McPherson County

 

County Seat: McPherson

County Size: 900 square miles

County Checklist: 290 species 
DeLorme: Pages 48, 49, 61, & 62

 

Google Maps of McPherson County

 

Best Birds: Whooping Crane (present at times in the wetland complex)

 

While not situated in a location to capture large numbers of either eastern or western specialty species, McPherson County does contain a variety of habitats to allow a considerable checklist of birds.  The county’s location in the middle of the state lends a mix of geographic settings ranging from an extensive wetland community to upland prairie found in the lower sections of the Smoky Hills.  Watersheds in the county include the Smoky Hill, the Little Arkansas, and the Cottonwood allowing a number of conduits for avian life.  Geological regions include Dakota Sandstone and the Smoky Hills to the north and McPherson Wellington Lowlands to the south making for a marked difference as one moves from north to south in the county.  While driving major roads through the county, one is faced with views of a benign nature.  However, a short drive off the major roads yields a wealth of birding opportunities, not the least of which is the McPherson Valley Wetland complex maintained by the state in the western part of the county.  The county checklist of 260 species is likely more of an indication of limits of birding activity in the county and clearly not a good picture of the avian variety present.

 

Of some note is the presence in the county of the Midcontinent Geophysical Anomaly (MGA; running northeast from near Galva and Canton), an ancient rift filled with igneous rock that produces a greater magnetic pull than the surrounding landscape.  While this feature does little to affect resident bird life, its probable role in aiding some birds in migration is fascinating

 

Birding Locations

  1. McPherson Valley Wetlands:   While this wetland complex is not as well knows as the more popular Quivira NWR and Cheyenne Bottoms WMA, it is nonetheless a major player in hosting migrating water and shore birds.  Setting in the upper end of the Little Arkansas River Watershed, and comprising 1750 surface acres of water (only a part of its former size), the wetlands formed in the former southward path of the Smoky Hill River. The complex extends through much of the western part of the county.  In season one can expect shorebirds tallies of over 20 species along with good numbers of ducks and potentially the full complement of waders (including Least Bittern).  While driving this complex (spread over an extensive part of Western McPherson County) one needs to pay attention to ephemeral ponds and small wet meadows that litter the landscape.   Wooded areas on the properties provide habitat for a good mix of passerines.

 

To reach the complex, drive north from Kansas Avenue and Old 81 Bypass at the four way stop at the western edge of McPherson.  In ˝ mile, when the road begins to curve east, turn left or due north and continue on the paved road (County Road 1065, or 13th Avenue).  At the mile mark to the north this blacktop turns west on Moccasin.  Follow the blacktop west and when the blacktop turns north on 11th Street, continue straight west on the gravel road for one additional mile.  This places you at the parking area of the Big Basin.  This marsh complex, divided by dikes, is best viewed from the dikes on foot and with knee high boots to keep your feet dry.  Expect a full range of shorebirds and ducks along with waders in appropriate seasons.  As Least Bitterns prepare to move south they are often easily viewed as they move about in the marsh areas.  In the winter Short-eared Owls are to be expected.  Migration provides a good opportunity for a variety of sparrows as well as other passerines.

 

The next stop is the Kubin Marsh and Clear Lake areas.  If the road allows (don’t try driving dirt roads if they are wet) go straight north from the Big Basin parking lot on 10th Street for a mile to Mohawk Road and turn west to the Kubin Marsh drive (the road is marked).  If the road is not passable, backtrack a mile east and then north and then back west a mile and a half to the Clear Lake road.  This lake and shelter belt provides yet another area for ducks and waders.  The Kubin Marsh located west and north of the lake provide further opportunities to see waders, ducks, and shorebirds though vegetation shields views to some degree. 

 

To reach the Chain of Lakes area, drive west on Mohawk from the Kubin Marsh to 8th street (the paved road).  Turn south here and go two miles past US 56 and then turn east on Frontier.  The Chain of Lakes area is a mile east on the south side of the road with more wetland and grassland habitat.  Continuing east you pass the Southwestern College wetland area and eventually another large lake on the north side of the road.  If the water is high, seasonal ducks are often present.  If low, the mud flats host a variety of shorebirds.  Many times, this lake, bounded by tilled land, is void of avian life.

 

From this lake, go to the first road to the east (11th street) and drive south with some jogs (at KS 61 and later at the correction line) to Inman Lake, known as the largest natural body of water in the state.  Bordered by farmland, this lake can be a good refuge for ducks though some seasons it is a bust.  One doesn’t want to neglect the ephemeral wetlands sometimes found around the lake. 

 

A final stop is one mile south to Cherokee, two miles west to 9th street and then south (on some unimproved roads) to the final area of the complex; the Little Sinkhole Marshes.  This is a series of small lakes and wetlands with a woodland area around one of the lakes. Caution on wet unimproved roads is again advised throughout the complex. .

DeLorme: 61 and 48

Web Page:  http://kdwp.state.ks.us/news/KDWP-Info/Locations/Wildlife-Areas/Region-4/McPherson-Valley-Wetlands

 

  1. Maxwell State Game Preserve and McPherson State Fishing Lake:  

Situated in the upper end of the Smoky Hill Watershed, this small lake and upland habitat provide a good setting for both woodland and grassland birds.  The game preserve has some limits in access given the presence of elk and bison in the fenced area.  An observation tower near the refuge headquarters allows a panoramic vista of the region and a good starting point for finding sparrows and other grassland birds.  The lake provides habitat for ducks and waders with a good sized cattail growth at the upper end of the compound.  The campground and a nature trail along Gypsum Creek (south end of the campground on the west side of the lake) provide a walk through a moderate sized woodland that provides excellent habitat for woodland migrants and local resident species. 

 

Students of ticks will appreciate the abundance of individuals on the nature trail with a list comprised of more than one species.  While collection of ticks requires little effort, anyone wanting to avoid risk of tick-borne illness should consider copious amounts of bug spray and clothing conducive to avoid bites.  A collection of 200 to 300 individuals following a walk on the trail is not uncommon in the right season. 

 

Directions: The state lake and game preserve are best accessed from Canton, where one drives north approximately six miles to the sign directing you to the west, or by going east from I-135 at exit 65 where signage on the interstate highway provides guidance (east 4.5 miles, north one mile, east another mile, north another mile, and then east 2.5 miles to the lake). 

Delorme:  48

Web Page: http://kdwp.state.ks.us/news/KDWP-Info/Locations/Wildlife-Areas/Region-4/Maxwell

 

  1. Lindsborg/Marquette and the Smoky River Valley:  The final birding tour of McPherson County focuses on the Smoky Hill River Valley.   The starting point of this tour is the Old Mill City Park in Lindsborg; located at the south end of Main Street.  This park provides good woodland habitat along the river for a mix of resident and migrant passerines.  To proceed, drive west on Kansas 4 one mile out of town and then south on 12th Street to Shawnee Road (approximately 3 miles).  This provides one crossing of the Smoky Hill River.  Turn West on Shawnee Road to 8th Avenue where you will turn north to again cross the river.  One mile north is Sioux Road.  Turn West on Sioux allowing opportunities to skirt the river twice before the road veers to the north (6th Avenue) for a mile to Smoky Valley Road.  At the intersection of 6th and Smoky Valley Road one finds the Marquette Sewage Lagoons which provide open water for migrating ducks and other water birds in season.  From this intersection, drive west and, once in Marquette, negotiate north to 2nd Street.  On 2nd Street continue west out of town where the road borders the river before again becoming Smoky Valley Road.  This drive affords one more crossing of the river before the river turns north and the road exits the county.

Delorme: 48

 
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