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Penguin Vs. Hyrax: Who Will Win the Battle for Cute Supremacy?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa, hosts a thriving colony of African black-footed penguins, with a housing development and a bustling town just behind. It's a marvel of co-existence, a well-managed strip of coastal dune that's been preserved for the penguins. There's a thriving tourist industry, too, with a sort of turnstile setup to charge people to walk a boardwalk and see the birds at close range. 

 Most of the birds nest in tunnels in the shrubbery, though there are artificial nest boxes provided as well. When the chicks are old enough they come out and stand around on the sand. 

This penguin is guarding its chicks right at the edge of the parking lot--a good distance from the colony proper. They look fat and healthy. Two rangers who arrived while we were watching them were debating about moving them closer to the water, but decided to let well enough be. I can't imagine this adorable penguin would be fun to handle if it thought its chicks were being threatened. That beak is razor-sharp, and penguins are tremendously strong and fast little customers. 

Everywhere we looked, penguin life was going on apace. A youngster begs from its parent, and is soon rewarded with some fish slurry. Just look at the workboots on that baby.


When penguins go into molt, they can't go fishing, because their old feathers, which are being pushed out by the sleek new plumage, would soak up water. So they get really fat before they go into molt, and just fast for the time it takes to replace their plumage. It really looks quite miserable to have to molt and fast.

A blacksmith plover tiptoes through the colony. Just passing through, nothing to see here.


It was SO GREAT to see penguins with Raymond and Ann! Raymond and I were co-leading the Bird Watcher's Digest group, with the help of our Rockjumper guides.
Being able to share this incredible experience with such awesome friends was wonderful.

But penguins weren't the only thing to watch on this beach. There were rock hyraxes trundling through, too.

Not a guinea pig, though its shape might suggest that. Not a rodent!! Far from it. The rock hyrax's closest living relatives are manatees, dugongs and elephants. We know this bizarre thing primarily by comparing their dentition and their toes. Oh, the animal kingdom is a wonderful place to live!

This young hyrax was taking a dust bath in the sand. And it wound up almost killing me and Raymond with a concentrated dose of cute.  You should click on these photos to see the toesies.

He rolled around like a little butterball, toes up.

Stop. You're killing me! I wanted to squeeze him.

There you go. Hyrax toesies. And toofs. If you can't see the toofs, click on the picture.

Raymond and I were clickety clicking away as people trooped right past, as if rock hyraxes booble around in the sand every day! Well, they don't do that where we come from. Stop to watch, and you see the most marvelous things! We are both stop-to-watchers. It's the most fun thing to be.

I was so absorbed with penguin daily life and rock hyrax pulchritude that I almost forgot the incredible show that awaited at the end of the boardwalk. There, you can watch penguins come in from their fishing trips.

They swim like little bicolored torpedos. I did not succeed in capturing a photo of them porpoising through the waves, breaking the surface at great speed, airborne for a few moments, then diving right back beneath the surface. It is the most incredible sight. You aren't even sure what you're seeing, but when they slide onto the beach, you realize that those were not torpedos. They were birds. And penguins in the sea are a whole 'nother thing from penguins on the beach. On land, they are slow and a little awkward. In the sea, they are super-efficient fishing bullets.

They slide in on their stomachs and then haul themselves upright and walk up onto dry sand. There, they preen their freshly washed plumage, and it is the most beautiful symphony of black and white, circles and ovals, with the kelp ropes behind them echoing those patterns. 

Because I'm obsessed with telling one creature from another, I have to think these beautifully placed dots on their fronts are a code that essentially identifies each bird. 

What a treasure Boulders Beach is. What a privilege it is to live and walk amongst penguins, if only for an afternoon. And hyraxes. Let's not forget the hyraxes.


Thank goodness there were no koala bears in this post or I'd have collapsed from cuteness overdose.

I have never heard of a Hyrax. They are the most interesting creature. What fun to watch all the goings on.

Interesting that you saw hyraxes at the beach with the penguins. When we visited S. Africa (now almost 8 years ago!), we saw only penguins...because that's what we were looking for. My son-in-law is a big penguin fan, so...
As for hyrax sightings--we saw them up on Table Mountain!

Oh. My. Gawd. The toesies and the toofs! And those beautiful polka dotted penguin fronts. My, my, my. Thanks for the amazing trip to this magical beach and introducing me to hyraxes.

So now I can use the excuse, I must be getting ready to molt! Not excited about having to fast tho!
Thank you for sharing your life with us. I wish I was your best friend!

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