A penguin on a Norfolk beach?

STEPHEN PULLINGER It might be a common sight in frozen Antarctica but it was the last thing Jean Edwards expected to see on one of the hottest days of the year on California beach, at Scratby, near Yarmouth.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It might be a common sight in frozen Antarctica but it was the last thing Jean Edwards expected to see on one of the hottest days of the year on California beach, at Scratby, near Yarmouth.

She did not attempt to p-p-p-pick it up, but did have the presence of mind to snap it on her mobile phone.

While the image is far from clear, and experts are highly sceptical, Mrs Edwards remains convinced it shows a penguin, a southern hemisphere bird you would normally only expect to see in a zoo in this country.

Mrs Edwards, a semi-retired clerical worker from Leicester, spends much of the summer with her husband Malcolm at their mobile home on the Drewery Caravan Park, in California Road.

She said: “Malcolm was having a rest and I was walking alone on the beach at about 4.30pm on Wednesday.

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“The next thing, this chap came up to me and said, 'excuse me, if you carry on along the beach you will be in for a shock'.

“I wondered what he meant until he said there was a penguin on the beach.

Then I saw it for myself, standing bolt upright, proud as can be on the water's edge.”

Mrs Edwards, who has previously only seen seals on the beach, approached the bird herself but said she did not want to get too close for fear of frightening it.

She said: “After taking the photograph I showed it to the caravan park owners. They were astonished and said they had never seen anything like it on the beach.”

Wondering whether the bird was all right she went back on Thursday morning to have a look, but it had disappeared.

Ken Sims, the owner of the nearest wildlife park, Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, said: “We have never had penguins at our park and if it is one, it is absolutely extraordinary.

“The nearest penguin exhibitor would be Banham Zoo. It is highly unlikely anyone would keep them in their garden.”

After inspecting the picture he said the image was not clear but admitted it did look like a penguin. However, he warned about the possibility of it being a prank.

Mr Sims said if the sighting turned out to be genuine it was possible the bird had been stolen and then dumped because there had been penguin thefts in the past.

Kieran Copeland, animal care manager at Hunstanton Sealife Sanctuary, also inspected the image but was stumped.

He said: “The beak does not look right for a penguin, it looks way too thin, and I am not convinced.

“It looks a lot more like a guillemot, but the dark colour would more correspond to its winter plumage, and it's the wrong time of the year.”

Mr Copeland confirmed that thefts of penguins were not uncommon, but stressed the seven Humboldt penguins at Hunstanton were well-guarded by CCTV.

A spokesman for Banham Zoo said they were not missing any of their penguins and also questioned whether the sighting might turn out to be another bird such as a guillemot.

Norfolk Mastermind contestant Hadrian Jeffs, from Long Stratton, who chose penguins as his specialist subject, also thought that it would most likely turn out to be a guillemot. He said: “They are not very common in East Anglia and are more typical of north-east Scotland. But there have been a lot of storms up there, and it is possible the bird has got confused and lost, especially in the heat.”