The first signs of spring are unfurling like a gentle cloak and no more so than down by the River Devon where alder catkins have been catching my eye.

The early beginnings of these male catkins have been around all winter as small purplish-brown pendulous spikes, but now they are beginning to elongate and over the coming weeks will open to reveal their pollen-rich yellow flowers. They will form an important food source for early emerging bees and add a welcome splash of colour to the landscape.

Look closely at an alder branch and the much smaller female catkins can be seen too, although they are hard to discern. They are mainly pollinated by the wind but insects too will play a helping hand.

A pair of bullfinches attracted my attention on a recent visit to the river. Bullfinches hang around in pairs all year round and if you see one, the chances are its partner won’t be far away. I’m not sure why bullfinches should exhibit such lifetime fidelity when most other songbirds don’t. Although on thinking about it, such a strategy does save vital energy in spring by not having to look and go courting for a new mate. An established pair will also know their breeding area intimately and the best places to find food.

I’ve been visiting my local badger setts and assessing the extent of digging activity by examining their spoil mounds outside the various entrance holes.

Badgers are addicted to digging and are rarely able to resist the temptation to enlarge and excavate new tunnels even when there is no real need to do so. The celebrated badger expert Ernest Neal recounted the occasion when he stumbled upon a badger so preoccupied with digging that he was showered with soil kicked out by the animal’s back legs.

Badgers are nocturnal beasts, but a few years ago, when wandering by a sett in north-east Clackmannanshire in the early afternoon, I was astonished to glimpse a badger poke its head out of one the holes to check me out. It sniffed the air for a few seconds before slowly retreating down below again, which underlines that when it comes to watching nature, always expect the unexpected!