Ford County

County Seat: Dodge City
County Size: 1099 square miles
County Checklist: 305 species

DeLorme pages 57, 58, 70, & 71

Google Map of Ford County

Best Birds: Fulvous Whistling-Duck ( ), White-throated Swift (2001 ), Violet-green Swallow (2012 ), Pyrrhuloxia (2000 )

Although the famous cowboys no longer rule the streets of Dodge City, the county seat of Ford County, the short grass sand/sage prairie in some of the untouched wild areas still give the county a western feel. In terms of birding, western species can irrupt into this southwestern Kansas county, while many eastern species reach their western ranges here. Some eastern birds simply cannot be expected at all. The central flyway is near enough to Ford County that you can reasonably expect most migratory birds typical of the state where habitat is appropriate. Most of the roadside habitat is cropland with a recent movement enlisting much of the land into wind farms. The various towns provide dots of habitat and account for much of the records and produce the best birding any given day. Playa lakes in the county can produce good birding when there is water. Most of the other surface water available in the county is on the numerous private lagoons, some quite large but impossible to bird without permission. The Arkansas River flows through the county, but there is no longer any surface water in at any time of the year. Some riparian timber and brush along the river channel on the eastern part of the county is of moderate birding interest. Highway’s 50, 56, 400, and 283 all run through the county through Dodge City, the truck capital of Kansas. Highway 54 runs through the southern part of the county.

Birding Locations: 

1 - Hain State Fishing Lake – This public fishing area does not always hold water, but when it does it can be one of the better birding locations in the county. Ducks and Shorebirds are some of the biggest attractions, but the upland birding can be good. Cassin’s Sparrows can be seen doing their display flights here in the Summer, and regardless of water levels the lake attracts large numbers of Sparrows in the winter. Violet-green Swallows were seen here in Spring 2012, and Lesser Prairie Chickens have been known to be in the area. To reach the lake from Hwy 283 and Hwy 50, travel north on Hwy 283 5.5 miles. Drive 2.5 miles east on Eagle Road. There are two dead end roads to enter on, one on each side of the lake. These roads do not loop around.

DeLorme: 57, F9

2 - Ford County State Fishing Lake – This other public fishing lake has water most of the time, but doesn’t have the same cachet to water birds as Hain Lake. Nonetheless, recent dry years have created vast shorebird habitat that has produced solid birding throughout Fall 2012. The far upper end of the lake has become an overgrown grassy area, but a hike through the tall grasses here is worthwhile because the volume of sparrows and warblers is impressive in the fall. Other than scanning the lake, the public land has several miles of trails. Most simply loop around the grasses for the dirt bike crowd, but several traverse some of the best publically accessible timber in the county. To reach these trails, in the park drive to the far southern end and park at the dead end loop, and begin hiking from there. Parking is also available along 116th St a half mile south of Garnett. An impressive list of migrant and resident passerines has been encountered here, and this is arguably one of the best spots in the county for passerine birding. Typically the edge birding is better here, but you can hike as much as you’d like. Be alert for poison ivy if you venture deep into the Cottonwoods. To reach the lake from Dodge City, travel north on 14th St and turn west on Garnett Road. The lake entrance is in 6 miles, after slightly turning just south onto 116h St. You can also reach the lake via Hwy 283 3 miles north of Hwy 50 and going west 1 mile at Garnett.

DeLorme: 57, G9

3 - Dodge City – The acclaimed “Queen of the Cowtowns” is a large green space on the windy High Plains of southwestern Kansas. High numbers of Mississippi Kites spend the summer here, and the fall migration of this species can be spectacular. Some of the more unusual Ford County records, such as Yellow-throated Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Pinyon Jay, and Cassin’s Finch have all occurred in residential yards over the years. Although none of these events are predictable, a few select spots in town may give you the best chance for good birds.

DeLorme: 57, G8

4 - Chilton Park – Located on Manor Drive just north of Comanche, this park allows you to walk around some nice trees in town on a disc golf course. It has a tendency of catching migrant passerines and is home to tough-to-get Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens that are on some of the limits if their ranges here. Be alert for White-winged Doves flying overhead.

