County Seat: Larned
County Size: 755 square miles
County Checklist: 299 species
DeLorme pages 45, 46, 58 & 59
Google Map of Pawnee County
Best Birds: Red-throated Loon, Black Vulture, Yellow Rail, Black Rail, Anna’s Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird, Gyrfalcon, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird, Sage Thrasher, Cape-May Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Tanager, White-winged Crossbill, Lesser Goldfinch.
Pawnee County is that odd zigzag-shaped county that is instantly recognized on any Kansas map. The way it got its shape is a long sordid political tale, but the result is a county that is bisected SW to NE by the Arkansas River and also has a long stretch of the Pawnee River all the way from Larned west to Burdett. Areas north of the Ark. River are characterized by loamy soils, rolling hills and broad valleys. The areas south of the Ark. River are characterized by sandy soils, a few large playas and some sand hills. The county is intensely agricultural and almost all land is privately owned.
Pawnee’s eastern border abuts Barton and Stafford counties, home to Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira refuges, and therefore its checklist has considerable room to grow.
· Larned Sandpit – There are essentially zero public lakes or ponds in Pawnee County and water birds can be tough to come by, but there is one small lake at Larned that is both easy to see and has produced a wide variety of good birds in recent years. It is reached by driving south on Broadway [US 56] in Larned and continuing south across both river bridges to K-19. From this intersection proceed east about ¾ of a mile to where one can park on the north side and scope this former sandpit. Large mixed flocks of geese are usually here throughout the winter months. During spring and fall migrations a wide variety of ducks, shorebirds, gulls and terns has been recorded. Depending on the season, Bald Eagles and Ospreys often roost in trees here.
· River Road – Running up a good list in Pawnee County will inevitably require lots of ‘road-birding’. Perhaps the single best road for seeing a wide variety of breeding and migratory passerines is the aptly-named River Rd. The best segment begins just west of the Larned Sandpit on the south side of the Arkansas River bridge and heads southwest. This road is NOT paved and can at times be treacherous, [occasionally even impassable due to drifting sand], so is best driven in a high-clearance vehicle. As the road jogs back and forth towards the SW it passes a variety of sand-sage prairie habitat, pastureland, wood lots and fields. Breeding birds to watch for along this route include Field Sparrow, Bell’s Vireo, etc. South of Garfield one can return to US 56 or continue on to the SW on the River Rd. towards Edwards County. Just a few miles SW of Garfield is a north/south lane called 200th Avenue. This is another road that is sometimes impassable and should be approached with caution, but it also the only location in Pawnee County where Cassin’s Sparrow is regularly heard. It also has been known to have a few Lesser Prairie Chickens.
· Fort Larned National Historic Site – Located 5 miles west of Larned on K-156, Fort Larned is considered to be the best-preserved US Army fort of the Old West. This federally-owned site also sits astride a one mile stretch of the Pawnee River and affords a visiting birder a chance to hike along a few paths leading east of the fort itself. Because the area has been preserved for so long, the trees here are old and tall and the riparian growth along the river is quite lush.
· T Road – North of Fort Larned five miles is T Road, an unpaved east/west county road that runs almost the entire length of Pawnee County. The best birding will likely be between 150th Avenue and US 183, though birds of interest can occur anywhere from Pawnee Rock to the Hodgeman County line. This road is unremarkable in every way, but has become somewhat famous for the large numbers of Lapland Longspurs that occasionally congregate here from November through March. Flocks numbering in the hundreds are common in most winters and on rare occasions flocks of over a million have been recorded. This is also a good place in Kansas to see McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the spring months, especially from early March through mid-April. Smith’s Longspurs are possible too, though they are quite rare. Birds to watch for would include most raptors on the county list, plus Black-billed Magpie and Sprague’s Pipit.
· Larned – The town of Larned has a very high number of nesting Mississippi Kites every summer, perhaps more than 100 nesting pairs. From May through September they can usually be seen soaring above the town from morning to sunset and can be seen perched wherever there are large trees or TV antennas in residential areas. White-winged Doves have been resident in Larned for about a decade but can be difficult to find. The most consistent spot seems to be the park in the NW corner of town, just north of the Casey’s convenience store. Larned is also somewhat famous for its numerous records of western hummingbirds. Check the KSBIRD-L listserv from July through September for hummer news.
· Aside from these locations, Pawnee County offers lots of good road-birding throughout the year. In wet years the playas in farm country S of Larned offer the chance to see a wide variety of water birds. The cemeteries at Larned, Garfield, Rozel and Burdett are usually poor places to bird. Larned does not have sewer ponds and while the three other towns above do, they are quite small and seldom have birds of much interest. If one wants to run up a respectable water bird list in Pawnee, the sandpits at Larned are easily the most efficient location to do so.
Updated August 2014 - SS
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