Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Kites of Allendale, South Carolina

Swallow-Tailed Kites over fields of Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

             Every summer from mid-July to mid-August, the kite show begins over the cow pastures of Allendale, South Carolina.  In this period of post-breeding dispersal, hundreds of Swallow-Tailed and Mississippi Kites converge to this area of our state to feed on a horde of dragonflies and other flying insects.  It is a spectacle to behold -- a birder's delight -- to watch these flocks feed over the fields!
Swallow-Tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Mississippi Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013
             Both species can be seen during the nesting season in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  In most of its range in the United States, the Mississipi Kite population is believed to be stable or increasing though in some areas it is listed as endangered.  Populations in the eastern states are less dense than in other areas where they actually nest in colonies.  Sightings of Swallow-tailed Kites are of critical interest to wildlife biologists as this species is listed as endangered in our state and is a species of highest concern throughout its North American breeding range.  You can read more about the life history of and conservation efforts for the Swallow-Tailed Kite in South Carolina in this Department of Natural Resources (DNR) article.  In this news release, DNR encourages individuals to report sightings of Swallow-Tailed Kites to help scientists monitor their distribution and to identify their breeding and foraging sites so that they may design and implement conservation plans.

              Carl and I were aware of this summertime "kite show" near Allendale, SC but we had never seen it.  Thus, this past weekend, decision made, we were going to Allendale.  Prior to our departure, we researched others' observations to find the best locations for viewing the Swallow-tailed Kites (STKI) using eBird Range Map tool.   With this tool, we were able to zoom in on all the sightings of STKI in the Allendale area.  By clicking on each location flag, we could access individual eBird reports giving us the numbers of STKI seen, the date, the observer's notes as well as GPS coordinates!

Screen capture of the eBird range map for Swallow-taile Kites sightings -- Click on the image for a larger, more legible version Image provided by eBird ( and created August 1, 2013

Screen capture of eBird range map showing links to our checklists from July 28, 2013 obtained by clicking on the flag -- Click on the image for a larger, more legible version Image provided by eBird ( and created August 1, 2013
Aside:  All of the red markers designate sightings within the last 30 days.  This Range Map tool has served us well now on multiple occasions in our attempts to locate a specific species during our travels.  As a matter of fact, we used this tool to help us find Snail Kites, Limpkins, Magnificent Frigate Birds, a Long-Billed Curlew (among others) in our vacation last year to the Tampa area.  If interested, you can read about that adventure in this series of blog posts, Thanksgiving in Florida Nets us 6 Life Birds -- Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

          For our planning purposes for this foray, we used Buddy Campbell's very detailed eBird report from 2012 which we found using this tool.  Thanks Buddy!  Your report was the best!  Carl printed off the maps along with notes and we chose our route.

          The weather report was more promising than the morning rain that we drove through.  We knew that the birds would not begin flying if they were drenched.  Even as we reached Allendale, the drizzle continued but the skies appeared lighter to the west.  So we decided to head to the Millet Road, our westernmost destination first -- the location that Buddy had said he had found the "motherload" of kites.  In route, we found some cattle close to the roadside with Cattle Egrets!  How appropriate! It was definitely a photo op worth a stop!

Cattle Egret on cow -- near Allendale, SC -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Cattle Egrets with cows -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

           Yes, indeed, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to break through when we arrived at Millet Road at 9:30 am.  Now it was a waiting game ... but not for long!  Looking back over our shoulders at fields we had just passed, we soon saw one kite in the distance -- a Mississippi and then a Swallow-Tailed.  We turned the car around.  Soon we could see 20+ Swallow-tailed Kites in the distance over a cow pasture!  The most Swallow-tailed Kites that I have ever seen at one time was 5!  This seemed like the jackpot.  Only they continued to appear.  By this time, we had parked the car and we were observing from the roadside.  The very friendly owner of the cattle farm drove out of his field and said that we had indeed chosen a good day.  He estimated that he had seen 230 the day before.  He told us that we would soon be seeing more birds as the morning progressed.  Next thing we knew, they were flying towards us and over us -- clickety-click -- we started taking photos!

