County Seat: Pratt
County Size: 735 sq. mi.
County Checklist: 297 species
DeLorme pages 59, 60, 72, & 73
Google Maps of Pratt County
Best Birds: Pinyon Jay (1976), Vermillion Flycatcher (1996), Curve-billed Thrasher (1994, 2001), Sage Thrasher (1999), Calliope Hummingbird (2006)
Pratt County offers a wide variety of habitats; which, with more intensive birding, the county checklist would certainly reflect even higher numbers. The northwest part of the county consists of sandhills with sand and sand-sage prairies, potholes and a diverse interspersion of shelterbelts and farmland. It has two state-managed wildlife areas. Northeast Pratt County also has sandhill prairie habitats with similar interspersion characteristics but has an expansive and untilled rolling prairie. The southwest quarter of the county is comprised of mostly cropland with shelterbelts and some pastureland adjoining the uppermost shelf of the Red Hills. Southeast Pratt County consists of expansive wheat fields but has many fingers of drainages into small creeks and the beginning drainage for the Chikaskia River, as well as a state-managed wetland. The City of Pratt offers numerous parks and the South Fork Ninnescah River, which starts in western Pratt County, passes through the city as it flows eastward. This river enjoys permanent flow from springs and has associated riparian woodlands and wetlands as it winds along. The placement of the stateís first fish hatchery near its headwaters over a hundred years ago and subsequent headquarters for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) is testimonial to the excellent and dependable water quality of the S. F. Ninnescah River. A fine wildlife museum at the KDWP headquarters two miles east and one mile south of Pratt has numerous displays including bird mounts and bird eggs.
1. Pratt Sandhills and Texas Lake Wildlife areas. These areas of northwest Pratt County offer nearly 7,000 acres of grassland, shelterbelt and playa lake/marsh habitats. While there are some seasonal potholes in the larger Pratt Sandhills, the major wetland is Texas Lake. Managed primarily for waterfowl and upland game birds, Texas Lake can offer some interesting bird watching depending on water levels and season. While not a lot of mudflat habitat is typically available due to emergent vegetation, at times good numbers of shorebirds and waders can be observed. The area harbors good populations of Wilsonís Snipe and Sora rails with great potential for other marsh birds. It is a great place for watching spring waterfowl. The Pratt Sandhills historically supported Lesser Prairie Chickens and should again as there is an effort to aggressively control invasive red cedars. Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite, occasional Greater Roadrunners and numerous songbirds can be seen and heard. Texas Lake Wildlife Area is 13 miles west of Pratt and 2 miles north. Maps of the area can be found in the kiosks at several parking areas. The Pratt Sandhills Wildlife Area is 14 miles west and 6 miles north of Pratt (on the next mile road west of the Texas Lake road.) Directional signs are on Highway 54 for both areas. A good birding trip is possible by going to Texas Lake first. Then after surveying the wetlands and associated habitats, take the road going west to the next mile which will be The Pratt Sandhills road (NW 140th Ave.) Travel north for about two miles and watch for playas and a prairie dog town on the right side of the road where Burrowing Owls are usually seen in season and Cassinís Sparrows may be seen during breeding season on either side. Upland Sandpipers can occasionally be seen during both spring and early fall migrations. The sandhills property begins two miles further north. Lesser Prairie Chickens persist near The Pratt Sandhills and may be heard in the spring in the first section south about a half mile and to the west of the entrance sign. This road is usually passable except in very wet conditions where deeper puddles may form in the road. The road is typically at its worst during very dry and windy conditions when drift sand can be a problem. Care should be taken in driving any of the surrounding roads as similar and more serious conditions can exist, especially for low clearance vehicles.
2. Pothole and grassland country. Northeast Pratt County has numerous playas which in wet periods offer great roadside viewing opportunities for shorebirds and waterfowl. If conditions are right, all the peeps, dowitchers, yellowlegs and other shorebirds typically seen in the larger marshes of Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms further to the north are available. A good pothole jaunt is from Highway 61 about 8 mi. NE of Pratt, turning N on the Stafford blacktop. During wet periods, a number of playas hold numerous waterfowl and shorebirds. This is a good route going towards Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and gives opportunity for seeing many interesting birds along the way. An expanse of nice grassland occurs between Preston and Cairo. Taking side roads off of this blacktop either direction through rolling grassland provides a pleasing trip and may yield interesting prairie species such as Upland Sandpipers and numerous sparrows. This area once held Lesser Prairie Chickens and might again someday.
