THE wondrous facet about nature is its never-ending capacity to surprise – as happened last week when I was walking along a farm track near Dollar at dawn.

As I rounded a corner, a largish brown bird perched on a gatepost materialised.

I thought initially it was a buzzard, but when I brought my camera to bear, it transpired to be a majestic long-eared owl.

Although widespread in Scotland, the long-eared owl is a secretive bird and not often seen.

This individual eyed me curiously for a few seconds, before taking to the air and flew low along the length of the track before it swept up over a hedge and disappeared.

The long-eared owl is an elegant, slender bird with two prominent tufts on top of the head. Although they look like ears, they are in fact decorative feather extensions.

It is thought these help break-up the outline of the bird, thus enabling it to blend in seamlessly with its surroundings when perched amongst twigs and branches.

Wildside Aug 16

Wildside Aug 16

It is a clever design feature and no doubt one of the reasons why long-eared owls are so seldom seen.

This sighting reminded me of the last time I had encountered one, about six years ago in the Ochils.

Indeed, such was my luck, over a period of a week or so, I saw the same bird on several occasions.

It was the same story almost every morning – as dawn broke and just as I reached the crest of a small hill, a wavering and erratic flying long-eared owl swooped low over an adjacent sheep pasture.

The haphazard nature of the flight was quite astonishing, fluttering moth-like on unsteady wings, swerving and stalling as it covered the ground in search of voles.

Often this long-eared owl would alight on a fence post and then with one final flurry fly down the length of the pasture into an impenetrable stand of semi-mature pines to roost for the day.

As I headed back for home in the rising light, I would occasionally hear it calling – a hollow and low-pitched 'hoo, hoo, hoo' that would be easy to miss unless you specifically listened out for it.

It was a magical experience that still resonates with me to this day.

Wildside Aug 16

Wildside Aug 16