When walking down a country lane near Vicar’s Bridge, the corner of my eye caught the merest hint of a dark projectile plummeting at great speed into an adjacent field.

For a second I thought it may have been my imagination but then the field erupted into a clatter of panicked woodpigeons. A peregrine had just made a spectacular stoop but as the woodpigeons dispersed, the falcon rose slowly from the field on laborious wings, its trailing talons hanging empty.

Watching a peregrine attempt to catch its prey in mid-air is one of nature’s great sights and I was sorry that I had not witnessed the episode right from the beginning of the falcon’s dive, which may have started from some height. Such a hunting technique is typical of the peregrine that stems from a high stoop before striking its prey hard in an explosion of feathers.

The peregrine is a superb predator - built with speed and power in mind - and the final spin-off is a bird of great beauty and grace. The speeds achieved during a steep dive can exceed 150 miles per hour, giving its prey little chance of survival if contact is made. It is hardly surprising that a bird of such imperious stature should be regarded as the most prized of birds amongst falconers.

Man has revered the peregrine since the earliest of times, a potent symbol of strength and vitality with both the ancient Egyptians and the Chinese valuing them in falconry. In the land of the Pharaohs, the peregrine was considered the king of the birds and was associated with the sky god Horus. Indeed, peregrines were so sacred to the ancient Egyptians that they were even mummified.

Typical prey items of peregrines include ducks, grouse, waders, crows, gulls and pigeons, as well as a range of songbirds. In the 18th Century, peregrines used in falconry were even trained to take herons, which at the time were a much sought after table delicacy.

Peregrines wander far and wide in their search of prey, and while scarce, they can be encountered pretty much anywhere in Clackmannanshire. Indeed, only recently I saw one soar high above the centre of Alloa, creating the wonderfully incongruous impact of a free spirit of nature spiralling over a bustling town.