Dawn breaks

Vulnerable penguin in the early dawn light.

The silvery light of dawn creeps in as an African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) heads to the water.   Their numbers are decreasing and IUCN conservation status records the species as endangered.

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The unexpected visitors

Living by the coast has it’s drawbacks sometimes – the seasonal wind and sea fret can impact the hardiest of coastal dwellers.  Just when we thought spring had settled a couple of low frontal weather systems had us scurrying to get out the winter layers again.  On the Atlantic side the seas were huge, and one of the unexpected visitors to our rocky beach was an exhausted young Cape fur seal. It hauled out of the water and spent the day on the rocks recuperating.  Seal pups are only weaned when they are about nine months old.  Baleful eyes warily watched as I attempted to remain discreetly hidden.

Rough seas at Scarborough
A young Cape fur seal.

Generally the dassie (Rock hyrax) colony commands rights over the rocks and sandbathing facilities, little seal was the first intruder and then up popped a Cape clawless otter.

The otter stayed for a nap, sandbath and returned to eat lunch after hunting down a pyjama shark.

It was all action for this photographer, as the next to appear (out at sea) were Southern right whales.  Their sheer size and tonnage have us entranced and the trick is to figure what is happening out there by trying to piece together the body parts which randomly appear – a ventral fin, the size of the flukes –  is it adult or newly born?  Or perhaps the cavorting of mating rituals?

The Southern right whales come to calve and mate  in the bay from June to November.

Further along the road at the penguin colony the chicks are looking quite bedraggled in various stages of growth:

African penguin chicks losing their fine fluff and showing their “blue” coats.

 

A juvenile African penguin accompanied by an adult.

Looking sleek and probably almost ready to fledge and make off on it’s own, this juvenile’s plumage will soon change to adult colouration.

False Bay is sometimes referred to as the “Serengeti of the seas” for it’s rich marine life and influx of seasonal species. Though there is the fear that many species are decreasing in numbers and little is being done to protect the resources.

Winter seas in False Bay

It’s calmer on the False Bay side when the nor’westerly Atlantic swells push onto the coast; though the wave height may not be as high as along the western edge of the Cape Peninsula there is still power in the break.   We watch with great anxiety for the otters and penguins as they exit the surging waters.    Fortunately the Boulders’ penguin colony is sited in a sheltered sandy cove, with a defence of boulders breaking up the force of the water.  Still these sturdy little creatures risk being tumbled in the surf.   Once on land they head for shelter from the strong winds.   Interesting to see the Cape cormorants happily hunkered down amongst the penguins. (Note the little penguin with the missing foot.)

Close by the Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) maintain secret holts on land where they can hole up out of the rough seas.  We’ve been fortunate to observe a pair which have returned to the area near our garden since the vegetation has regenerated after the devastating fires.  Unlike the penguins’ sandy beach landing, the otters negotiate a rocky shore and often suffer from  injuries.  Pyjama shark is the catch of the day. If you’d like to read more details about the otters Wilf Nussey’s enthralling stories are here.

 

 

Shall We Dance?

The charismatic African penguin - Spheniscus demersus returns from sea_01 African penguins mate for life. African penguins from the Boulders colony live on the urban edge. African penguins shadow dancing.

WPC:  Shadow

The afternoon shadows lengthen as the sun slips towards the horizon and the African penguins return from a day’s fishing.  Stocks of their prey, small pelagic fish such as sardines and anchovies are dwindling in numbers and as a consequence since 2000 the penguin populations off South African have been declining, especially off the heavily fished West Coast.  Give a thought for these charismatic little creatures as they are listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s REd Data List.