Image of the Month July 2021: Jamaican Owl

Photographer: Owen Deutsch   Destination: Jamaica

But a few hours away by air, figuratively a stone’s throw away from the southeastern U.S., with a little luck and persistence one might find the Patoo howling or growling into the warm night air. A big orange-brown phantom of the night, to see one is to be transported to a parallel universe. This is the place that the indigenous Taino knew as “the land of wood and water.” It is where the Queen Nanny and the maroons ruled the rugged Cockpit Country. Their parties were surely as grand as the battles they fought.

Imagine what the Patoo still must witness. As it waits intently for night to fall, holding its daily daylight vigil, surely it notices us toiling away at life, bemused by our perambulations, wondering occasionally just as we do… what is it all for? Surely too it must take the occasional visit from a curious Doctorbird and probably it spies more than its fair share of mountain witches. At night it comes alive, uttering those low growling howls, and then listens and looks for big insects, small lizards, and the like.

This is a bird that’s gotten a bad rap in various parts of its home country. Many believe it a bad omen, a demon, or a “duppy”, as they call them there. Some even throw actual stones at the Patoo, in an attempt to ward it away and run it off, or worse. Yet others regard it as a charm. Certainly, we who pursue such mythical birds revere it as such.

Many are the charms of this shockingly diverse island nation, which ranks fifth in the world among islands for the biodiversity of its plant life and has 27 endemic birds. Pretty much all of the latter can be seen over a week or so visit. Clamber around the limestone forest enough and you’ll see that Mountain Witch for yourself, along with the Orangequit, Blue Mountain Vireo and Arrow-headed Warbler to boot.

It doesn’t take a lifetime to reach another world. The Patoo, or the Jamaican Owl as you may know it, still sits and waits. As it always has.