30 January 2013 – another mega penguin finally!
It’s shortly before 4pm and my phone rings. It’s Dominic Rollinson and I can hear in the background that he seems to be driving. His voice is a little excited as he tells me that a colleague of his at the Fitz has just told him that he saw a Eudyptes-type penguin down at Soetwater Resort earlier today whilst doing surveys on African Oystercatcher chicks. At this point in time, Dom has no idea which species it is or even exactly where it was seen at Soetwater, but he and a friend, Chavonne, are on their way down there at the moment.
The news spreads pretty quickly and my phone is starting to ring regularly now, but we still don’t know too much about the bird yet. Dom eventually arrives on site and I find myself phoning him every few minutes for an update – still nothing. By 5pm, I cannot take it anymore and hop in my car and head down to Soetwater as well. There are some issues with the gate closing times but, fortunately, Cliff Dorse is on hand to sort it out and pretty soon, I join up with Dom and Chavonne as well as Cliff and Suretha Dorse, Barrie Rose and Peter Ryan and we start combing the shoreline…
We spend the next 2 hours working the stretch of coastline from the old crayfish factory to the lighthouse very carefully (or so we thought) and come up with absolutely nothing. By 7pm, we are getting that all too familiar dipping feeling (especially when it comes to vagrant penguins), so call it a day and head on home. Dom and Chavonne decide that they will do one more walk along the coastline, but the rest of us begin our respective drives home. I am a few kilometers away already passing Ocean View village when my phone rings. It’s Dom – this can only mean one thing! I answer. “Trevor, turn around and get your ass back here. We’ve got the bird!”. I slam on brakes and pull quite an impressive u-turn. Cliff and Suretha are behind me and Cliff’s face lights up as he sees me flying back passed them. I watch in my rear view mirror and he swings his car around as well. I quickly phone Barrie to give him the news and within minutes, I am back at the gate to the resort explaining to the security that I have to go back in. No problem, they let us in and we fly up to where Dom and Chavonne are.
Here we are faced with a moulting immature bird. It had obviously been lying down between the rocks earlier and we must have walked right passed it, but now it was standing up and being a little more active. A lot of head scratching to try and put a name to the animal. After much debate, we all agree that it is definitely not a Macaroni Penguin and is a Rockhopper. Now just to decide which one… we wait and wait and eventually, it lifts its flipper to reveal an extensive dark tip – it’s a Northern Rockhopper Penguin and a completely full lifer for me, so new for every single list that I keep…!!
The next 30 minutes or so were spent watching and photographing the bird before the light went totally and we had to head back home. I can just imagine the panic that ensued when I got home and put out the mega alert on SA Rare Bird News. By this stage, it was after 9pm but, surprisingly, there were many Gautengers that were flying out of Johannesburg on the 6am flight the next morning. Got to love the adrenaline rush of a major twitch! What a way to start the year – it’s not even the end of January and I’ve already had a new bird for my SA list. Hopefully, that sets the scene for an awesome year ahead…:)