Neosho County

County Seat: Erie
County Size: 578 square miles
County Checklist: 280 species
DeLorme pages 65 & 78

Google Maps of Neosho County

Neosho County is located in southeast Kansas. It is in the physiographic region known as the Osage Cuestas with a large part of the county formerly being tall-grass prairie, with a nice scattering of crossed timbers vegetation. The Neosho River bisects the county from the northwest to the southeast providing some great riparian areas. While a great deal of the former prairie is now cropland, there is still a great diversity of ecosystems to entice birds and birders to spend time here.

Birding Locations

1. - Neosho Wildlife Area –  The Neosho Wildlife Area, established in 1961, covers 3,246 acres in the valley of the Neosho River, east of St. Paul, Kansas.  This includes 1,748 acres of wetlands, divided into 8 managed pools.  Pools will range from dry to full, depending upon the current management objectives.   The five largest pools on the area represent 1,675 acres of the 1,787 of intensively managed wetlands. There are sixteen independently managed wetlands throughout the area. The area was primarily designed, and is managed to furnish a resting and feeding place for migratory waterfowl.  Three of the sixteen pools are managed in a moist soil environment through a water level manipulation plan. Four green tree marshes ranging in size from five to fifteen acres.

NWA is an often overlooked hotspot, if such a thing exists.  Over 240 species have been seen within its boundaries.   Managed marshes and mature riparian woodlands provide habitat for nearly any of the known Kansas bird species.  Combined with adjacent farmlands and prairie meadows a day long bird trip could push 120 species for the aggressive birder during migration.  Thousands of shorebirds, geese, and ducks are present during spring and fall migrations. Commonly seen ducks are green-winged and blue-winged teal, mallards, northern pintails, northern shovelers, buffleheads, and common goldeneyes.  These are most easily seen from the roads in the areas of Pools 1, 2, & 6 when water is present.  The water fowl will be jumpy so approach carefully as roads are very near the feeding areas.  Rafts of American white pelicans may sometimes be seen feeding in the larger pools like pool 3.  Between November and March, look for bald eagles perched in bare winter trees. Spring brings a variety of warblers, wrens, and vireos to the woodlands.  On a cool spring or fall morning nearly every type of swallow can be easily seen feeding over the refuge pool, they can easily number into the thousands.  Wood ducks nest in the area in summer. Pileated woodpeckers can be heard year-round in the mature woodlands.

The Neosho River contains the west and south border of the wildlife area with Hwy 47 the north and Wallace Rd the east borders.  The best entrance is the north entrance a mile east of St. Paul on 47 Hwy.  This allows a “driver’s side” view of the main pools.  If time permits creep along carefully as bird sightings begin almost immediately after turning off the highway.   The winding gravel road will eventually take you to the top of a levy where pools 1, 2, & 4 meet near the pump house.   This is a great location to get out and stretch your legs.  To the west is flat rock creek and woodlands, east and south are pools 1 & 2, a nice observation point.  As you drive down the levy a right turn will take you down to the river where the Flat Rock Creek meets the Neosho.  This road is impassible during wet conditions but the scenic view of the river and creek dam make it worth the time if available.  Continuing on the main gravel road will lead you past Pool 2 & 4.  Depending upon the season you could literally see any bird along this stretch.   From Sept 1st to March 31st a gate may stop your visit where pool 2 and pool 3 meet, if so the only way out is to backtrack to the Hwy 47 entrance.   Attempting to observe the main pool 3 from Wallace Rd is a must at that point as you are likely to see many water fowl, even if just from a distance.  Another option is to hike the levy between pool 2 & 3, many great observations have been made there.  When the gates are open continue the journey on around Pool 3 till the exit on Wallace Rd.  Pool 3 will feature the deeper water birds and more ready views of large groups of migrants.  Terns of all types are common during their migration periods on this pool.  Trumpeter Swans are also a common sight during the winter, for the last several years groups of 20 or more have stayed for a period of at least a month.  Marsh Wren and Sora can also be relatively easy finds during migration.  Rusty Blackbirds are also a typical winter resident of the marshy woodland areas.

Look for and investigate mud flat areas during migration as they are likely to be populated by a variety of shorebirds.

