THE cool air hung like a white cloak across the pines at Forestmill

It was such a still and haunting place, but the ethereal atmosphere of this Clackmannanshire woodland was soon broken by a gentle and rather metallic repetitive call, which reminded me 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 spruce.

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, which 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 settle 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.

I moved on, and a small mixed party of coal tits undulated through the trees.

Encountering them reminded me of the fact that I would soon need to put my garden bird feeders out.

Coal tits are among my favourite garden visitors, for they are such charismatic birds and are great hoarders of seeds and nuts, shuttling backwards and forwards from a bird feeder and secreting their bounty in nooks and crannies for later retrieval.

It is a clever survival strategy that plays an important ecological role too because those seeds that are forgotten about will sprout into life come the spring, having been carefully planted by one of nature's little gardeners.