3. River riparian and wetlands. Going just east of Pratt, one can travel an attractive riverside county road to bird a great riparian zone. Less then five miles east of Pratt and before the ďFive Mile Bridge,Ē take the county road north (NE 45th Ave) about a mile and a half north and continue around the corner onto NE 10th St. This goes over a small bridge which usually yields some interesting birds such as Indigo Buntings, orioles and finches. Going east for over a mile or so goes through a farmyard and pond area with possibilities for water birds along with migratory passerines. After this road winds through the farmyard, it goes by a wetland and pond complex that is always worth looking over for waterfowl, shorebirds and rails depending on water levels. This gets into the riparian zone of the river and soon comes to another pond and the Waldeck Road (NE 70th Ave.) Turning right takes you to the bridge over the South Fork Ninnescah River which is a nice stop and a site worth doing a little calling. Thereís usually an Eastern Phoebe around, a number of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals and other species which respond to screech owl calling. Going through Waldeck and turning east at the first opportunity will take you to another county road that will get you back to Highway 54. You can take this on to Cairo, jump off onto a riverside road (NE 5th St.) and hit the next North/South road which is NE 110th Ave. Thereís a bridge over the river thatís also a nice spot to stop for a while. One may wish to travel north on this road for a bit and take first roads that go east and west, picking a direction that suits you through grassland. Going west will take you back to the Cairo/Preston blacktop. Continuing to take county roads nearest the river as you travel east will yield riparian zones worth birding.
Isabel Wildlife Area and south Pratt County.
About 9 mi. south of
Cairo on SW 100th Ave., thereís county road, Se 100th St. Turn east
one mile and then south to the Isabel Wildlife Area. Maps of this area are
usually available at the parking lot. While this area has no records of any
rarities, it is a wetland with bulrush/cattail marsh habitat along with a deeper
water main pond area and therefore has the potential for interesting wetland
birds. Itís worth a stop while in the area on the way from U.S. Highway 54,
towards Barber County and Red Hills country. From Isabel, the Isabel Rd is a
blacktop which goes south to Medicine Lodge and is a pleasant trip through
diverse country. A circuit from Cairo to Isabel and then through backroads
towards Pratt can offer an exposure to habitats as varied as a riparian zone of
the headwaters of the Chikaskia River, a few playas and expansive wheat fields
which are useful in the winter sometimes for thousands of longspurs and horned
larks. This is an area that typically over-winters impressive feeding flocks of
geese as well which number in the tens of thousands. Most of the southwest
quarter of the county is heavily cultivated and perhaps offers the best birding
in winter for the huge longspur and geese flocks.
5. City of Pratt and vicinity. Within Pratt, there are a number of parks but the area most conducive to birding is Lemon Park on the south end of Pine Street and along with river. There is also access from K-64 blacktop (SW 10th St.) south of the river to the south side of Lemon Park. There is a walking trail through the extensive woodlands and backwater areas of the river which yield thrushes, woodpeckers and also warblers during migration. With the diversity of planted trees and the natural vegetation of this area, it should yield more interesting species, especially during migration. Continuing on K-64 eastward for two miles brings you to the upper end of the Pratt Fish Hatchery. This stretch of road is a good place to periodically see a Greater Roadrunner. It has been the place for observations of the Pinyon Jay and Sage Thrasher. The Pratt Fish Hatchery is always worth a stop, especially at times when the water is drawn down, exposing mudflats during migration. There is limited space for roadside parking, so care must be taken so as not to impede traffic along this road. Ospreys and various terns are common sightings, including Caspian, Least and Black terns. At the bridge near the headquarters of KDWP, there are walking trails on both sides of the river. East of the bridge typically offers the best opportunities for migrating warblers. The Vermillion Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Warbler have been seen here in the past. Also, the area just to the east of the main building offers some walkways and opportunities for migratory rarities. Traveling less than a mile east to the Pratt County Veterans Lake offers a chance to see waterfowl, Ospreys, Bald Eagles and other lake-associated species. There is a newly developed boardwalk and nature trail on the west end of the lake which offers an excellent chance to see cattail-associated wetland species including the Common Yellowthroat. It allows great glimpses of riparian species as well and is fully handicap accessible.
Back to home page