Tag Archives: African Penguin

Stony Point Nature Reserve

Betty’s Bay is a quaint seaside village on South Africa’s south-western coastline, about 90km from Cape Town (part of the route follows the scenically spectacular R44 Clarence Drive along the False Bay coastline, offering superb whale-watching at the right time of year). The town’s most endearing residents – African Penguins – have lived at this address since 1982 in one of just three mainland breeding colonies of these charismatic birds. What used to be the Waaygat Whaling Station until the mid-1900’s is now the Stony Point Nature Reserve, a haven for not only the penguins but many other species of wildlife as well. Of archeological interest at Stony Point is a midden of abalone shells indicative of the lifestyle of Khoisan people dating back to before colonial times.

The stars of this show is undoubtedly the African Penguins, with about 2,000 breeding pairs of these endangered birds now at home here. The management authority have provided artificial nests made of fibreglass to the penguins as the site does not yet have the deep deposit of guano that penguins require to dig their nest burrows as is their natural habit.

Besides the penguins four species of cormorant breed on the rocks of Stony Point, while many other kinds of sea, shore and land birds also find a home here and dassies, lizards and agamas vie for position to bathe in the sun on the rocks.

The Stony Point Nature Reserve is managed by CapeNature. An enclosed walkway leading through the colony, with informative displays along the way, allows visitors to view the penguins and other wildlife at close quarters without disturbing them. At the entrance to the walkway is a very popular restaurant operated by a local community organisation.

 

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African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

One of our most endearing birds and the only one of its kind resident on the continent, the African Penguin was previously known as the Jackass Penguin, thanks to its donkey-like braying. Adults weigh as much as 3.5kg and stand up to 70cm tall.

Penguins forage in the open ocean, either alone, in pairs or in small groups, and usually within 40km from their colony. When not caring for chicks at the colony, adults can stay out at sea for up to 5 days. They feed primarily on shoaling fish (like sardine and anchovy) and squid. African Penguins swim at speeds of around 7km/h, and can remain submerged for up to 2 minutes at a time.

African Penguins usually breed in tightly packed colonies, often at any time of the year with specific peak periods in different colonies. Pairs are monogamous and form lifelong bonds, with the male advertising and defending their small territory around the nest. Most colonies are on islands well out of reach of mammalian predators, while a handful are in safe and sheltered areas on the mainland. African Penguins prefer to breed in burrows dug in guano (seabird excrement valued as fertilizer) or sand, but as this has become very rare at some nesting colonies authorities have resorted to making artificial structures available for the purpose. When burrows (natural or artificial) is unavailable, they will nest on open ground but usually these attempts are far less successful in raising chicks. Clutches consist of one to three eggs, incubated for around 40 days by both parents. Chicks leave the nest at between 2 and 3 months old, but remain dependent on their parents for another two months or so thereafter. Newly independent juveniles often disperse as far as 2,000km away from the colonies where they hatched, but most return to their natal colonies again when they reach breeding age at about 4 years old. It is estimated that African Penguins can live to about 27 years in the wild.

African Penguins are restricted to the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. The IUCN classifies it as endangered, owing to a plummeting population as a result of depleting fish stocks (through overfishing and warming oceans) and pollution (most notable from oil spills). Scraping of guano, which destroyed the penguins’ nesting sites, and collection of eggs caused major declines in the population at the start of the 20th century. From a population counted in the millions in the early 1900’s, the total estimated population in 2015 stood at around 80,000 mature birds  (probably even fewer now) distributed at 29 breeding colonies (with an estimated 87% of the population breeding at just 8 localities). Boulders Beach, south of Cape Town and managed as part of the Table Mountain National Park, offers probably the most accessible viewing of the species.

Dashing in Black-and-White

This morning we visited the colony of African Penguins breeding at Boulders Beach in Simonstown, the historic naval town located south of Cape Town on the coast of False Bay.

Of course we’ll share more about Boulders, and the African Penguin, when we return from our holiday!

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