I arrived in Simon's Town at 6 am after dropping-off my wife at Cape Town airport. It was still dark and also very cold. I was hoping for a coffee but every cafe was still close... the city was still asleep but not the penguins!
I decided to wait for the sunrise on Boulders' beach. Thanks to that I now fully understand why these big non-flying aquatic birds are called Jackass Penguins (Sphensicus demersus). They are so called for the donkey-like braying sounds they make when on land and before sunrise they are particularly noisy!
The Simon’s Town colony – which now counts over 1000 individuals – is quite unique in that the penguins have voluntarily inhabited suburbia and a public bathing space.
I was walking on the beach south of the restricted area where the African Penguins are nesting, and while taking photographs of the first rays of lights between the big boulders, I was surprised by a group of very inquisitive 15 individuals. They followed me from boulder to boulder, and I was quite surprised at their aptitude to climb slippery rocks. Sometimes they were taking a short cut by swimming in the pockets of clear water, but always following my moves some 20 m behind me.
I decided to rest for a while, looking at the fog coming from the bay and was surprised they were coming even closer. They passed me at less than 2 m, with some more inquisitive than others.
I learned that they like oil-rich pilchards, but often have to feed on other fish and squid due to competition from commercial fisheries and increased seal populations.
I enjoyed looking at these special birds, walking a bit clumsily on land but agile at swimming in the sea, where they can attain speeds of up to 7 km/h.
The Jackass Penguins are very well protected and looked after in South Africa and their bigger threat is the oil spills which severely damages their feathers by reducing the natural insulation layer of air beneath them.