County Size: 556 square miles
County Checklist: 326 species
Shawnee County is located in the northeastern part of Kansas. Shawnee County has a wide variety of habitats and a considerable amount of public use areas. There are a number of public parks and walking trails through out the county that allow access to riparian timber and small patches of tall grass prairie. Lake Shawnee and Shawnee County State Fishing Lake offer the best opportunity to see waterfowl and shorebirds. The Kansas River, Wakarusa River and the other numerous creeks throughout the county also offer limited access to riparian timber. The city of Topeka dominates much of the landscape of the county, but driving outside the city limits of Topeka; birders will find a mix of crop and pasture lands.
1. Warren Nature Area- Warren Nature Area (consisting of the Frank Warren Park, Wells Park, Felker Park and Big Shunga Park) makes up nearly 300 acres inside the Topeka city limits. The nature area contains grasslands, riparian woodlands and a small wetland area. The Shunganunga Creek runs through the Nature Area and there are three small ponds within the boundaries. An extensive system of paved and unpaved trails runs through the entire nature area. Over 200 species have been recorded in Warren Nature Park, including 32 warbler species and 20 sparrow species. The winding, mulch covered trail that runs along the Shunganunga creek is very productive, especially in the spring and fall. It is not uncommon in early May to record over 20 species of warbler, including Golden-wing, Kentucky, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Ovenbird and Magnolia, in a single day. During the winter a walk along the creek will often produce Winter Wrens and Hermit Thrushes. The mowed trails that wander their way through the tall grasses are also very productive, especially in the spring, fall and winter. The trails are regularly mowed and kept very short, limiting the number of ticks, while allowing close looks at sparrows and other grassland birds. The Warren Nature Area is one the better places in Shawnee County to view Le Conte’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens. Warren Nature Area also posses a small wetland area were Marsh Wrens can be found during migration and nesting Green Herons can be found in the summer. American Bittern, Least Bittern’s, Sora and Virginia Rails have also been recorded the in wetland area. Directions: There are many access points to the Warren Nature Area but the easiest is located in the Felker Park Softball Complex. Felker Park is located at 25th Gage and is on the east side of the road. Turn into the park and drive to the furthest softball diamond and park. Walk past the softball diamond and will find a number of unpaved trials that lead you to the Warren Nature Area.
2. Kaw River State Park- Located in western corner of the Topeka city limits. Kaw River is one of the newest state parks in Kansas. Kaw River has the distinction of being the only urban state park and the only free state park in Kansas. Kaw River State Park currently only consists of 76 acres but all most the entire park is located in extensive oak-hickory woodland. The Kansas River runs along the northern boundary of the entire park. A boat ramp located at the northern edge of park allows viewing of the Kansas River and geese and ducks are often spotted in the river. Kaw River State Park is relatively new and thus far has not been visited often by birders. However, due to excellent trail system that is nearly completely covered by woodlands, this park holds a lot of potential. Directions: From I-70 take Fairlawn Exit 357. Turn south on Fairlawn and turn right on SW 6th Avenue. The Kaw River State Park sign will be on the right.
3. Green Wildlife Area- is an 83 acre wildlife area located in Western Shawnee County. Green Wildlife Area is located in what once was the site of Uniontown, once the largest town in Kansas. The unpaved nature trails will allow you to meander through a number of diverse habitats. The habitats vary from oak-hickory woodlands, restored bluestem prairie and Osage orange and honey locust hedgerows. The trails in the Green Wildlife Area often go un-mowed and ticks and chiggers can be an issue. Directions: From I-70, take exit 346 and drive north for 2.5 miles to Willard. Take 2nd Street for .5 miles east to Gilkerson Street. Follow Gilkerson 0.7 miles south to the parking area.
