County Size: 980 square miles
County Checklist: 313 species
DeLorme pages 69 & 70
Google Maps of Meade County
Meade County, Kansas (DeLorme Kansas Atlas & Gazetteer pages 69-70) is truly where “east meets west” and “north meets south”. Located along the Oklahoma – Kansas state line, Meade County is dissected by U.S. Highway 54 and Kansas Highways 23 and 160. The county is comprised of approximately 50% native rangeland and 50% cropland. Nearly half of the cropland is irrigated, primarily by center pivot irrigation systems, but also with flood irrigation and subsurface drip irrigation. The Cimarron River lays along the state line and has a continuous flow of water before going underground in Oklahoma and Clark County, Kansas. Crooked Creek meanders through the county with live water from the city of Meade South to its confluence with the Cimarron River in Oklahoma.
Meade State Lake is located in the SW quarter of the county. Once fed by numerous springs, the lake, constructed in the 1920’s is now supplemented by a large volume water well. Meade State Lake is the ONLY PUBLIC LAND in the county.
Meade County is the only county in the state with four major land resource areas which is an indication of its rich natural diversity. Kuchler land cover classes split Meade County into shortgrass prairie on the west and mixed grass prairie in the east with two areas of sand dunes.
Meade County is home to hundreds of playa lakes of various sizes. Some are as small as a tabletop while others are hundreds of acres in size. Several of these are now being restored and protected through the USDA’s Wetland Reserve Program. A few of these can be easily viewed from public roads.
Meade County has a rich birding history with records dating back into the 1860’s. Additional fossil records are still being examined which will eventually give insights to habitat and birds dating back millions of years.
Meade County roads are all marked due to the enhanced 911 calling system. North-south roads are numbered from north to south while the east-west roads are lettered A through Z then repeating with AA, BB and so on. North-south roads start numbering on the west side of the county and increase as you move east across the county. East-west roads start with A on the north side of the county and go up the alphabet as you go south.
1. Meade State Lake and Park - Meade State Lake and Park are public land and arguably some of the best birding in the state. The state park is a fee use area and requires a permit for vehicle entry. The Meade Wildlife Area to the west of the park is public land and contains the Meade Fish Hatchery. Although “public”, access is limited and prior permission for foot traffic is strongly suggested.
Meade State Lake is one of those areas where anything can show up. The best birds include a Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Harris’ Hawk, Green-tailed Towhee, Lawrence’s Warbler and others. Spring and fall either prior to or after the camping season is the best time to visit. Summer visits are best during the weekdays. Poison Ivy is found throughout the wooded areas so long pants, boots etc are suggested. The area may be closed for youth waterfowl or deer hunts during winter months but this is for limited times. During the winter months, over 5,000 Canada Geese are often found on the lake. Search the geese for Cackling Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese and Ross’s Geese. Snow Geese are also present in large numbers some years. Both the gray and red forms of Eastern Screech Owl respond well to taped calls in the winter. Barred Owls are also present year around. Along the shoreline, Painted Buntings are seen spring and fall in the bushes. Both Northern and Louisiana Waterthushes have been seen along with Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Lesser Goldfinches and Varied Thrushes have also been seen. The best time for spring migration viewing of the many warblers in the area is the last week of April and the first week of May.
Meade State Park is the best area in the county for Western Tanagers, Empidonax Flycatchers and Olive-sided Flycatchers. At least two Western Bluebirds (arguably) have been seen on the property during late winter.
2. Playa Lakes - Playa Lakes are located throughout the county. A few are of special interest.
“Lakeview” located on Highway 160 and county road 26. Good viewing can be made from either road. At times, this lake contains thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds. Sandhill Cranes use the area spring and fall as long as there is open water. Whooping Cranes have been sighted on the lake. The lake is nearly 1 mile long and ½ mile wide. It is a seasonal wetland and may be dry for many years. White-faced Ibis, Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons have nested on the lake along with Ruddy Ducks, Mallards and both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal. Least Terns are seen in the fall as young disperse from nesting areas. An unidentified Jaeger was seen here during a KOS fall field trip. This is the absolute best place for all shorebirds in the county and many species have been seen. Peregrine Falcons are seen here regularly when water is present.
“Copenhaver Lake” is located along highway 98 4 miles west of Fowler. It is nearly 2 miles long and ¾ mile wide. When full it is over 12 feet deep. Over 120,000 Sandhill Cranes have been known to roost on this lake in the spring. This area is being restored after being drained in the 1950’s. This area also can be dry for many years. During dry periods, Short-eared owls are found during the winter months. A heron rookery exists in a windbreak on the north side of the lake. Prairie Falcons are seen here regularly.
