Soft Sounds

It is November 3, 2007. Last night owls kept me awake awhile - again. That soft cooing sound penetrated my dreams. I drifted in and out. Dreaming, I explained to someone that they were Great Horned Owls making that sound - calling. It went on and on, with me drifting back to sleep between calls. Then there it was again; I was hearing it again: who, who-who, who, who. It was the low resonant sound of a male calling.

Don't tell me it's mating time again, already. Yes, I guess so. They nest from January or February through April. I guess they are courting, already. Sounded as if he were in the tree right at my window.
Their calls are three to eight notes long and float long distances. He could have been some trees farther away, or, even down in the dell.

Two or three summers ago, we lived with the stench of rotting animals. I had a trapper who was not very reliable. He trapped groundhogs with killing traps and even though I called him, he was not prompt in collecting what he caught. When he did, he took the carcass to his mom's pack of German Shepperd dogs to make good use of the meat. But, getting him here to collect them was the problem. Needless to say, I didn't keep him on the next season. But, in the meanwhile, it was really bad.

Then one day, I was down in the woodland garden and there on the path were animal pelts - couldn't tell if it was two or just one that had been moved to another location - leaving part of it behind. We had had a lot of rain, and it was too much melted away to remove. Phew! What a stench!

I wasn't even sure what kind of animal it was. It had coarse grayish hair. The body had been scooped out from the soft underside and nothing was left but the backbone and the pelt; something had done an efficient job of consuming almost everything, wasting little.

Puzzling it was. It certainly was adding to the stench wafting about the garden for several weeks. So it wasn't
entirely the trapper's fault after all. But, what killed it, and in that manner?

As a farm girl, I learned that: Foxes kill chickens and take them to their dens (where I had seen the bones); stoats kill them by cutting their throats and may leave them to go to waste - maybe they drink the blood;
minks, weasels, and ferrets kill them and eat them starting with the head; opossums start at the other end ("Nasty, nasty things!" my mother would say.) Maybe the "nasty" opossums needed the carbohydrate contents of the intestines as do cats (or so I have read). But, what kills and hulls out starting with the soft underbelly?

Later, I told Out of Town (biologist) Son about it. He grinned and said, "It was your Great Horned Owl; caught 'em a 'possum." Oh, of course, why didn't I think of that!

We occasionally find their pellets when we are weeding beneath tall trees. I have read that owls seem to have favorite trees for that purpose where they perch and regurgitate their pellets of indigestible food parts such as bones, hair, and exoskeletons.
They fly in on soundless wings; wings clothed in down and special feathers that make their flights silent. I find the pellets most often under the tall Blue Spruce beside the path at the top of the hill.

But last night as I drifted in and out of sleep, all I was aware of was the softness of sound and the softness of down. Was it that of the big soft, downy owl at my window? or my soft down-filled puff covering me as I floated and dreamed? - Who?

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