The truck lunged ahead, bouncing over the uneven ground, violently rattling as Stoney clung to the mirror while the vehicle closed in on the bird. They had cut the distance in half before the startled bird tried to escape. But due to its weakened condition and fully gorged crop, it could not take flight immediately. Instead, the gigantic bird flapped its enormous wings to flee but could not lift off the ground before they arrived.
Bill had drawn even with the bird in seconds, and Stoney leaped off the truck and grabbed it before it could turn to defend itself.Bill brought the truck to a screeching stop and ran to help his friend. He could see Stoney and the eagle rolling on the ground. Bill knew that the grip of a golden eagle was equivalent to a ton, and Stoney could be seriously injured if the bird grabbed him, so he hurried over to help his friend subdue the bird.
“That was when Birdie looked arrogantly at me and said. If you can’t run with the big dogs then you had better stay under the porch,” Loreen spat derisively before adding, “Well that dilled my pickle. I can run with the hounds, heck I am a hound!” With that statement, Jonas suddenly became very interested in a dragonfly buzzing around the cattails and tried to suppress a giggle.
Stoney was not sure what the appropriate response was for such an announcement, so he attempted to look sympathetic as he contemplated what to say next. He was extremely happy when Tom broke the silence and said, “Now Hunny Bunny, don’t go off like a frog in a sock. Just because your cousin could start an argument in an empty house, it doesn’t mean you should let your mouth overload your tail.”.
“I know Sweet Pea, but just cause Reuben is the biggest garbage collector in the county that does not mean they should act so high and mighty. I swear it seems as though he buys a new boat whenever the old one gets wet,” Loreen moaned. “And Birdies stuck up higher than a light pole; she’s always been like that, even as a youngin,” Loreen disdainfully added.
“I know you’re right, Apple Dumplin’, but she just plain irritated me with her gloating,” Loreen added sheepishly. “Bless your pea-picking little heart; I guess I gotta try to be more charitable,” she finally moaned as Tom settled down.
“But remember how snobbish she was after her interview with that dreamboat, Scoops McGraw, the famous reporter from the Redneck Games Network?” she furiously asked her husband. “By the way she was carrying on, you would have thought she was declared Queen of the World,” Loreen added with a large huff.
“Dreamboat…McGraw? That boy is so ugly, I’d hire him to haunt a house,” Tom protested. “Just because the guy is on the TV the women-folk think he’s good-looking,” he muttered. Then he added in a low voice as he peeked at the guys, “If they put his picture on a milk carton, the milk would curdle.”
Jonas chuckled and asked when the contest was being held, and Tom answered, “Mid June, we catch our frogs early and train them all winter. That way they are prepared for all the glitz and glamour of the contest.”
“We keep them in the bathtub all winter,” Loreen interjected when she saw the confused expression on Stoney’s face.
Unexpectedly, Tom became extremely agitated and began jumping around causing the boat to wobble violently as he shouted, “Every dog has its fleas and we are just as bad as the next guys, but by gum, next year we are going to win it all.” Loreen grabbed the gunnels of the boat and held on as she waited for Tom to calm down and the shaking to subside.
Just as they were ascending the front stairs, Stoney heard an unexpected sound. A soft “toot-toot-toot” sound was emanating from one of the trees in his yard. He recognized the call of a Northern Saw Whet Owl in the immediate vicinity.
Stoney glanced down at Reggie, smiled and said, “I bet we can get that bird to come in for a proper hello!” He told the dog to sit and stay, then quickly ran into the house to grab his flute-like recorder. Once he retrieved it, he went back outside and sat down on the front stairs. Reggie quickly made himself comfortable by nestling beside him.
For a while Stoney listened intently to the calling owl. “A wave of owls must have begun migrating through the area,” he thought.1 “Let’s see if this little guy wants a friend!” Stoney said as he raised the recorder to his lips and began to blow.
“Toot…toot…toot…toot,” he echoed the small bird2 as he began to answer its persistent calls with the musical instrument. Stoney carefully tried to softly imitate the precise tone and pattern of the owl’s call. Reggie gazed curiously at Stoney as he broadcast his reply. Stoney’s efforts caused his tiny visitor to increase the intensity of its calling.
Stoney was overjoyed to hear several other owls join in as they began crooning to him. He counted at least eight individuals offering their replies to his efforts. Stoney and Reggie sat for a long while calling back and forth with the owls.
Gradually, the clouds shifted slightly to reveal the full moon and its brilliance lit up the countryside. Much to Stoney’s delight, he was now capable of seeing the tiny owls as they hopped from branch to branch in the tree next to his porch.
The skunk was closing in fast, and they were running out of time to make an escape. Several options were spiraling around in Stoney’s brain as his pursuer closed in. He could hear the raspy breathing of the skunk as it moved even closer to Stoney’s painfully exposed legs. All at once and seemingly from nowhere, an idea came to him.
The main predator of the skunk is a great horned owl. Stoney reasoned to himself that great horned owls are fierce predators, capable of killing large mammals, and one wouldn’t hesitate to attack a skunk. The skunk’s main weapon for defense is its foul smelling odor, but fortunately for Stoney, owls (as with most birds) don’t have a good sense of smell, so they willingly go after skunks.
On numerous occasions he’d caught and banded hawks and owls that were stained yellow from skunk spray and completely wreaked of skunk. These birds didn’t seem to care if they’d been skunked! His alternative was most certainly worth a try.
He only had a few precious seconds before the skunk would be on them, so he quickly stopped and turned to face the skunk. He prepared to do his best vocal imitation of a great horned owl as a panic-stricken Reggie huddled desperately close to Stoney’s legs. Through the years Stoney had honed his skills by calling to hooting owls in order to watch them. His varied success had enabled him to lure some of them close by while mimicking their hooting. Now he hoped he could fool the skunk.
Stoney took a deep breath and hooted out the cadence of a great horned owl. Upon completion of his first series of hoots, the skunk miraculously stopped and started frantically looking left and right for the source of the sound. Stoney was dumbfounded to say the least. When he belted out a second series of hoots, he watched in total disbelief as the skunk lay flat on its belly and remained motionless.
Stoney and Reggie didn’t stay to find out what would happen next; they ran as fast as they could for the truck. Occasionally Stoney glanced over his shoulder searching for the skunk, but it had vanished as fast as it had appeared.
The great owl stiffened and rotated his head toward a patch of swaying grass on the edge of the airstrip about three hundred feet away. The facial disk around its ears changed shape to funnel minute sounds to his large ears. The owl bobbed his head up and down as he continued to listen to distant sounds from the grassy patch.
Then he launched himself skyward with a flap of his massive wings and noiselessly sliced through the air toward the clueless prey. Never once did he take his eyes off the location where the mouse stood beneath the snow as it carelessly chewed on a shoot of grass. Every now and then, a gust of wind would buffet the oncoming owl, but with slight adjustments of his tail and wings, he closed the gap, unaffected by the winds.
When the owl reached the spot, he thrust his talons roughly into the snow and grabbed for the mouse as he crashed into its sanctuary. For a few seconds the owl stood in the snow looking around, appearing to have missed, but then he lowered his head and reached down into the snow. When his head came up again, he had a fat vole in his mouth.