South of Highway 98, across from Copenhaver Lake are additional playas undergoing restoration. These are easily viewed from the highway and had nesting Snowy Plovers at one time. Continue east 1 mile from Copenhaver to a large playa on the north side of the highway at road 21. This playa has hosted Tundra and Mute Swans.
“Mayberry Lake” also known as “Frazier Lake”, “McClaine Lake” and “Sealock Lake” is located north of Highway 54 on County Road 22. It is several hundred acres in size and is currently undergoing restoration. County Road 22 is passable when dry only. This lake is several hundred acres in size and includes a nice marshy area near the road. The majority of the actual lake is not accessible.
Another good area for playa lakes is anywhere south of Highway 54 in the Plains area. County road 9 is a good route.
3. Fowler Sandhills - The Fowler sandhills are a unique geological feature in the county. Derived from an ancient lake which is now the Artesian Valley and Crooked Creek flood plain, the sandhills are an excellent area to view Lesser Prairie Chickens, Cassin’s Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, Swainson’s Hawks and so forth. Drive east from the north edge of Fowler along county road G then north along county road 27. Another good route is to go north from highway 54 on county road 30. Be cautious on either route pulling off on the side of the road as it is very fine sand and you may become stuck. Ferruginous Hawks have been found nesting in this area.
4. Cimarron River Sandhills - More typical of Kansas sandhills, the Cimarron River basin has sandhills on both the north and south sides of the river. Similar birds can be seen as compared to the Fowler Sandhills but add Loggerheaded Shrike and Greater Roadrunner. Good routes include travelling west from highway 23 (about ½ mile north of the Cimarron River bridge) through the XIT ranch. This is a public road, but watch for open range cattle and a lot of oil field truck traffic. Ash-throated Flycatchers have been found nesting in this area. South of the river bridge, you can turn east and travel through the Adams Ranch. Much of this road is in Oklahoma. Another choice is travelling east from highway 23 along road DD then south on 20 road to FF road then east into Clark County. During the spring, this road is exceptional for Lesser Prairie Chickens and Upland Sandpipers. An occasional Pronghorn or Mule Deer may also be seen. During the winter months, Golden Eagles and Merlins may be seen. Ferruginous Hawks have been found nesting in this area. Windbreaks along this route are good areas to see nesting Mississippi Kites.
6. Cimarron River - The Cimarron River is all private land. About your only viewing choice would be from the Highway 23 bridge near the Oklahoma state line. Least Terns are often seen in this area. Do not leave the public road.
7. Crooked Creek - Crooked Creek meanders through the county and can be safely viewed from several road crossings. One of the best is located 5 miles south and 1 mile west of Meade on S road. This is also the location of the original grave sites from the Crooked Creek Incident where several government surveyors were killed by Native Americans. This crossing is exceptionally good for various woodpeckers as well as Eastern and Mountain Bluebirds. This is a low water crossing so do not attempt it after significant rainfall. A second good location is along Highway 23 8 miles south and about 2 ½ miles west of Meade. The creek, plum thickets and tamarisk make it a good spot for several species including Greater Roadrunner. Nesting Spotted Sandpipers have been found in the flood plain of the creek. Golden Eagles nest in the canyons flowing into Crooked Creek.
8. City of Meade - The Meade City Park on Highway 54 at the east edge of Meade has towering cottonwoods. It is excellent for Mississippi Kites, warblers and woodpeckers of various species. A huge Turkey Vulture roost can be viewed in the fall from the south edge of the park. Hundreds of vultures may be seen coming to roost just before dark. Public restrooms are available and free overnight parking or camping is allowed.
The streets and alleys of Meade are always good for Eurasian Collared-Doves, White-winged Doves, and Mississippi Kites. Occasionally Inca Doves and Red Crossbills may be seen. Several feeding stations and garden ponds can be viewed from the alleys. Redpolls have occasionally been seen at feeding stations.
Meade has several good eating establishments and an excellent museum which is a must see stop!
9. City of Fowler - The best place in Kansas to view Mississippi Kites is Fowler. It is not unusual to see several dozen birds circling in the evening. The Fowler City Park has towering trees which are often used as nesting sites for the kites.
The Neon 57 café has some of the best food anywhere and is open for lunch during the week.
10. Other Areas and Thoughts - Vermillion Flycatchers have been seen on the “valley road” north of Meade which winds through the Artesian Valley. This road includes portions of county roads 19 and 20 NE of Meade. This is also a great road to see Kestrels and Merlins.
Summary - I think you will find most of the people in the county to be very friendly to bird watchers. Knock on a door, shake a hand and introduce yourself and more than likely you will have the run of the land. If given access, make sure you close all gates, never run the livestock and always go back to the house to say thank you and share what you’ve seen.
Updated December 2012 - Thomas L. Flowers
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