Our office in the Isle of Man is at Ballakilley Beg on Dreemskerry Hill, with gorgeous views of Maughold Head across the valley, which teems with wildlife.
The king of this valley is a greyback crow, recognisable by the very distinctive markings on his chest. When food is about, he is always the first to arrive. No other bird, not the other greybacks, the hooded crows, the jackdaws, magpies or seagulls, dares to challenge him.
One day we put out four pieces of toast out on our lawn, torn roughly into pieces of different size, about sixteen in all. The king arrives in minutes and lands on the fence before dropping down to inspect the prize. He scans the sky constantly.
He picks up the largest piece of toast, then the second largest, and then the third – a remarkable feat with only one beak. We assume he will fly off with them, but to our surprise he walks under the fence into a field of long grass. Here he carefully conceals the three pieces of toast in the grass, stepping back to ensure that they cannot be seen, all the while scanning the sky.
Satisfied, he flies to a good vantage point in a tree and gives a raucous call. This is the food call. The other greybacks soon appear, and they each take a piece of toast and fly off down the valley. The king takes the largest remaining piece, of course.
Ten minutes later the king returns. Very carefully he retrieves the first of the three hidden pieces, and heads off not down the valley, but in the opposite direction up Dreemskerry Hill.
He has made one mistake. The two remaining pieces are visible. A jackdaw lands on the fence, surveying the remaining toasts in an agony of indecision.
The jackdaw sees the king returning and decides to go for it. He seizes the second piece of toast and sets off at full speed. The king is twenty yards behind him, flying with his feet forward and talons outstretched, like one of the eagles from Lord of the Rings. They disappear over the row of trees, so we do not see how this part of the story ends.
The young cat from next door appears on the lawn. It is not clear whether he is interested in the last piece of toast or has even seen it. The king returns, lands on the fence, and scares the cat away with a ferocious verbal assault. He takes the last piece of toast, again flying up Dreemskerry Hill.
One thing perplexes us. Why did the king take two of his three pieces of toast in the opposite direction from the greyback roost?