If a mature woodland setting is your desire head south on Udall Rd at the St. Paul city limits.  About 300 yards past the city sewage lagoons and Pool 6, is a small turn in marked “authorized vehicles only”.  Park there, but don’t block the entrance and hike the path to the east, it is only slightly improved but offers up a great opportunity to spot woodland bird species.  This may be the best “warbler hike” in Neosho County.  This hike also affords a great chance to photograph the old river bridge crossing.   There is also a cliff swallow colony on the Udall Rd river bridge that is worth a look. 

The main gravel road “loop” will take about 1.5-4 hours to bird depending upon your desire for detail and patience.  Birding the whole of the available areas is an all-day affair.

Rarities seen at NWA:  Red-necked Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, Marbled Godwit, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher, Least Tern, Tundra Swan, Black-billed Cuckoo, Black Vulture, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shrike, Peregrine Falcon,  Neotropic Cormorant.

NWA is primarily purposed for hunting so be aware of hunting seasons and take the appropriate precautions.

NOTE: Over the next few years NWA will be undergoing an extensive multi-million dollar rehabilitation project.  If you are making a special trip to NWA please check with the KDWPT area managers to ensure that the areas you want to bird are open an available.

2. - Lake Parsons –  Located 3 miles north on highway 59 and 3 miles west on 20th Rd from Parsons, KS.  Lake Parsons covers 980 acres of water and is surrounded by 1000 acres of public use lands.  Lake Parsons is a hidden gem in the birding community.  The water store for the city of Parsons was created in 1959, and offers up a challenging yet interesting birding experience.  Several unique habitats exist on and around the lake.  At the intersection of Kiowa and 40th Rd a stand of old growth pine takes up an area of around 10 acres.  Long Eared Owls, Blackburnian Warblers, Pine warblers and Pine Siskins have been observed here during appropriate seasons.  A bird feeding station is usually stocked during the winter providing a great mix of feeder type birds.   30th road on the east side of the lake offers up mix of wooded to native prairie zones with transition areas.  30th road at the boat dock on the west side of the lake has a little larger native grass area.  All around the lake are overlooks where one can stop and scan the water.  The best overlook is on the south end just west of the spillway.  The north end of the lake offers up some great shorebird habitat, provided there have not been excessive rains.  The issue is getting to them.  There is no direct route… take 40th Rd west until you hit the lake.  The shallow/mud areas are due west.  After that you are left with a hike through some swampy wetlands.  On the south end of the lake are a few camping areas that offer up a mix of more mature woodland areas with a native grass mix.  The swimming beach on the West side of the lake has proven to be worth a stop.  A finger of sand sticks out into the lake providing prime resting location for shorebirds, gulls, & terns.  On the downside Lake Parsons is popular with fishermen and campers so it can be difficult to find peaceful birding.  If you simply stick to the roads Lake Parsons will take about 2 hrs to bird effectively.  If you explore the prime areas on foot it can be an all day event.

Rarities seen at Lake Parsons:  Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, Common Tern, Black-billed Cuckoo.

3. - Neosho State Fishing Lake (NSFL), aka Lake McKinley –Located 6 miles north and 3.5 miles east of Parsons, Kansas.  NSFL completed in 1927 covers 92 acres of water surrounded by 124 acres of public use lands.  NSFL is pretty much your typical state fishing lake.  What makes NSFL interesting is that it is only 4 miles, as the bird fly’s, from Neosho Wildlife Area.  That proximity allows for some spillover as birds forage the area.  Gravel roads surround the lake and make birding the bulk of the lake pretty easy.  There are a few short hiking trails but they may be difficult to navigate.  NSFL can be busy during the warmer months as campers and fishermen are active, if birding around people is an issue, you may want to pass on these times.  A private wetland exists nearby that can be observed from the road, it is at the intersection of 30th & Rooks Rd in the NE Corner.  It is private property so only observe from the road.  It generally will take from 1-2 hrs to bird the lake at a reasonable pace.

4. - Erie Water Treatment Plant -  Located .5 miles S of Erie near the Neosho River.  The estimated 40 acre WTP is large relative to the size of the community it serves.  This provides a better than expected birding opportunity.  The county road on the North is the only available viewing area.  Birding is limited to binoculars and scopes as the plant is not accessible to walk or drive through.  Nearly every common waterbird, gull, & tern has been observed here.  An easy, quick birding stop. 

Updated March 2016 - AB

Back to home page