County Seat: Stockton
County Size: 895 square miles
County Checklist: 281 species
DeLorme pages 19, 20, 32 & 33
Google Maps of Rooks County
Best Birds: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Pacific Loon, Anhinga, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Pinyon Jay, Snow Bunting, Western Tanager, Evening Grosbeak
Rooks County is located in North Central Kansas. The county seat is Stockton, but its most populated town is Plainville. There are three main highways in the county: US-183 travels north-south, connecting Stockton and Plainville to Phillipsburg to the north and Hays to the south; US-24 travels east-west and connects Stockton to Osborne to the east and Hill City to the west; and KS-18 travels east-west, connecting Plainville to US-24 to the west and Natoma to the east.
The county offers a nice mix of habitats, giving grassland birds and those that use agricultural fields plenty of territory while still providing areas for water birds and forest-dwellers. Rooks County attracts a number of interesting regulars that may be difficult to find in other parts of the state or country including the following: Some of the interesting birds that are regular in this area that may be difficult to find in other parts of the state or country include the following: Black-headed Grosbeak, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Say’s Phoebe, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Western Grebe, Sprague’s Pipit, Marbled Godwit, and Common Poorwill. Most birding is done by driving country roads or routes in the Webster State Park area, but there are also a few public properties that offer an opportunity to get out of the car and walk.
1. Webster Reservoir - Any birding expedition to Rooks County must include Webster Reservoir, whether it’s scanning the lake for water birds, scoping the mud flats for shorebirds, or hiking the roads or trails for passerines. The lake is located just south of US-24 between 11 and 9 Roads. The north shore of the reservoir is dominated by Webster State Park. While there is a fee for entering, the state park offers some excellent overviews of the water, so it is wise to pony up the money. Access to the south shore is from N Rd. This is a dirt road but is often in good condition for most vehicles except in the harshest weather conditions. The south shore has a few overlooks and offers some nice riparian areas to check for passerines. Depending on water levels, the south shore often produces the best shorebirding on the lake. Waterfowl can be abundant during migration as can shorebirds. The riparian areas around the lake also seem to attract good numbers of migrating songbirds.
2. Rooks County Fishing Lake - Located on 16 Terrace between K and N Terraces, this small lake can be surprisingly productive for such a small body of water. Birding is heavily dictated by conditions, including weather and water level, but there is usually something notable here. Most of the access points to the lake are on the east side, but there is a road that travels to the western shore although it does not encircle the whole lake. Waterfowl are to be expected during migration, especially dabblers, and shorebirds can show up in decent numbers depending on the water level and presence of mud flats. A few screech-owls make their home here, and they can be surprisingly bold when responding to their song. It should be noted that two of the three access roads are closed from November to March, so access is by foot during these months.
3. Plainville Township Lake - This small lake is located just west of the town of Plainville. Access can be obtained from X or Y Roads between 16 and 17 Roads. There is a road on each side of the lake that makes scanning the entire lake very easy. It shouldn’t take you long to figure out if any waterfowl are present as there are few if any areas for the birds to hide well. There is a small marshy area just to the north of the lake that should be checked for any marsh birds. In addition, there is a small walking path to the east of the lake that winds its way through a grove of trees.
4. Woodston Wildlife Area - This small wildlife area is located along US-24 between 25 and 27 Roads. The public land is to the south of the highway. There aren’t many trails to speak of here, but you can wander any of the public land, which is pretty well marked. Be careful during hunting season, though. Birds to be expected here are typical riparian passerines. There is also some access to the South Fork of the Solomon River, so you may be able to find some waterfowl. Because of the paucity of heavily treed areas in the vicinity, this would be a good spot to check during migration.
5. Webster Wildlife Area-Twin Pond Campground - Access to this area is from 3 Terrace just to the south of US-24 near the western border of the county. The dirt road leads you to a small parking area/campground. The twin ponds, for which this campground is named, are found just to the north of the parking area. Cattails surround the small ponds, so they should be checked for marsh birds. Most of the area surrounding the campground is dominated by cedars. There is a path that is gated off to the south of the parking area. This path leads through a few different groups of cedars and provides a nice walking area that can also produce good birds. Winter specialties like solitaires and siskins really seem to love this area. Be careful during hunting season, though.
6. Dog town - Although not an area where you will see a plethora of species, this is the most reliable spot in the county for Burrowing Owls, which is a species of interest for many people. The dog town is located on the east side of 17 rd. south of the H Rd. and 17 Rd. intersection. Park on the road and scan the dog town for owls near prairie dog tunnels. There is usually one present during the summer months.
7. Towns - The following towns are located in the county: Plainville, Stockton, Palco, Damar, Zurich, and Woodston. While none of the towns are large, they can still provide birders with some species that are normally associated with urban areas and can be difficult to find in the rural areas that dominate this county. Cemeteries are especially productive when there are enough trees. Look for feeding stations as well as they draw a myriad of species. In Stockton, the most productive section of town is the northwest. The cemetery is located in this area as well as a few reliable feeding stations that are located within an area that has many conifers, which draw unusual species for the area.
8. Country roads - The county is dominated by agricultural fields. While much of this land is privately owned, birders can often see many grassland species simply by driving the county roads. In fact, this is the way to get some of the more sought after species of the county: Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague’s Pipit, Ferruginous Hawk, Greater Prairie-Chicken, and Prairie Falcon. It is also advisable to stop at any creek crossing that you may come to as these small riparian areas often attract good birds especially during migration. The best creek crossings around Stockton are the following: 15 Rd. just north of L Terrace, K Terrace just west of US-183, and US-183 just north of K Terrace. And the last features to keep you eyes open for are farm ponds. They are not plentiful, but when you find them, you can often find decent birds on them.
9. Rocky outcrops - For anyone looking for Common Poorwills in the county, there are quite a few areas that provide suitable habitat. Look for rocky outcroppings in areas with fairly steep slopes. 20 and 22 Roads towards the southern border of the county provide excellent territory, but even smaller outcrops can produce Poorwills. For instance, 19 Road just south of Stockton produced the author’s first Common Poorwill. Remember that the best time to search for nightjars is on clear nights (preferably close to a full moon) when there is little to no wind.
Updated February 2013 - JVK
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