmannanshire were almost certainly common crossbills and most likely winter visitors from northern Europe.

I wandered on, and robin warbled its soft winter song, while a small group of coal tits worked their way through the trees.

A great spotted woodpecker swept by in a low and undulating flight, before alighting on a tree where it climbed up the trunk, eagerly probing the wood for invertebrates.

It had soon exhausted its search and bounded away into the distance.

The forest fell quiet once more and all I could hear was the gentle puff my breath as I resumed my walk.