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The photographer said spotting the incredibly rare bird was like winning nature's lottery.

By Tracey L. Kelley
March 03, 2021
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There's always an extra hint of wonder to be found in nature, even for the people who capture it through a lens every day. Belgian wildlife photographer Yves Adams told The Guardian that he felt as though his sighting of a rare yellow and white bird was like "winning nature's lottery." His unexpected discovery in Antarctica in late February created quite a buzz among nature experts worldwide. 

As Adams describes it, he and his team were on a two-month expedition to the South Georgia peninsula and the South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic Ocean when they tried to land their fleet of rubber boats. Wicked waves and high winds limited their options to a one-kilometer strip overloaded with "thousands of seals, and hundreds of thousands of penguins, so we were lucky to find a spot on land."

According to The Guardian, Adams was mesmerized by a group of King penguins swimming by from left to right. But, suddenly noticing something yellow in the corner of his eye, he focused his binoculars "to see among the chaos of animals, a strange pale penguin". He and his colleagues weren't certain of its breed, so they watched it for a while as Adams snapped away.

"The yellow penguin swam to shore just in front of us. It gave a little show—flicked water off its feathers, walked up the sand, and entered a colony of King penguins," he said. "The beach is filled with animals. We can't walk through, or disturb the animals, or we'll be eaten alive by seals. And you have to work quickly, watching 360 degrees around you the entire time. So we are lucky this bird decided to land where it did."

The Guardian reports the expedition team consulted with Hein van Grouw, curator at the UK Natural History Museum's Department of Life Sciences, who said the penguin could be an "ino-bird" or a "similar mutation". While King penguins do have a small thatch of yellow on their necks, they're mostly black and white, which gives them that signature distinguished "tuxedo" look. This hint of yellow extends much further under the black than you can see," van Grouw wrote. Decreased melanin "becomes lighter in colour [so] you can see the yellow through it."

Wildlife experts are thrilled to learn of the unusual penguin's existence. "Van Grouw says the fact the penguin photographed appears to be an adult is proof of these animals' survival skills. 'Contrary to popular belief, most aberrant coloured birds survive well in the wild,'" The Guardian reported. 

Adams shared his excitement on Instagram, writing that "the press picked up these pictures, and the phone hasn't stopped ringing since then. It seems we are in desperate need for some mellow yellow news ☀️! A big thank you to all of you for your nice messages!"

Proof that whenever we want to feel better, we should focus our attention on weird and wonderful wildlife!