I HAVE just bottled my last apple for the year. It’s been a prolific season, fruit bending the trees to the ground. And we beat the birds to it! Was it only a few short months ago the white cockatoo sentinel screamed abuse at us from his post atop a buerre bosc pear tree?
This was the signal for a flock of crimson rosellas to rise from the apple trees, and a glossy black bower bird and his squabbling wives to blow raspberries at us from the plums. Only when we were so close we could almost touch them did they abandon the fruit, still making rude noises. I don’t know how they manage to make that particular noise through a beak. I’d say having a crop full of under-ripe plum flesh might help.
That’s the frustrating thing about birds and fruit. They won’t wait until it is ripe, and share the crop with you. They peck at plums and peaches the size of marbles and apples the size of golf balls, knocking down as much as they consume. A bumper harvest is reduced to browning half-eaten pebbles coating the ground like gravel.
We swore never to use nets again after the snake summer of two years ago. We called it the snake summer because we spent a good part of every weekend cutting snakes out of bird netting. They mistook the black mesh for shade, and crawled into any bits that dangled near the ground. As anyone who has used netting knows, unless you put it over the tree completely, birds will still get in underneath.
Cutting black and brown snakes out of netting is not my idea of a relaxing weekend. While the snakes were more or less immobilised, there was always that tricky moment when the last piece of restraining net was cut away with my sewing scissors. As we started at the snake’s nether regions and worked our way up to its head, it was always uncomfortably close to its biting bits.
The Moth would hold the snake’s head down with a forked stick, and perfected the art of leaping backwards while releasing the reptile. I’ve often thought of getting Graham Murphy to choreograph a ballet called ‘The moment when the last strand of fruit netting is cut away from an Eastern Brown’. The dancers would be hard put to it to match the agility and grace of the Moth’s movement.
Apart from snakes, we netted birds, possums and fruit bats. True, we harvested a lot of apples, but it was at great cost to our nerve endings. By the end of that summer we felt we could run courses in how to release wildlife without getting clawed, bitten or widdled on from a great height.
The netting was removed, and stowed away in the shed. Even then a black snake managed to seek it out and creep into its shadowy embrace, and one last snake rescue was performed. The nets were burnt on winter bonfires. I’d rather live without fruit than look forward to a Sunday eye to eye with distressed wildlife.
And we did the following year – without fruit from our trees, anyway. The birds didn’t even wait for the fruit to set, they ate the blossom as soon as it erupted. I remarked to the Moth that if they carried the food chain back any further, they would eat the buds, then the twigs, and finally the whole tree.
We tried hanging the inflated silver interiors of wine casks in the trees, but they had no effect on the birds at all. When I saw a bower bird perched on one to get a better beakful of Granny Smith, I took them all down. There is something very depressing about having an orchard filled with empty wine containers, a bit like a pub after closing time.
But foil of a different kind might work. I used to make goodies to take to market, and just before I decided that staying up until 3am baking pecan or blackberry pies was not how I wanted to earn a living, the Moth invested in a boxful of foil pie plates.
These have sat underneath the house for 10 years and such is the resilient nature of aluminium foil they are as reflectively brilliant as the day they were made.
We began with just a few, dangling like flamboyant wind chimes from the stone fruit trees. I had to move the first one I hung – it reflected the morning sun unerringly in onto the Moth’s face as he slept – or tried to. He said it was like waking up under interrogation.
Our neighbours also commented on the dazzling nature of the pie plates – they put their sunglasses on before driving past our block. I hoped the birds, too were dazzled – certainly the fruit over which the foil was hung seemed to be spared. I hoped no enterprising bird was out there manufacturing ornithological sunglasses, not until I’d harvested the fruit, anyway.
The wind only had to stir the plates for them to scratch against the leaves or twigs. This makes quite an impressive noise. A stiff breeze, and it sounds as though a Jamaican steel band is playing in the paddock, or the recycling truck has picked up all the bottles and is smashing them.
Encouraged, I spent an entire morning punching holes in pie plates and threading wool through to hang them up by. They were all in the lower branches of the trees, so I had no fears that the pilots of the planes coming into Merimbula would be blinded, and I responsible for an air disaster.
Never mind that we were permanently dazzled and needed ear muffs on all but the stillest days. The fruit on the lower branches of the trees hung in there. I don’t mind the birds having what’s at the top of the trees – just as long as they leave some for us.
I don’t underestimate their intelligence. They may have very small brains, but they are particularly focussed on ways of getting the fruit off our trees. They may learn that the pie plates do little more than reflect light and make a noise.
But for the moment they are foiled.
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