DOWN by the River Devon, spring is always a tantalising time, for my soul is consumed with the anticipation of glimpsing my first sand martins of the year, newly arrived from their African wintering grounds.

They are such compelling little birds and one of our earliest migrant arrivals.

Once they get down to breeding, life becomes a dangerous lottery, and at any moment, torrential deluges of rain can raise river levels and flood-out their nesting burrows.

They also run the gauntlet of predatory mink, which like nothing better than to dig out their burrows for eggs and chicks.

Even if I see no sand martins during my forays by the river, there is so much else to catch my eye, including an abundance of silver-furred willow catkins adorning swaying branches.

Willows are well-adapted for living by riversides and in semi-submerged environments such as loch edges and boggy ground.

Identifying different species of willow can be challenging, as they often hybridise with each other.

Willows are ecologically crucial, pioneering colonisers, riverbank binders, and a key food tree for larval and adult insects.

This period of early spring is one of overlap and transformation, and it is always wonderful to be in among both winter and summer wildlife at the same time.

Some days are cold, but others are tantalisingly warm as the sun gains increasing vigour with each passing day.

On flooded field margins, winter-visiting greylag geese slumber and gently honk to each other, while restless flocks of fieldfares cackle as they bound through the still bare branches of riverside alders.

Such lingering signs of winter are still strong, yet they are yielding and soon the greylag and fieldfares will depart to their northern breeding grounds.

Spring now has the upper hand, and the air rings with the simple calls of chiffchaffs, while willow warblers are also making their presence felt with their sweet cascading songs delivering an enduring beauty that always enthrals