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Only the cleverest of birds could think up a way of tenderising a stale crust on a dry summer’s day. And the crow’s deft assurance in performing its trick suggested it had done this before. Touching down on the river’s sand and shingle shore, a hunk of bread clamped in its beak, it strode to the water’s edge then dunked the morsel and leaned back to watch. The crow waited until the exact moment when the bread was soaked but not sodden, then plucked it out and swallowed.

Some way along the river bank a reed warbler trilled as if applauding, while a bird standing in the water only feet away paid no notice. The crow may have claimed its one bit of bread; this little egret was busy feeding for five.

The egret had passed overhead as we made our way upstream and we caught up with it fishing in an old cattle stance, a shallow pool within a wide sweep of the river, a marketplace for shoaling fish. Seeking a closer view, but not wishing to frighten the bird away, we used a dumpy riverbank willow as a blind, approaching on the assumption that if we couldn’t see the egret, then it couldn’t see us. Sure enough, when we crouched …

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The Gaurdian

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