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How do you like them apples?

Outdoor Living

POKING THEIR NOSES IN IT Rooks were on the look-out for an appealing apple in the back garden.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Having done my best to throw off this persistent cold-come-flu, I finally succumbed and chose to lie in a little, despite the day being so very mild. I read for a bit, lazily looked through a few emails and dozed, and was then woken by the sound of a low, yet very expressive voice coming from the back garden.
After quickly climbing into some clothes I peeked through a chink in the curtains. There was nobody there, of that I was certain; still, that faint grumbling persisted. I went to the other end of the house and looked out once more, and there they were, two of them, underneath a low-hanging bough of an apple tree, enjoying quite a conversation.
And a proper conversation it was, too. While one talked the other listened, and when that one paused the second began. I settled down to eavesdrop for a while, not that I could understand their tongue, mind you, or make much of what was being said, for rooks have their own language which we can only loosely interpret. I made what I could of it.
Rook One reached up and examined an apple, a good number of which manage to cling to this sheltered tree despite the exertions of Ophelia and Brian.
“What about this one? What do you think?” The bird put his head to one side, then to the other. It took two strides and turned to see the fruit from the other side.
Rook Two stepped across and gave his opinion. “Looks the same as the others. That’s what I think. Still, I suppose we should taste it, just in case it’s better.”
One stood on his toes with his wings half spread and gave a tentative peck. The apple rocked on its delicate stalk, but held firm. A second and more determined stab was administered, which brought the apple to the ground. The two birds stood facing each other with their prize between them.
One helped himself to a taster while Two looked on. “Well? What do you think?” he seemed to ask.
One gave a low grumble. “Just as we thought. Exactly the same as the last.”
Two reached down and nibbled at the wound in the fruit, removing a small portion with the tip of his beak and rolling it over his tongue, while One watched and waited for the verdict. It wasn’t long in coming. Two dropped his taster and gave a quick shake of his head. One bowed and gave what could only have been a chuckle.
The pair switched sides in order to examine the apple from a new vantage point. The tasting process was repeated, with notes being compared. This apple, it appeared, was simply not good enough. Nor were the dozen or more that already lay beneath the tree. The rooks strode beneath the branches, looking up at the remaining fruit while continuing their conversation.
“What about that one?” asked One, pointing with his beak.
“Maybe,” Two replied. “Although this one here looks like a fine specimen. Just look how red it is! And I dare say I could reach it, with just a little effort …”
Two hopped into the tree while One watched from below. He had trouble maintaining his balance on such a slender branchlet, but with skilful use of his wings managed to make his way past several other apples to the one that had caught their eye.
Two examined it closely, first with one eye and then with the other, while One offered soft croaks of encouragement from below. Again, a sharp blow dislodged the fruit, which fell to the ground with an audible thud. The rooks repeated their antics, pecking and tasting and talking their way through.
I’d seen enough. I opened the window and sent the pair of fruit thieves away, before taking a basket to the tree to gather the remaining few undamaged apples while leaving those the rooks had sampled where they were. Thinking the birds might return I left the window ajar and the camera on the sill. Wasps came in. German wasps, with their typical three-dotted faces, giving me reason for exercise – enough to get the blood circulating.
Wasps in November? There are new flowers on the brambles too, and a big hatch of flies coming off the lake. A good nip of frost would restore proper order.

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