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Twitchers rush to see rare penguin

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By Murray Williams

Cape Town - Twitchers are flocking to Cape Town after a rare bird flopped exhausted on to a city beach.

A Northern Rockhopper Penguin was spotted at Soetwater, south of Kommetjie and has been a star attraction among twitchers – as avid birders are known.

“Besides all the local Capetonians that have been to see it, people have also driven in already from Wilderness and Port Elizabeth and have flown in from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Tomorrow morning is expected to see masses of people arrive to see the bird,” said Trevor Hardaker, author, photographer and birder.

“They breed on the Tristan archipelago – Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible and Gough islands – and, for the most part, are restricted to that general area.

“Occasionally, individuals will wander off or get caught up in a storm and pushed out to sea and that’s when vagrants turn up in odd parts of the world,” he said of the penguin’s travels.

“This individual also appears to be an immature bird, so with less experience, is also more likely to get lost.”

Hardaker said the penguin’s odd looks could be attributed to the fact that it was moulting.

“They will come ashore for about 10 days or so to complete their moult and will not go back into the water during that time. They can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight during that time, as they are not really eating, so will also try to keep their activity to a minimum to conserve energy.

“During their moult, they can often look rather scraggy, and even sickly, but this is a perfectly natural process that they are going through and they should be left to complete it.”

Hardaker said many moulting penguins were found by members of the public, who thought they were sick and took them to rehabilitation centres.

“This is the last thing they should do. They should just be left there to undergo their natural moulting process.

“And, obviously, when this happens, twitchers no longer have the opportunity to add the bird to their lists.” - Cape Argus

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