What was the screamer?
23rd October 2011: Fox and muntjac activity has increased in Hoo Wood with the current grazing of the north pasture. Late Friday evening I was making my way south through Hoo Wood, when I heard rustling and then the most unearthly screaming imaginable. The horrible noise came from the top of a high bramble covered bank – not more than ten meters from where I was standing. A tall chain-link fence marks the boundary between Hoo Farm Industrial Estate and the wood. There is a fox run along a narrow gap between the fence and the impenetrable bramble bushes. The width of the wood at this point is no more than twenty meters.
The pitch, tone and scare-factor of the terrible yowling would not be out-of-place on the set of a horror film; it might have been specially designed to frighten the life out of the intended audience. It is difficult for me to do justice to intensity of the screaming with mere words. I have seen and heard foxes kill rabbits, pheasants and pigeons, on many occasions. A rabbit can put on a terrific screaming show when it finds itself clamped firmly in a fox’s jaw, but the high-pitched plea for mercy I heard the other night was loud and very intense. There was no doubt in my mind that the screamer was fighting for its life. It’s not easy for me to accurately recall every detail of the screaming, particularly a couple of days after the event. At the time, my imagination very quickly conjured-up a vision of a baby being stuck with a hat pin as being a reasonable analogy. However, the pitch of this victim’s screaming was higher than that of a baby’s, so I didn’t feel compelled to rush headlong through the brambles to carry out a rescue mission. The screaming continued for about ten to fifteen seconds before it ceased – I suspected for ever. I believe I heard bones being crushed immediately the ordeal had ended, but the sounds could have been those of breaking twigs.
I mentioned this event to a WWT agronomist I was chatting to on the marsh yesterday afternoon. He suggested that a rabbit as the prey, and a polecat the predator. Apparently, a polecat will attempt to mesmerize its prey by running around it in circles, before darting in and making the kill when the time is right. However, whilst this is a plausible scenario, I remain sceptical. Two animals capable of emitting the high-volume piercing screaming I heard on Friday evening might be a Little Owl or a gull.
I will file the event away in the relevant brain compartment for retrieval when something similar occurs. My Cocker Spaniel can kill a rabbit in less than four seconds: with an efficient reflex action, he crushes them in his jaws. Foxes can probably kill a rabbit in less than four-second. Why did the scream last so long? Was it a polecat killing a rabbit?