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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

The Search for Molokai’s Crumple Horned Snorkak

A Crumple Horned Snorkak? I thought, Isn’t that a fictional animal from the Harry Potter books? No, not a Crumple Horned Snorkak, I was corrected in response to me repeating the name aloud, a Bristle-Thighed Curlew. “A Bristle-Thighed what?” I asked. “Is it original recipe or extra crispy?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Certainly the bird nerds were making it up to mess with me.

I was riding shotgun on a bird watching tour of Molokai, Hawaii. I have no true interest in birds since my eyes are not good enough to tell the difference between them from afar, but since Molokai is apparently a birders paradise I figured I’d give the tour a try. No sooner did I say yes, though, than I found myself standing at the edge of a water treatment facility pond.

Yes, I was standing at the edge of what could just as easily be called a “poop pool.”

Bunches of birds were flying into and out of two pools. They seemed to quite enjoy themselves, too. Our bird guide, Arleone Dibben-Young, a silver-haired woman wearing a loose t-shirt and black spandex shorts, was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning. She bounced in her boots, looked through her bionculars, and pointed to all of the different birds while spouting off their names.

There was a ruddy coot this and a blue herron something, and another one that I could only remember by her description – a penguin on stilts.

The Ae’o, also known as the Hawaiian Stilt, was easily recognizeable by the little penguin body on some short flamingo-like legs. And at the end of the day, it was one of only two birds I could pick out of the crowd; the other was a blue herron snorter-tottle-fizz-fuzz, or so I thought I heard it pronounced. The name continues to escape me, lost somewhere in the related jumble of Arleone’s infinite knowledge of birds, but I remember it because we compared the large bird to a little Danny DeVito penguin from the old Batman Returns movie.

After stopping at a second wastewater treatment facility, trudging out along Molokai’s shoreline during low tide, and cruising past a few other locations, I shrugged happily knowing that I could recognize at least two more species of birds than I could when I woke up in the morning. As far as I was concerned, the day was a mind-blurring success since, beyond the basics – a robin, a cardinal, a duck, or a swan – all birds were essentially the same for me. But it was clear that I was obliviously mistaken and narrow-minded, looking for distinctions that would appear more like those between an elephant and a squirrel.

One bird was still missing, though. But I believed it was no more real than the mythical Crumple Horned Snorkak from the Harry Potter books. There was just no way in my mind that someone would look at a bird’s drumstick and name it a Bristle-Thighed Curlew. But the bird nerd in our Molokai Visitors Association trip didn’t want to leave the island without making one last attempt to find it.

I opted to spend the day Molokai-style – lounging at the hotel enjoying the great views of the neighboring island, Lanai, and the ocean, and saying I’d get to some project another time.

“Isn’t that the bird she was looking for?” asked Julie-Ann Bicoy, our Molokai Visitors Association organizer. Casually looking up from my hamburger, I glanced to where she was pointing and shrugged. All I could see were rocks in the Pacific Ocean’s low tide. There was no curlew in site. And as a matter of fact, I didn’t believe there ever was; Julie was in on the joke now, too.

Shannon came trotting into the restaurant, smiling and happy after a morning of Molokai fun.

“Julie thinks she sees your bird over there on the rocks,” I thumbed over my shoulder while chomping on another bite of my burger.

“What? Where?” Shannon was too excited. I was still in disbelief. But looking through her camera lense, she was next to positive that was her bird. Finally she saw it. I didn’t buy it, that thing has to have one hell of an invisibility cloak if I couldn’t see it on the rocks thirty feet away, but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

And besides, the joke was getting old.

In the end I was willing to admit that a Bristle-Thighed Curlew did exist – even though I truly didn’t buy it – if they would meet me halfway and stop leading me on. It was a silent truce of sorts. Or at least that’s how I justified it to myself, still not believing the curlew was any more real than the elusive Crumple Horned Snorkak, since I did not discuss the treaty with anyone else.

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