I INSTANTLY knew something was different about this bird of prey as it swept low across the haugh on widespread wings by the River Devon.

It was slightly smaller than a buzzard and slenderer in build, with an underlying agility and elegance.

As it veered to one side, a white rump band and dark-ringed brown tail momentarily flashed into view.

It was a hen harrier and first time I had ever seen one close to my home patch in Clackmannanshire.

As quick as it had appeared, it was gone, having vanished in among the tussocks of rushes and grasses that proliferate along the riverside flood meadows.

Hen harriers are scarce birds of prey, nesting on heather moorlands and young forestry plantations in the highlands.

In winter, however, they haunt lower-lying areas, such as rough grasslands and marshes.

I wandered further across to the banks of the River Devon where a couple of goosanders fished by a tranquil bend.

Several pairs next on the Devon each spring and summer, but in autumn and winter numbers are augmented by arrivals from elsewhere.

Another winter visitor – a dabchick – also momentarily appeared in a backwash pool before quickly diving under the water when it caught sight of me.

The Devon is a magnet for fish-eating birds, attracted by the good populations of brown, trout, minnows and sticklebacks, as well as eels and brook lampreys.

In recent years, cormorants have become more frequent winter visitors to the river in search of fish, and even the humble dipper takes its fair share.

When a dipper catches a small minnow, stickleback or trout fry, it will beat it furiously against a stone so as to stun it into submission.

To me, it always seems a surprising act of aggression from such a benign looking little songbird.

But that's nature, I suppose, always raw in tooth and claw – or in this case, beak.