Saturday 31 October 2015

Top 5 scariest British wildlife sounds!

It's Halloween, a holiday I don't celebrate but do generally appreciate, because it gives me a chance to talk about scary animal sounds! These mostly focus on ones I've personally experienced, so I have been able to judge for myself how horrifying they are rather than just hearing from others. That said, let's kick off with a species group I don't have that much experience with but cannot be forgotten:

5. Owls
I'm terrible at owl watching, and don't really have that much experience at owl listening either. When I first heard a Tawny Owl hoot I was 19 and sleeping in a tent, and it was right outside and sounded so much like sound effects on the radio and TV that I thought it was a trick, because I'd assumed the sound effects were exaggerated in some way. It's a weird, wavering hoot that most people in this country are familiar with even if they don't realise it because its used so much as a sound effect to indicate night time. The 'kew-weeeck!' sound most often uttered by a female Tawny (though sometimes a male I believe) is quite well known too, and is a very distinctive noise of the night that I always feel lucky to hear. I'm less familiar with the Barn Owl's screeching call, which I hear if unexpected can be a shock especially if combined with the ghostly pale bird. Also apparently the Long-eared Owl has a very eerie hoot, which I hope I might hear one day. But for me it's the Tawny Owl's hoot all the way. It's exactly what you don't want to hear just behind your tent in an icy cold campsite!

4. Nightjar
Another night bird, this one even got named after its weird sounds. On heathland in late Spring and early Summer evenings, a weird churring sound may start up, wavering up and down and altogether being creepy. It is far carrying and presumably calls the females in so they can watch the male do his display flight and show off the white patches on his plumage. But when dusk is falling and you're suddenly surrounded by creepy mechanical churring, would you guess that? A weird, weird sound. I've only heard it once (maybe twice?) but it was very memorable.

3. Jay
You can hear this one in the daytime. Jays are generally more shy than most corvids, but they certainly fit in with their family in having loud and abrasive call which they will to deter anything and everything they feel is a threat. This could be a roosting Tawny Owl in their tree, Magpies getting too near, or even poor old you going for a quiet walk in the woods. It sounds like an unearthly, never ending screeching. Jays have beautiful plumage but probably the ugliest call of any bird in this country. Keep an ear out and if you hear something utterly horrible in a wood or a field, it's probably this bird scolding something and it might be you.

2. Fox
This one's quite famous but it was only recently that I heard it for myself. It was early on Christmas morning a couple of years ago when I was staying at my Uncle's in London, which meant we were probably surrounded by urban foxes patrolling their territories that night. Even though I knew this, I was still shocked by this incredibly loud scream from outside. I'd never heard it before, only read descriptions, which couldn't get across the utter weirdness and scariness of it. No one wants to hear that sound when they're trying to get back to sleep! Apparently vixens usually make the call but sometimes dog foxes too.

1. Marsh Frog
This one might sound weird because how can a frog be scary, you might think. But I used to live in Kent, and when I went birdwatching I'd sometimes hear a weird laughing sound that seemed to be coming from very close by. I at first assumed it was a bird, but it baffled me because where was the bird hiding? The sound would be coming from the vegetation right in front of me, and would carry on even if I walked closer. Not to mention I couldn't think of a single species of bird that could be making this sound. I only found out what it was by accident, and it wasn't a bird at all. The Marsh Frog is an introduced species to Britain and the marshes of Kent are one of its strongholds, which was why I'd never heard it before. Its weird laughing call has added an extra dimension of eeriness to the already weird landscapes of Dungeness and the Sheppey Marshes. This isn't just a case of not knowing what it was making it creepy either, even now the sound still freaks me out. I hope you all get to hear it, if you haven't already, so you can see what I mean!

Thanks for reading my slightly rushed Halloween post! I'd love to hear about what other people would pick for their scariest sounds, either from Britain or from another country. Let me know!

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