Exploring the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve

Exploring the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve

Spectacular Sunflower Bloom, Tom Wilson, GNPA

Exploring the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve

By Tom Wilson

A Bee visiting a Porter’s Sunflower using a 150mm macro lens

 

The first time I took photos at Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, I felt as though I’d somehow been transported out of Georgia. It was very difficult to believe that I was in the Atlanta metro area, only two miles from a major shopping mall, despite periodic reminders from the passenger jets flying overhead on their way to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. This is a remarkable area for geology and native plants, with almost limitless potential subjects. You could visit with just a macro lens, just a wide-angle lens or just a telephoto lens, and find plenty to photograph in each case. I choose to bring them all, however. 

 

 

Layers of Porter’s Sunflowers looking towards the top of Arabia Mountain

 

This month, a major bloom will be occurring that makes September a special time to visit. These flowers are a type of Sunflower (Helianthus porter) known by the common names Porter’s Sunflower, Stone Mountain Daisy and Confederate Daisy. It’s an annual flower that grows in the thinner soils along granite hillsides. On Arabia Mountain, you can find a multitude of blooms. The flowers typically reach their peak sometime in the third week of September but, as is the case with everything in nature, this varies from year to year.

Your first step in planning a visit should be an online search for “Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area” to find the latest information and trail maps. The specific map you should utilize is the one titled “Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve Trails.”

 

Wide Angle close up of a bee visiting a Porters Sunflower on Arabia Mountain

 

I typically park at the South Parking Lot adjacent to the AWARE Wildlife Center. All of the photographs included with this article were made along the “Mountain Top Trail,” which begins at that parking area. The trail is a half-mile long, and includes some moderate climbing along its cairn-marked path to the top of Arabia Mountain. Make sure to have outdoor essentials such as good walking shoes, sunscreen, water and a first-aid kit. It’s also a good idea to carry a cell phone and have a buddy with you for safety.

 

Icy Vernal Pool, by Tom Wilson GNPA

In order to protect delicate flora, you should also be very careful where you walk. Stay on the path as you travel, and avoid stepping on vegetation or in any sandy areas. Walking on these sandy soils can damage sensitive plant life, including some endangered ones. Even in winter, make sure all your footsteps land on rock surfaces that are free of vegetation. The trail map will include safe-visit guidelines that everyone should follow.

 As you may note from my accompanying photos, I try to visit the park on the edges of daylight, either early morning or late afternoon for the most dramatic lighting. I typically carry a fairly comprehensive camera bag including a tripod, polarizer, a full range of lenses, and light modifiers such as a speedlight, diffusers and graduated neutral density filters. Although I typically shoot landscapes at this location, I never venture there without a macro lens as well. 

 

This month’s spectacular sunflower bloom offers a great time to visit, but you’ll find terrific photo opportunities in other months as well. I typically visit in January and February on very cold mornings to take photographs of the frozen vernal pools on top of the mountain (I’ve included one such photo with this article). 

 

 

In March and April, I come to photograph Diamorpha smallii, (see accompanying image) an amazing red plant that grows in the solution pits on the mountain. The possibilities are almost endless, and the fact that this other-worldly realm exists within an urban area is truly special. 

 

 

 

 

Good luck and good shooting.  

Tom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He serves on the board of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and current chair of the Communication Committee.
Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites

Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites

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.

 

Photo by Tom Wilson, GNPA

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.

Photo by Tom Wilson, GNPA

 

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!

Image from Google Earth

Image from Google Earth

Image from Google Earth

 

Tom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He serves on the board of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and current chair of the Communication Committee.
Where to Shoot Now – Dragonflies and Damselflies

Where to Shoot Now – Dragonflies and Damselflies

Reusset-tipped Clubtail, Tom Wilson, GNPA

 

Editor’s Note: As a part of each newsletter, we will explore some of the best places in Georgia for nature photography. This issue, Tom Wilson tells us about his favorite May destination for dragonflies and damselflies.

 

By Tom Wilson

I miss being able to visit GNPA Chapters to share my favorite photography locations, so I’m happy to feature one of them in our first newsletter. JJ Biello Park, at Riverside Athletic Complex (610 Druw Cameron Dr, Woodstock, GA 30188), is a great choice this month for finding both dragonflies and damselflies.

 

Located adjacent to the Little River, its wide-ranging habitats offer a tremendous variety of species and settings. You can expect to find pond species in the small ponds near the parking lot, gliders in the fields, and many river and swamp species on the back trails that parallel the river. I’ve photographed over 40 species of Odonates here in the past six years, and May is an ideal time to take a loop hike and look for dragonflies.

Photos by Tom Wilson, GNPA

 

JJ Biello is actually a good venue for dragonflies from now through September. I prefer to visit on sunny days, typically from about 10 a.m. until noon. My gear of choice is the Nikon D500 equipped with a 200-500 Nikon lens, carried on a Black Rapid Strap. The accompanying map illustrates my favorite route through the park, and the photo composite shows only some of the available species you may find.

Base photo from Google Earth

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He serves on the board of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and current chair of the Communication Committee.
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