This morning we had word that a stray penguin had been found on the beach opposite the inlet where I live. I was thinking, okay a penguin ... when I was commercial fishing we'd hear the fairy penguins as they came home to roost on the islands. It would always be dusk and they sounded like crying babies.
The flurry of activity from the rangers and ecologists in the office about a stray penguin struck me as odd. It turned out that this one was a northern rockhopper, not a fairy. Northern rockhoppers are endangered and if they turn up on our coast, they are often exhausted and malnourished after a long diversion from sub-antarctic islands. Check these guys out: They are pure penguin bling.
Normally they live on islands such as Amsterdam or St Paul, outpost islands between Australia and South Africa. They are severely weakened by their yearly moult, when they lose about a third of their body weight. The recent south easterly blow may have caused this young lady rock hopper to wash up at the inlet and, as she was so weakened by the journey and her moult all at once, she was taken to a wild life carer to save her from feral foxes and cats.
I was able to have a good look at this interloper. Her feet are solid, fleshy rockhopping feet. They are not the firm, skinny feet of most avian species. The rangers said she was quite friendly and that she literally hopped about over the rocks. We piled towels and rain jackets around her. She was itchy and trying to scratch away her superfluous feathers because of her moult. It was quite a special moment seeing a bird-child who should have been thousands of kilometres away.
For some reason, her story reminds me of Laika, the first dog in space. An exiled critter subject to the whims of climate and humanity. I wish her well for the return journey.