Ottawa County

County Seat: Minneapolis
County Size: 721 square miles
County Checklist: 232 species
DeLorme pages 35 & 36

Google Maps of Ottawa County

Best Birds: Snowy Owl (2012), Blue-winged Warbler

Ottawa County is located in north-central Kansas. Highway K-18 and US-81 both span the county, US-81 running north and south and K-18 east and west. Primarily an agricultural county it has a few good accessible birding areas.  Lying primarily in the Smoky Hills physiographic region, Ottawa County has a few remnants of the Flint Hills in the extreme southeast corner of the county and a small portion of the Blue Hills region in the extreme northwest corner of the county. These transitions are quite obvious as you traverse the county. The agricultural land is fairly evenly split between crop land and pasture. Timber can be scarce and will be concentrated along the numerous streams and rivers that can be found in the county.

1. Ottawa State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area – Without a doubt the best birding in the county is at the Ottawa State Fishing Lake. The entire area is a little over 640 acres in size. Roughly half of this is a refuge area from October 1 through March 1 and access is prohibited. The lake itself is probably the best location in the county to consistently find waterfowl. The lake level tends to be fairly static so there aren’t many mudflats available for shorebirds, although sandpipers have been occasionally seen around the spillway area.

To reach the area drive north out of Bennington on 180th Rd. Drive 5 miles to the intersection with K-106 (Justice Rd). Drive east 1 mile on K-106 to the southeast entrance to the lake. There are several access points to the area. If you take the main entrance at the southeast corner, the road (Lake Dr.) will take you up the west side of the lake to the north end. Here you will go over a low water crossing and then east on Kiowa Rd. This area at the upper end of the lake has excellent timber and some marshy areas where a small creek feeds the lake. If you continue east on Kiowa Rd you can then turn south on  200th Rd. In about a half mile you will reach Goodwin Dr. on the west side of the road. This area is closed in winter but in spring and summer that road also takes you into some very good timber areas along the eastern arm of the lake. Of interest in this area is a large grove of old catalpa trees that can be quite beautiful in the spring when they are in bloom. This area is very good for warblers and flycatchers.

If you continue on Goodwin Rd. it will lead you around and down the east side of the lake. This can provide a good access area to observe waterfowl on the lake. Goodwin Drive ends back on Justice Rd about ¼ mile east of the main entrance. The wooded area below the dam is another good area to look and listen for passerines. This area should be birded more regularly in migration. Many recent county records have come from this wonderful oasis.
DeLorme: 35: F9

2. Minneapolis – The town of Minneapolis lies two miles west of US 81 on K-106 highway. Minneapolis has a historical claim of being the high school where noted African-American botanist George Washington Carver graduated from High School. The town is located where several creeks come together and join the Solomon River. These areas of riparian timber can provide some excellent birding. Just south of town, on K-106 highway are parks and the fairgrounds. This area lies along the Solomon River and is wonderful access to some of the timber there. East of town, along K-106 is the cemetery which is certainly worth a stop. This is the best area in the county to try to find Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Red-breasted Nuthatches in the winter.

About two miles south of town, you can turn west on Ivy Rd. to access the geological attraction known as Rock City. These odd sandstone concretions are fun to look at and provide the birder with an interesting distraction as well as an additional location to bird (for a small fee).
DeLorme: 35: F8

3. Farm ponds/county roads – The county roads can provide some very productive birding, especially in the areas where you transition between crops and pastures. Slowly driving these roads can provide excellent views of sparrows and raptors. Because you are moving into an area of lower rainfall there are not nearly as many farm ponds, but where you can find them with good visibility from the road, they are worth checking for shorebirds and waterfowl. Remember that farmers and ranchers use these roads daily and you are likely to encounter large agricultural equipment. Slow down and give this large equipment plenty of room to maneuver around you. Cooperating with these agricultural producers will gain you their appreciation and occasional assistance!

4. Towns – Ottawa County has many small towns and communities including Bennington, Culver, Tescott, Ada, Delphos, and Wells. It’s always worth a slow drive through these towns to check for Eurasian Collared-Doves or feeder bird activity in the residential yards.

5. River/Creek Crossings – Ottawa County is blessed with many creeks and rivers flowing northwest to southeast through the county. The Solomon River flows through the middle of the county and the Saline River slices through the southwest corner. Additionally, many creeks feed into these rivers. River/Creek crossings, on county roads, afford one a great opportunity to inspect the bird life here. Many species that you may consider more eastern Kansas birds will travel these riparian corridors into central Kansas.

Ottawa County is not birded as heavily as it probably should be and the county list reflects this. In wet seasons, more time needs to be spent watching for shorebirds in flooded fields. Wooded areas in towns, riparian regions and the State Fishing Lake could stand heavier scrutiny during passerine migration as well. It is a county that is convenient to get to and I would encourage more birders to spend time here.

Updated March 2013 - CEO

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