Swallow-tailed Kite flight with insect, Tom Wilson, GNPA
Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites
By Tom Wilson
There are plenty of great things about living in Georgia. If you’re a bird photographer, one of them is a particular raptor, the Swallow-tailed Kite, which breeds in Georgia and other southeastern states. While these birds winter in South America (primarily Brazil), they can be found here for a few weeks every summer.
A fairly reliable option for spotting these birds is near the town of Glennville, in Long County. From approximately July 20 through August 15 every year, you can usually find numerous Swallow-tailed Kites (as well as Mississippi Kites) at a private farm owned by the Skeen family. The owners have been very friendly to birders and photographers in the past, but it’s critical that we take nothing for granted and exercise courtesy and respect while photographing on their property (important details below).
The farm offers perhaps the best location in the area for photographing kites, which spend the bulk of their time hunting insects on the fly (most of your photo opportunities will be flying birds, so before you go, be sure to read Mark Buckler’s column in this newsletter about photographing birds in flight). You may see more than 100 Swallow-tailed Kites, plus some Mississippi Kites, on a given day.
The Kites start to gather around 9:00 a.m. or so, and begin to disperse in the late morning or early afternoon. You can count on it being very hot and humid. Make sure you are well hydrated with plenty of extra water, wear cool, breathable clothing, and protect yourself against the summer sun. I would recommend you take whatever gear you typically use for birds in flight. I prefer a zoom lens, which offers me the reach I need but also allows me to zoom out when birds get closer. In my case, I use the Nikon 200-500 on my Nikon D500. Also, keep your eyes peeled for parents feeding young birds in order to get a variety of shots.
Timing your trip is very important, because the drive is fairly long for most of us. As a result, I urge GNPA members who photograph birds to sign up for the List Serve, Georgia Birders Online (GABO). Mark McShane, who provided the details and map overlays for this article, posts updates in July through GABO. Those include the numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites currently in the area.
Mark also checks to make sure that the owners of Skeen’s farm are OK with birders and photographers accessing the area. That’s why it’s doubly important to check GABO for Mark’s posts this month, both to make sure we’re allowed to access the farm for photographs, and to confirm that the birds are there. Additionally, I will repost Mark’s GABO post on the GNPA Facebook page when it comes out, although if you are a bird photographer, I strongly suggest that you sign up for GABO yourself.
The maps below give the coordinates for the location in Long County. I would urge you also to do a web search for Grady Kennedy Rd. NE, Glennville, Ga. 30427 to plan your driving route. The overlays on the maps provide very good information for locating the Kites, finding parking, etc. Drive safely, and good shooting!