County Seat: Liberal
County Size: 640 square miles
Checklist: 291 species
DeLorme pages 68 & 69
Google Maps of Seward County
Best Birds: All three scoter species, Clark’s Grebe, Curlew Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Common Ground Dove, five hummingbird species (Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Rufous and Calliope), Lewis’s and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Bushtit, Sage Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch
Seward County is located in southwest Kansas, along the Oklahoma border. There are many highways running through the county, making it easily accessible by paved road. U.S. 83 is the main north-south road, coming in from Sublette in Haskell Co. to the north and exiting the state just to the southeast of Liberal. U.S. 54 comes into Seward Co. from the east and exits the state, just to the southwest of Liberal. Both of these highways host significant tractor-trailer traffic from the livestock and grain production industries and a major beef packing plant in Liberal. The Cimarron River enters the county from the extreme northwest, traversing the entire county, exiting in the extreme southeast corner, into Meade Co. and finally into Oklahoma. Little public land is available for birding in Seward County.
Seward County has primarily agricultural land, with a mix of sand sage prairie and CRP grassland. There is a dearth of towns, with Kismet and Liberal the only incorporated communities. Most of the county population is concentrated in and around Liberal.
1. Cimarron River – the river runs the entire length of the county, from northwest to southeast. There are relatively few places it’s accessible, so it’s somewhat difficult to bird. Also, with drought conditions, there are few live trees left along the corridor. An exception is the area to the northeast of Liberal on U.S. 54 Highway, by the Big Sampson Bridge. It has been an “oasis” with standing water, cattails and a few trees (mainly cottonwood, tamarisk, Russian olive and willows). In the central part of the county, just to the west of the U.S. 83 and U.S. 160 junction is Supreme Feeders, a large cattle feedlot, along the north side of the Cimarron River. It has wastewater lagoons that hold thousands of ducks (mostly Mallards and other dabblers) each winter and various raptors, including Bald Eagles. Permission has been granted to enter the premises for the Christmas Bird count in the past, but it’s unknown if it is possible at other times of year.
2. Lake McCoid – Located just to the northeast of Liberal, off of the U.S. 83 Highway bypass, this lake is part of the wastewater treatment plant for Liberal and National Beef packing. It is the only sizable body of water in the county and most of the good water bird records have come from here. These have included Gull-billed Tern, Curlew Sandpiper and most all of the waterfowl, shorebird and water birds for the county. Access to the lake is somewhat limited, with walk-in access only along Tucker Road, along the northern part of the lake. This road was once open to through traffic, but has been gated in recent years. The use of a spotting scope is advised, as many of the birds found here are not close to the road. There are some ponds along the north side of Tucker Road, past the gated areas that are walk-in access as well and have been really good in the past. The Seward Co. Landfill is located just east of the lake and usually has thousands of Great-tailed Grackles and European Starlings present, with a chance for some gulls and additional blackbird species possible.
3. Arkalon Recreational Area – located 10 miles northeast of Liberal on U.S. 54 highway, this area has been pretty good in the past in attracting quite a few species of birds. It is open to the public April 1 through October 15. It has large cottonwoods and other trees, providing some decent bird habitat. There are also some ponds with cattails in this park that provide some good water bird habitat. The ponds are created by discharge from the city wastewater treatment plant, so have a continuous flow into them.
4. County roads – this county had many roads that can be birded easily, but as with many of the counties in southwest Kansas, there are some that are extremely sandy and treacherous in dry weather. Anything close to the river can have pockets of sand that can make driving them in low-clearance vehicles difficult or impossible. Discretion usually wins out, especially since cell phone service can be spotty and houses far in between. Precautions taken, birding the roads can produce longspurs, raptors and sparrows in fall and winter, with kingbirds, Lark and Cassin’s Sparrows and potentially Lesser Prairie Chickens in spring and summer. Populations of prairie chickens have fallen in this county, but some still probably exist, as well as small populations of Scaled Quail.
5. Playa lakes – this county has had some good playas in the past, with some of them depicted in the east of northern part of the county on page 69 of the DeLorme guide. Obviously, there are intermittent in nature, but can hold waterfowl and shorebirds in wetter years. They can be important as stopovers in migration and provide some local breeding habitat as well.
6. Towns – the only towns of size are Liberal and Kismet. Liberal has some good residential areas to walk for birding in the northwest part of town. The neighborhoods adjacent to the Liberal Country Club and Southwest Medical Center, north of 15th Street have been productive in the past, as have neighborhoods south of 15th, including N. Terrace, N. Prospect, N. Pershing and N. Grant. Several houses in this area have had hummingbird feeders up, with several species possible usually from August through September. These same areas have had Inca Doves on the Liberal Christmas Bird Count and are pretty good for other birds as well. There are lots of pines, so Red-breasted Nuthatches and finches are possible. Another area in Liberal to bird is the city cemetery, adjacent to Willow Tree Golf Course, at the west end of 15th Street. Birds such as Bushtits, sapsuckers, and finches have been found in the cemetery during fall and winter.
Seward County has had some great birding in the past and will probably continue to be an area to visit on any listing trip to southwest Kansas. Even though access is somewhat limited to the prime areas around Liberal, the potential of something rare there will always be a draw. With the overall lack of water in this part of the state, places like Lake McCoid, Arkalon and the Cimarron River at the Sampson Bridge will continue to provide this scarce habitat.
Updated February 2013 - MR
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