In the past we have not put much effort into chasing rarities when birding abroad. Usually the local birds are enough to keep us occupied. But when we got the report that a Northern Rockhopper Penguin had been spotted on the Atlantic side of Cape Peninsula just south of Hout Bay, we thought to ourselves "why not?"
African Penguins are declining breeders in the Western Cape, but any other penguin is a vagrant. This particular penguin is likely to have originated from Tristan da Cunha some 3000 km to the southwest.
When we arrived at the spot we couldn't find him at first which got us worrying. After waiting about 20 minutes we caught our first glimpses and eventually he came into full view. This was a juvenile bird, distinguishable by the diminutive head plumes, weaker bill and less extensive black in the throat. This bird was molting, and some knowledgeable locals informed us that a molting bird will not enter the water until the molt is complete; a process that would take about two weeks. The bird disappeared the day after we saw it, suggesting that either it succumbed to a predator, or was captured for its own safety for later release. Someone even suggested that perhaps the local aquarium had captured it for one of their exhibits!
For those wondering how Northern Rockhopper can be morphologically distinguished from a Southern Rockhopper, the Northern Rockhopper supposedly shows less extensive white in the underwing, as illustrated in the above photo.