ONE of the joys of ambling by the River Devon is the proliferation of alders that adorn the banksides.

The alder is our quintessential riverside tree and copes well in waterlogged conditions, and through symbiotic relationship with a type of bacterium has the capability to absorb nitrogen from the air, which in turn enhances the surrounding soil fertility.

It is a pioneering tree that colonises areas of boggy ground, which over time create the right conditions for the succession of other types of vegetation.

Alders help to prevent erosion of riverbanks, their spreading and probing roots binding the soil together, and, like the hazel, is a tree that should be revered as one of our shining stars of nature.

In winter, feeding flocks of siskins and redpolls dance along the riverside alder tops in search of their small seed cones.

These little finches twitter in joyful harmony and no matter how ferocious the weather, the alders are always productive and willingly give up their precious bounty.

On my most recent River Devon visit by Tillicoultry, I disturbed a heron from the bankside, which took to the air on slow lumbering wings, uttering a harsh 'kerr-ack'.

Herons are typically shy birds, so I was not surprised that this one had taken flight so easily. Not all behave this way, and one I had come upon a few weeks previously had no intention of flying away, despite my close approach, thus providing an opportunity to study it in detail.

It was indeed an impressive bird with its yellow dagger-like bill and pendant crest combined with dark markings down the front and neck.

Herons have a distinct air of the primeval and watching one take flight on a mist-laden morning down by the river imprints upon the mind surreal imagery of a pterodactyl disappearing into the grey wispy murk.

They are wily and will often use village streetlights as an aid when hunting fish at night along the tributary burns of the Devon.

I suspect they similarly utilise the soft white glow of the full moon for nocturnal forays in areas away from our towns and villages.

They also quickly learn the best fishing spots, often at the top of a riffle in a river where they can snap up tiring trout as they move upstream.

They are adaptable too, and in spring, frogs form an important part of their diet.

Herons always have the capacity to surprise, and in a stubble field by Alva, there is a regular communal roost.

Whenever I watch this gathering of about a dozen birds, there is no interaction at all between them as they gently slumber, but I imagine they gain comfort by being together with their own kind.