5 - Dodge City Community College – The campus itself has some Spruce and Pine trees that have had a history of hosting Red Crossbills some winters. You can also walk along the fitness trail to Green Lake, a small fishing pond. The college is on 14th St south of Hwy 50 a quarter mile.

6 - Water Sports Sandpit – During the summer droughts of 2011 and 2012, the pumps could not keep up and this manmade sandpit slowly started drying up. It is unknown if it will ever be pumped again, but for now some shallow water remains, especially on the east side. The city has installed a walking path along the south shore of the sandpit and it provides the best access. This has historically been a good spot for geese, ducks, shorebirds, Great Egrets, and other waders found more easily further east. Black-necked Stilts summer here and an ambitious birder may find rails in the extensive cattails. Whether or not the water persists here, this is the area of one of the largest populations of the declining Black-billed Magpies known in southwest Kansas. Peregrine Falcons and Osprey are more likely here than anywhere else in the county. From Willroads Garden Rd and Beta Rd, park just north of the railroad tracks and begin exploring by foot.

7 - Alleys – Public alleys can be walked and may hold a surprise or two. The hordes of Eurasian Collared-Doves almost always support an accipiter or two, and you never know where you might encounter a popular feeding station or passerine feeding flock. The best alleys in town in terms of good timber and understanding residents are in the St. Mary’s area. From Central Avenue and University Dr, go east on University and begin exploring from there. It’s always best to get out and walk! To the north is the old St. Mary’s campus and to the south is the local country club. If you continue east on University you will drive by some neighborhood ponds that can sometimes hold birds and a resident Belted Kingfisher.

Ford, Spearville, and Bucklin – These three small towns in eastern Ford County have potential, and a drive between the three towns makes for a good day birding and navigates some of the more un-plowed, wild habitats in the county.

8 - Spearville – This town is located on Hwy 50/56 in northeastern Ford County. The city park on Park & Davis Streets has nice coniferous trees, especially around the back of the baseball field. The lagoons are small but easy to view and are located on Garnett Rd east of Ford-Spearville Rd. Taking Ford-Spearville Rd (126 Rd in DeLorme) south to the town of Ford gives you a chance to encounter Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs.

DeLorme: 57, F10

9 - Ford – This town is located on Hwy 400. The birding in Ford is a challenge, but the town is worth a quick drive through with the windows down. The road going east from Ford that parallels the Arkansas River, is a glimpse into some habitat different from any other in the county. Follow Ford Rd east, through the turns, and all the way to 131 Rd (marked as Bucklin Rd). Stop for birds when you begin to see tall Cottonwoods on both sides of the road near 131. The bridge north of Saddle Rd on 131 is another must stop. You can hike down to the river channel, where brush and riparian growth has potential. You can take 131 all the way south to Bucklin. The sections of this road are wide open grasslands, and any of the multiple roadside shelterbelts along the way seem to attract more birds than shelterbelts in wheat country. If they look birdy with a quick stop, stop and walk around some for the treasures within.  The one at 131 and Tillman on DeLorme can be especially good.

DeLorme: 58, I1

10 - Bucklin – This town is located on Hwy 54 and K-34. Yet another green space in the High Plains, a drive through the town should be a drive with the windows down and ears open. Take the blacktop, Center St, east of town and follow it as it curves south to reach the lagoons. These lagoons are some of the best and easiest to bird in Ford County.

DeLorme: 71, 6A

11 - Coon Creek – This creek has some good roadside riparian growth and therefore good roadside birding opportunities. One of the best places to stop is in the area of Lariat and 122 Rd. You can drive 122 Rd to better opportunities, especially north of Lariat. This is one of the few locations in the county to get species such as Red-Bellied Woodpecker and Black-capped Chickadee. Mountain Plovers have been seen along some of these rural roads, and other Coon Creek crossings may be worthwhile as well.

DeLorme: 57, H10 

Updated December 2012 - JC

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