Cormorant Roost and Full Moon

Every night, they dart under the highway bridge, buzzing boaters as their wings slice the air above the channel. Cormorants, nature’s flying and diving machines, are sleek and malleable to the point of being reptilian. Everything about the cormorant says speed … everything except parking it at the roost.

As branches fill up with rows of totipalmate feet, the available roosting spots get thicker into the tree, and the cormorants — who can’t hover to a stop — have to grab one of those branches on the first pass. Otherwise, it’s another sweeping circle, around and again, until finally, the feet clamp on, and the cormorant flaps and flails and tries to stabilize, like Charlie Chaplin falling over himself in a taxi.

On a good night, the moon drifts above their throaty calls, and casts moon shadows below — moon shadows that look strangely like cormorants. The moon rises and frames the cormorants in a soft-box of light, a wizardry that morphs them from avian and reptilian, to mystical and silent — illuminating their birthright as earth’s winged children, cradled against their mother moon.


This Double-crested Cormorant roost (Phalacrocorax auritusis) is along an urban waterway in Seattle, not far from where we live. When I saw the full moon rising, I stopped by to see if I could frame a cormorant or two against this spectral backdrop. I photographed a few cormorants perched on the outer reaches of the trees, where the silhouettes were not obscured by branches. Shot at ISO800, 1/800, f5.6 with my Olympus E-3 and Zuiko 70-300mm. I went for a higher shutter speed to offset any camera movement from me and my monopod. Lately, I’ve been favoring my monopod over my tripod, just for ease of carrying. I did light processing in Lightroom (contrast enhancement, sharpness and slight noise reduction).

Here’s the Chaplin video, linked to above: