County Seat: Greensburg
County Size: 723 Square Miles
County Checklist: 255 species
DeLorme pages 58, 59, 71, & 72
Google Maps of Kiowa County
Best Birds: Lesser Prairie Chicken
Kiowa County is known to most residents of Kansas as a county bisected by US Highway 54 and the home of Greensburg, the county seat and the community nearly destroyed by an EF 5 tornado in 2007. While the community of Greensburg is coming back to life, the opportunities to find a variety of birds in the county remain as strong as they have always been. Lying in the transition zone that marks the move to a high plains habitat and more of a short grass prairie, Kiowa County offers the inquisitive birder a host of birding opportunities in a variety of settings ranging from the scrubby sand sage landscape in the north to the red hills formations to the south. Highway 54 offers only a static glimpse of the county’s upland plain as it marks the high ground between the dissected area of the Cimarron River watershed to the south (Medicine River, Mule Creek, and Spring Creek) and the Sand Hills of the Rattlesnake and Arkansas River watersheds to the north. The county checklist hosts species that strongly suggest the western link including Say’s Phoebe, Chihuahuan Raven (nesting records for both), and Ferruginous Hawk. Juxtaposed against this is a warbler list that is decidedly Eastern and includes a nesting record for only one species; Louisiana Waterthrush. Sparrows, on the other hand, with nesting records for Lark, Field, and Grasshopper along with Chipping Sparrow and the presence of Cassin’s Sparrow and Lark Bunting, reflect the transition zone held by the county in the East/West division. Diversity in avian life ranges likewise from Black-billed Magpies and opportunities to see and hear displaying Cassin’s Sparrows to the north while the southern part of the county hosts opportunities to see Lesser Prairie Chicken and Greater Roadrunner. Unique nesting records include King Rail and Black-billed Cuckoo both found in the Thompson Creek watershed. Consistent with geographic patterns in the high plains, the 723 square miles of property in the county include 722 square miles of land leaving a record of less than one square mile of water. With the bulk of the water being located at the state fishing lake in Greensburg, water fowl are left to depend of a host of small ponds and sewage lagoons for appropriate habitat.
Of note is the fact that, short of a few community parks and the state’s fishing lake in Greensburg, there is a dearth of public access property in the county. That said, a healthy respect for private property will go a long way in opening doors for those who enjoy the outdoors. Expect a friendly and at times inquisitive group of folks as you work your way through the county. A stop at the museum in Greensburg will be time well spent in learning of the struggles of a community nearly destroyed by a tornado. It will also offer a good look at the history of a county known for cattle, wheat, and even meteorites.
Hazards include a plentiful supply of rattlesnakes though avoidance of areas where you cannot see where your feet will set on the ground greatly reduces chances of contact with this species. Most people would be lucky just to see an individual let alone suffer the misfortune of a bite. The county has had a problem with wild swine but, again, contact is rare and hopefully the species will be eliminated.
1 - US 54 (Haviland, Greensburg, and Mullinville). Of note is the fact that of the seven “towns” in Kiowa County, six of them lay in US 54/400 corridor. While not providing a window to a diverse variety of habitats, the route through the middle of the county nonetheless offers a good start on a county trip. All three communities host Mississippi Kites in the summer as well as the now ubiquitous Eurasian Collared-dove in addition to other resident winter and summer species as expected.
Starting with Haviland on the eastern end of the county, take time to work the woodlands in the community. A drive to the easily accessed sewage lagoons (drive up access) gives one the initial opportunity to see seasonal species of shorebirds or possibly other waterfowl. The lagoons are accessed by driving east on Sycamore Street from north Main. Drive as far east as you can go on the road and you will find the lagoons at the “burn dump” or brush piles. Don’t neglect the brush piles for sparrows and other small passerines.
The middle of the county hosts the city of Greensburg. Once a relatively wooded community and home to large numbers of Mississippi Kites, the effects of the Tornado on the woodlands of the community are overt in presentation. Greensburg hosts the Kiowa County State Fishing Lake which is located in the northwest part of town just off Bay Street. The lake is accessed by a road which encircles the man-made impoundment and provides adequate viewing of the water surface. This lake has attracted a wide variety of some rather interesting waterfowl over the years. Don’t neglect the ponds that formed to the north of the lake or the woodlands to the south as both can added a mix of passerines and other species. Greensburg’s sewage lagoons are located north of the highway about a mile east of town (unmarked road through a shelterbelt). They are surrounded by a berm and fence making access difficult. To add to the issue of access, one must cross a private railroad crossing. The best bet for safe and legal access is to inquire in town for permission. Seasonal highlights include a host of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Further west one comes to the community of Mullinville. One cannot speak of this community without mentioning first the expansive array of metal signs/windmills/whirligigs located along the highway that carry a decidedly political message. These are mentioned as you cannot miss them and unless you defy the norm, you will stop and read some of the messages. Washington Park located west of Park Street on East South Avenue provides some accessible woodland habitat in the community. The town’s sewage lagoons are located to the northeast of town with poor access. The Fromme-Birney “Round” barn, southwest of Mullinville, is a massive round barn restored and owned by the Kiowa County Historical Society. To reach the barn, drive south on 10th Ave. for 4 miles, then west on O Street for 2 miles. This barn, prior to restoration, hosted nesting Barn Owls. The drive to the barn now provides a starting point for a drive further south and through the Medicine River watershed.
2 - The Medicine River Watershed: Before heading south, realize that the southern part of the county has few public facilities. Short of the city park in Belvidere (where the outhouse may challenge those with a working knowledge of both entomology and herpetology), no public restrooms exist. It is, however, this very lack of development that helps make this one of the most beautiful parts of the state.
While one can access the southern part of the county from many angles, the easiest is from the east. One mile west of Wellsford on US 54, take the marked blacktop south towards Belvidere and Wilmore.
A side trip off the Belvidere/Wilmore road presents four miles south of US 54 at what is known locally as the Pyle Camp road (not to be confused with the “pile” of railroad ties piled up near the intersection). Traveling west on this road takes one within visual distance of several leks of Lesser Prairie Chickens. All are on private property and can only be viewed from the road but a close eye to pasture land to the south of the road and a keen ear will allow looks at this bird in season. Check appropriate habitat for Burrowing Owls along the road. After traveling four miles, turn back to the Belvidere/Wilmore road and go two miles south and then west again a mile to a woodland and lake on the south side of the road. In season this lake provides a good opportunity for Tree Swallows and ducks. Again, the lake is on private property and must be viewed from the road. At this point, return to the Belvidere road and continue south.
As the road curves to the west take note of the changing habitat with a hillier environment less open to tilled ground. Stop at the bridge just before Belvidere to see the Cliff Swallow colony that roosts under the structure. A drive through Belvidere provides a good opportunity to find Greater Roadrunner as does most of the south end of the county. The city park, located north of the highway on the west end of town hosts some scrubby woodland habitat good for arboreal species and a mix of sparrows. Do take the main road north from town to the bridge over the Medicine River to again access the riparian woodland associated with this waterway. Check chickadees for both Black-capped and Carolina as this section of the states hosts both.
Side trips from Belvidere include a number of options. The first is to continue on the Belvidere road as it turns to gravel past the city and eventually runs south and out of the county. The road tags on the south side of the river and eventually passes Mephistopheles Quarter Acre (the name references the character in Goethe’s Faust; this is an outcropping of Cheyenne Sandstone rock on the north side of the road). Watch for a variety of passerines in this area and tend to thrushes as you watch for Mountain Bluebirds which feed on the cedar berries in the area during winter months. A second route takes the north road out of Belvidere, across the Medicine River, where you then take the turn to the west as you begin to follow the Thompson Creek drainage north. A wide array of hawks in the winter can be found including Ferruginous, Rough-legged, and Red-tailed as well as American Kestrel, Merlin, and Prairie Falcon. Both Golden and Bald Eagles are also found in the winter with moderate regularity. This road eventually places you a few miles south of US 54 near Brenham. An alternate route has the traveler continue on west through Belvidere and, after following the river about a mile, turn right and cross the river to the north at the first public road. This leads one past “Bean Camp” and north through similar habitat as the Thompson Creek road with similar species expected. Both allow for a drive through “cattle guard” country and short grass pastures. As such, nesting species are thin till one hits wooded areas.
3 - The Rattlesnake River Watershed: The Rattlesnake River, named for its wandering course, starts just north of Greensburg and winds its way to the northeast and eventually to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. This initially ephemeral waterway and its watershed hosts moderate woodland habitat mixed with tilled crops and CRP land providing a wide range of habitat in a sandy soil environment. Check the woodlands for Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers being mindful of the Rocky Mountain species of White-breasted Nuthatch and the Rocky Mountain or Batchelder’s race of the Downy. Both can be present in the winter. The northwest section of the county hosts a sandsage prairie likely to hold Cassian’s Sparrow and some locations have a plethora of Bell’s Vireo in plum thickets. The easiest way to work this area is to take a DeLorme atlas or county map and work your way across the northern tier of townships from west to east. Black-billed Magpie, when present in the county, is most often found in this watershed.
Updated December 2012
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