Down by the River Devon, the creeping thistles have been putting on a most spectacular show. But not as purple flowers, for they bloom earlier in the year, but rather with their magnificent seed heads that look like fluffy white balls.

This patch of thistles on my local part of the riverbank is extensive and there is something most attractive about these downy white pom-poms that stretch far away into the distance. The first autumn gales will soon send the seeds on their way to colonise new areas, dispersing in the air parachute-style.

We tend to judge plants for their beauty through the colour and shape of their flowers, but these thistles underline how our wild plants have so many other appealing attributes. For brightly coloured goldfinches, the thistles have a rather different allure as they just love to feast upon their abundant seeds.

On several occasions over the last couple of weeks when out walking near Alva my attention has been drawn by a lively twittering in the branches. These thin piercing calls come from roving parties of long-tailed tits - such lively birds that are always on the move. In winter they will descend upon our bird table in droves to feed from the seed dispensers. But these transient flocks only ever stay for a few minutes before quickly moving on again.

One bird I am most definitely going to miss until next spring is the house martin. A few lingered around our cul de sac until the first week in October but now the sky is empty and their constant ‘chirruping’ is but a memory. They will spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.

Worryingly, in Dollar, where house martins used to be prevalent in the summer months, they are now scarce and numbers have plummeted alarmingly. I do not know the reason why, but some insidious environmental factor is at work, possibly climate change. Whatever the reason, I fear for the future of these wonderfully charismatic birds.