The return of the cormorants to Southern Ontario is in full swing and over the weekend I spent a couple of hours at Hamilton harbor photographing them.
Sometimes I wonder why I make the trek down to the harbor since I already have captured thousands of images of these birds over the past few years.
All it takes is a couple of minutes with a camera in my hands before I appreciate, once again, how much fun it is to capture images of these large birds in flight, or of them taking off from the surface of the water.
There is a large nesting colony of cormorants adjacent to Eastport Drive which makes them very accessible, although one needs to be mindful of the traffic on the 4-lane road. For many photographers a 300mm zoom lens is long enough to capture some decent images. This makes the location ideal for amateur photographers who don’t have the money to invest in expensive, long telephoto prime lenses.
Many bird enthusiasts like cormorants because of their somewhat prehistoric appearance.
Since the birds are plentiful this time of year, Hamilton harbor is one of my favourite places to do some photo coaching with folks. The location affords them lots of opportunities to photograph the birds at their nests, in flight, and on occasion taking off from the water.
Cormorants use a ‘double leg pump’ as they try to build up sufficient speed to propel themselves off the surface of the water.
Some interesting wing and leg positions can be captured, especially when using continuous auto-focus with subject tracking at a fast frame rate.
Visiting during the morning on a sunny day is ideal since the sun will be at your back. This provides good lighting on the birds which helps capture some of their feather detail.
At the present time the birds are busy with nest building and repair so the opportunities to capture images of them carrying nesting material in their beaks abounds.
On the weekends there are usually a number of photographers staking out their turf along the guardrail so arriving early can provide the best sightlines.
The birds were very active during the morning I was there and I filled a few 16GB cards during my two hour visit.
I used a Nikon 1 V2 along with a 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens to capture all of the images in this article. I shot hand-held using centre-weighted average metering, AF-C at 15fps with subject tracking, Manual settings and Auto-ISO 160-3200.
The period from mid-April to late June is typically the best time to photograph cormorants at Hamilton harbor. Once the chicks are fully fledged the colony begins to dissipate.
Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation or reproduction of any kind is allowed without written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article and if you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.
Thanks to your wonderful shots, I saw and photographed my first cormorant in the western suburbs of Chicago today. I had never seen one before here, but while running errands this afternoon, I happened to see a large dark bird perched in a dead tree above the waterway. From all the photos you had previously posted, I thought it may have been a cormorant, but couldn’t tell for sure. After a few shots with a 70-200mm + 2xTC, I managed to determine that it was indeed a cormorant. Unfortunately, given the overcast skies and distance (I estimate about 250-300 feet), and my time limitations, my shots weren’t nearly as interesting or detailed as yours. Anyhow, it’s nice to know that if I’m ever in Ontario this time of year, I’ll know where to go for some wildlife photography.
Thanks for sharing your recent experience, I’m sure all of the bird photography buffs can identify with your excitement photographing a species you had not captured before!
Great images and really nice location to be able to get soo many keepers in just a couple of hours. I think cormorants are fun to photograph because of the lively way they leave the water. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a location like this one…perhaps from not looking real hard. Now I will have to look!
Luckily my location in the Niagara Peninsula affords me quite a number of photographic opportunities, including the annual cormorant migration. The birds are so plentiful in areas that Environment Canada is studying their impact on specific islands in the Great Lakes.
We have lots of them in most inland lakes here in India, and compared to the exotic migrant birds we never look at them. No more.. you made me realise how lively these Cormorants are…
Yes…they can be lively and very quirky at the same time!
I’ve never liked cormorants and have always thought they’re one the ugliest things in the air and on water. But your photos give me a big grin. You made them look naughty, playful, and quirky. They’re still ugly IMO but now in a cute way. Thank you.
I also find them to be quite ugly birds. Related species in other parts of the world can have nicer colouring…but as photo subjects cormorants just are what they are.
I do find them to be great practice photo subjects in terms of tracking them as they are flying, adjusting focal lengths on my zoom lens etc. In some ways photographing them is almost like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ they are so plentiful during certain times of the year that you can be shooting constantly. While they are in peak season here I do go out a number of times to photograph them simply to practice my eye-hand coordination in terms of BIF technique.
Nice images Thomas, this equipment certainly does a good job in this setting.
The Cormorant is not a very nice or well liked bird in these parts. Their insatiable appetites can quickly wipe out small lakes and then they move on.
We are talking about the photography, not whether we like the birds or not – you can shoot cormorants legally on Manitoulin Island if they are on your property. Too bad we can’t shoot Canada geese or squirrels – just sayin’
AKA – where is a good place to park on Eastport? Still looking for Randle Park @ pier 24?
I usually park right on the shoulder of Eastport drive…i.e. on the Lake Ontario side of the street…then walk across to the pier side where all of the nesting trees are located. From that vantage point I’m within about 30-50 feet of birds flying in to land on their nests. I usually go on early on a Saturday or Sunday morning as there is very little traffic on Eastport. Going during the week adds safety concerns as large trucks etc. are moving at 80km plus and the paved shoulder on the bay side is only about 5-6 feet wide.
I agree that they can be a problem bird in many areas. As you noted cormorants have insatiable appetites and can consume huge quantities of bait fish which can then damage stocks of larger sport fish species. Fisherman tend to hate them for that reason.
Nice photos Thomas.
Not only that the cormorants consume almost every imaginable quantity of fish. They are, in reality, quite a pest to plants as well. Their droppings cause trees on which they nest to simly dry and die. We have big problem with that in some national parks in parts of Europe – they destroy a lot of areas because their populations are booming.
What is interesting though, is that those on your pictures do nest and live in a rather busy and loud environment of harbour. Even more, a very industrial one – if I recall correctly (it’s been a while since my last visit to ON), right in Hamilton, on the very bend of Lake Ontario there is a huge Dofasco steelworks. “Our” cormorants love their calm and green protected areas of lake regions or river overflow areas :)
Thanks for adding additional perspectives to the discussion! You are absolutely right that the droppings from the cormorants do cause the trees in which they nest to die which causes additional problems for natural habitats. The nesting colony that I photograph is directly across from a major steel mill situated on Hamilton harbor. It is adjacent to a very busy industrial road. The combined impact of consuming bait fish and destruction of nesting trees is likely the reason that Environment Canada has an ongoing research project in place studying the impact of cormorants on various islands in the country.