County Seat: Ellsworth
County Size: 723 square miles
County Checklist: 294 species
DeLorme pages 47 & 48
Google Map of Ellsworth County
Best Birds: Brown Pelican, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Inca Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Scrub Jay, Yellow-throated Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Common Redpoll, Evening Grosbeak
Ellsworth County is located in the center of the state. It has a diverse mix of upland habitats, with abundant native grass, supporting Greater Prairie Chickens and many other grassland species. Interstate 70 runs east and west, across the northernmost part, allowing for easy access to the county. K-156 Highway bisects the county from northeast to southwest, going from the interstate through Ellsworth and Holyrood, then into Barton Co. to Cheyenne Bottoms, Great Bend and points to the southwest. Kansas Highway 14 comes out of Lincoln Co. to the north, through Ellsworth and south out of the county into Rice Co. Old Highway 40 comes from the west out of Russell Co. through Wilson, Ellsworth, changing into K-140, going through Carneiro and eventually out of the county to Salina. K-141 comes off of K-140 east of Carneiro and goes across the dam at Kanopolis Lake. The Smoky Hill River enters Ellsworth Co. from the northwest, just south of Wilson, flows through the south side of Ellsworth and continues southeast into Kanopolis Lake.
1. Smoky Hill River – There is no public access to the river, but bridge crossings can be productive. Bridges to the south and east of Wilson have been great places to stop and bird. Barred Owls have been located the last few years south of Wilson on either side of the river bridge and also over into Russell Co. It has been good in spring migration, with several species added to the county checklist in recent years. The bridge crossings between Wilson and Blackwolf, Blackwolf and Ellsworth and between Ellsworth and Kanopolis Lake are all worth a stop.
2. Kanopolis Lake – This 3,400 acre Corps of Engineers lake has been really good in the past for waterfowl, gulls, loons and grebes. The Corps manages the area below the dam, along the outlet/river channel (Riverside), plus the public use areas of Venango, Bolt Bluff and Yankee Run. Kanopolis State Park has two areas (East Shore and South Shore), with a horse-friendly campground and the Buffalo Tracks Nature Trail at East Shore and good access to the lake and marina in South Shore. Valid Kansas State Park permits are required to enter the state park areas.
A). Venango has a swimming beach area that is visible from the dam. It has good numbers of gulls using it during fall through early spring. There is really good woodland habitat there as well, providing for plenty of opportunities for passerine birding.
B). Bolt Bluff & Yankee Run – These areas are located on the west side of the lake, provide great access to the water and also provide some woodland habitat good for sparrows during fall and winter. The roads on the west side are good for Greater Prairie Chickens and other grassland species.
C). Riverside – This is a small, but productive are to bird, with many waterfowl species using the river channel and other woodland type birds nearby. Barred Owls can be found in the area and it’s also good for bluebirds, sparrows and other passerines, especially during the winter months.
D). East Shore State Park – This area is really good in fall-winter, with a live stream running through it, providing habitat for a great variety of species. Buffalo Tracks Nature Trail and Horsethief Canyon are here as well and have had really good birding opportunities provided there. A small wildlife watching marsh has been established just to the northwest of the State Park Administrative Office and can have decent birds as well.
E). South Shore State Park – This area has ample woodland and shrubby habitat that is very productive during fall and winter. The only marina on the lake is in this park and can host gulls and waterfowl in fall/winter. There is pretty good access to the lake here and birders can better looks at birds than from the dam area.
F). Kanopolis Wildlife Area – This area is fairly substantial in size, with the majority of property on the west and northwest parts of the lake. There are ample amounts of native grass, riparian woodlands, and creeks within the area, making for great birding opportunities. Greater Prairie Chickens are abundant in the area and just off in private property as well.
3. Creeks – There are numerous creeks throughout the county, with many small bridges to stop and bird. Most of the substantial creeks are located along the south side of the Smoky Hill River, from the Russell Co. line in the west and the Saline Co. line in the east.
3. Farm ponds – The county has many farm ponds that can hold waterfowl during both spring and fall migration. Page #47 in the DeLorme has enough detail to be able to see where the larger ponds are located throughout the county. Remember that these are all private property so please stay on the county roads and out of the way of traffic.
4. County roads – Ellsworth County can have some productive birding accomplished by driving county roads. Many are good for raptors in winter, plus longspurs, Horned Larks, shrikes, Wild Turkey and others. Good areas to drive are abundant, with roads southeast of Wilson and northeast of Ellsworth usually the best.
5. Towns – Many species can be found in the towns of the county, including Ellsworth, Wilson, Kanopolis, Holyrood and Lorraine. Birding in these communities can be productive, with many rarities found in the past. Good birds in Wilson have included: White-winged and Inca Doves, five species of hummingbirds, most of the expected warbler and winter finches as well. Holyrood Lake, in the southwest part of the county has some decent woodlands nearby, but the lake itself has been dry for several years.
Ellsworth County is probably under-birded, even though it has a pretty decent county list total. Kanopolis Lake should really be considered a birding destination, with the areas between there, Wilson Lake and Cheyenne Bottoms worth the extra time to check things out. There is still some room for additions to the passerine list especially, so many could be added with time spent out and about, especially in spring migration.
Updated March 2013 - MR
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