A cock chaffinch fluttered up into a sycamore ahead as I made my way along the edge of a woodland burn near Dollar.

It began to sing, a short rollicking song with an exuberant ending. Commenting upon the song during a visit to Britain, John Burroughs, the renowned late 19th and early 20th century American naturalist, remarked: “I have never heard a song that began so liltingly end with such a quick, abrupt emphasis.”

Nearby, a tree with a large rotund, woody growth on its trunk caught my eye. It was what is known as a burr - rounded growths that are often a reaction to stress, such as injury or damage, insect attack, or bacterial or fungal infection. Sometimes burrs can become very large, but are often small and exhibit a certain ethereal beauty.

Burrs are in effect a protection mechanism for a tree, forming over or near an area of trauma to prevent any further damage. They do not harm the tree and are part of nature’s tapestry of intricate responses to the daily challenges of life. In woodwork, large burrs can be much sought after because of the unique swirling patterns they instil in the grain of the wood.

Then, a red glimmer by the path side, shining with the intensity of a glowing ember. I crouched down to examine these ruby gems, which turned out to be a scattering of scarlet elf cups, a most striking fungus. They are most often found in late winter and early spring, and as the name suggests, the cap is cup shaped. Also known as ‘fairies baths’, folklore has it that wood elves and fairies drank morning dew from the cup.

I wondered how such a profusion of elf cups could suddenly materialise in the one spot. Had a whimsy of the wind carried a cloud of their spores to this location, or had the state of decay of the wood reached a perfect stage that it met the specific requirements of the elf cups? As with many things in our natural environment, I will never know, but the boundless questions that nature throws-up never fails to enthuse me.

I give a lot of nature talks nowadays, most recently to the ‘Going Forward Stroke Group’ at Bridge of Allan, whose work is inspirational in providing after-care support for stroke sufferers. Audience interaction is one of the most enjoyable parts of my presentations, as it enables the exchange of experiences with wildlife.

At the stroke group talk, a discussion ensued on brown hares and their ‘Mad March hare’ courtship ritual, where they box and scuffle with one another. An audience member enquired whether I had ever seen the phenomenon where several hares gather side-by-side in a straight line and then bounce backwards in synchronised unison. I confessed this was unusual hare behaviour that I had neither encountered nor heard about.

“Yes,” triumphed the audience member, “it’s called a receding hare-line”, which seemed an opportune moment to wind proceedings up and enjoy the post-talk coffee and cake.