Swallow-tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

             The farmer had driven away but we remained close to the gate taking more pictures.  The fields were expansive on both sides of the road.  We noted that the cattle and Cattle Egrets were in the pitturesque, but badly lit (due to the sun trying to break through overcast skies) fields on the other side of the road.

Cattle Farm with Cattle Egret in one tree and Swallow-tailed Kites in another -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013
We also noted in the distance that Cattle Egret were in one tree and that several kites had landed in a bare-limbed tree on the right.  If only they were closer and the lighting conditions were better!  As the Swallow-tailed Kites continued to pass over us in increasing numbers, I turned to see where they were going only to note that the birds all had the same destination.  They were alighting in 2 snags close to us -- just on the other side of the road.   The light still was not ideal but perhaps I could capture something!

Two roosting trees for Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013
Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

  "Duck! -- Incoming!"  -- Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

As I enjoyed the show here, Carl ventured down the road in search of better light and more kites elsewhere.  My group of kites on the 2 snags rested and groomed for about 20- minutes or so.  Slowly, one by one, they began to peel off of their perches and began hunting in the fields closeby.

Swallow-tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

       Behind me, on the well-lit side of the road, the songbirds' chirping caught my ear.  I turned to find a family of Blue Grosbeaks in the pines.

Blue Grosbeak -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Blue Grosbeak -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

            As the roosting birds departed, I determined to track down Carl to see what he might be seeing.  I could spot his tall form down the road.  He was talking to other birders who had arrived.  I joined him to greet the other birders.  We met for the first time the father / daughter team, Chip and Sarah Gilbert, whose names we recognized from eBird reports.  David Youngblood and his wife also arrived.  As we all watched together, we finally began to see more Mississippi Kites.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Juvenile Mississippi Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

In all, we only counted 5 Mississippi Kites but a Shopping 150 swallow-tailed Kites in multiple groups across the expansive fields.  From what I can gather from the counts submitted by the Gilberts, more birds arrived as well.  But Carl and I had other destinations in mind for the day.  So we departed to find another field just south of Allendale on Barton Road.

           The Barton Road field proved to be a great find.  By this time, the skies had cleared completely.  The midday sun was baking hot but helpful nonetheless as we attempted to capture more photos.

Cattle Egrets -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013
          The long side of this narrow field paralleled the road.  The treeline was close and so the space for maneuverability of the birds was a bit more limited.  Here also, the Mississippi Kites equaled in number the Swallow-tailed Kites.  We estimated that there were approximately 80 birds in all.  In this compressed space, we were also able to compare the flight of these two kite species.  The smaller Mississippi proved to be faster and more agile.  Since the woods were closer, the birds also had less space which put them closer to us!  It was a little bit easier here to track shots of the birds right over the grass.

Swallow-tailed Kites -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

          It was here also, with the improved sunlight, that I was able to get my best Swallow-tailed Kite pictures of the day!

Eating on the wing -- Swallow-tailed Kite --  near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013
"Don't drop your lunch!" -- Swallow-tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

Swallow-tailed Kite -- near Allendale, SC -- July 28, 2013

             The Mississippi Kite might be a quicker and more agile flyer, but nothing can top the soaring elegant form of the black and white Swallow-tailed!   What great birds both of them!  The Kite Show in Allendale will likely continue another couple of weeks as the birds fatten up for their long trek to Brazil.  We give it 5 stars!  It is well worth the trip to watch these birds swoop, kettle and soar! 


  1. WOW, WOW, AND WOW!!!!!!!!! G

  2. Magnificent! Loved the story! How special to see a perched Swallow-tail! I must go there!
    Pam F.

  3. Cathy and Carl,
    So glad you got to see the kites!
    Great pictures!!

    Buddy Campbell

  4. This is a great post and has encouraged me to go see the kites as well. But how do you find GPS coordinates on that site? I don't see them.

    1. From your question, I assume you are talking about the eBird Range Map tool. Once you have zeroed in on the general area with the markers, you can click on a marker to bring up individual eBird lists. At the top of each ebird list, there is a map link. When you click on the map link, it will take you to a Google Map site. The GPS coordinates are given there. I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  5. The ebird site and mapping ability with GPS coordinates worked very well for us. We had a great trip on Saturday, and I got some great photos. Thanks again for posting!