4. Shawnee North Nature Trail- Located in northern Shawnee county, the Shawnee North Nature trail is a two mile trail that winds through parkland comprised of grasslands and wooded areas on the east side of the park. Nearly ¼ of the trails are paved and ¾ are unpaved and wind their way through wooded areas and the grasslands. A walk through the woodlands in the spring will often result in good number of warbler and other migrating passerines. The grasslands located in the central part of the park can be very productive for sparrows in the fall. Spotted Towhees, Swamp, Song, White-throated and Harris’s sparrows can easily be located in tall grass in October and November. Directions: From downtown Topeka, drive north on Topeka Blvd for about 5 miles, turn right onto NW 43rd Street, drive 0.2 miles and then turn left into the Shawnee County North Parks and Relational Complex. The entrance to the Nature Trail is at the northern end of the parking lot.
5. Lake Shawnee Park-This popular park includes a 410 acre lake this is located entirely in the city limits of Topeka. The park includes a 6.6 mile paved walk way that circles the entire lake. Lake Shawnee was a WPA project that was started in 1935 and completed in 1939. The park is very popular with fisherman, skiers and jet skiers and bird watching can very difficult in late spring and throughout the summer. Unfortunately over the past few years much of the undergrowth and shrubbery and has been removed and birding for passerines has become much more difficult. The best birding for spring migration can be found in the small area adjacent and behind Shelter House #3. Better known as Gazebo point, this area has many mature trees and the banks of the lake are still covered in vegetation. Gazebo Point is the best place to find migrating warblers and difficult to find warblers such as Bay-breasted and Cape May Warblers have been located here. Lake Shawnee is an excellent spot to find waterfowl and gulls in the fall and winter. The Lake Shawnee offers excellent vantage points to scope out ducks, geese and gulls that are on the lake. In most years, the lake will maintain open water in even the coldest weather and the small size of the lake will offer excellent close up looks at geese and ducks as they congregate in the remaining open water. Directions: Lake Shawnee is located a few miles east of downtown Topeka. The northern section of the lake can be accessed by driving east on 29th Street and then turning right onto West Edge Drive or Croco Road.
6. Shawnee County State Fishing Lake- Shawnee State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area is located in Northwest Shawnee County. The lake and wildlife area consist of 400 acres of mixed grasslands, which mainly contains big and little bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass. A graveled road circles the lake and allows easy access for one to scope the lake for waterfowl in the fall and winter. During dry summers, the northern edge of the lake will often produce mud flats and this can be one the best places in Shawnee County to find shorebirds. In the spring the surrounding pasture lands are often burned and American Golden-Plovers, Buff-bellied Sandpipers and American Pipits can be found in the burned grass. The grasslands that surround the lake are the main attraction. Nesting Yellow-breasted Chats, Bell’s Vireo’s and Grasshopper Sparrows can be found in the summer months. During spring and all migration, Le Conte’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens can usually be found as well as large numbers of Savannah and Vesper Sparrows. There are two active Greater Prairie Chicken leks near the lake. Prairie Chickens have been heard from the corner of NW 94th and Humphrey’s Road. The second lek can be found by continuing to drive south on Humphrey’s road, turning west onto 78th and then driving about 1.5 miles Greater Prairie Chickens may be seen on the north side of road during the early spring. Shawnee County State Fishing Lake also is one of the best places in Shawnee County to find Short-eared Owls in the winter. Directions: Shawnee County State Fishing Lake is located about 9 miles north of Topeka. From Highway 75, turn West onto NW 62nd street, drive about 3 miles and then turn right on NW Landon Road, drive another 3 miles and then turn left onto NW 86th street, which will lead you to the lake. DeLorme: 38, E4
7. Grant Bradbury Park-is located in southern Shawnee County and the park consists of 80 acres of tall grass prairie. Grant Bradbury is not a heavily birded park but it does provided excellent habitat for grassland birds. During the breeding season, Grasshopper Sparrows can be found in the tall grass and Bell’s Vireo, Indigo Buntings and Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be found nesting the hedgerows that form the boundaries of the park. In years in which the grass has not been burnt, nesting Henslow’s sparrows have been recorded. Directions: From Downtown Topeka, drive south on Highway 75th, turn right (west) onto SW University Blvd and drive about 1.5 miles. A sign for the park and the parking lot will be on the right side of the road.
8. Clarion Woods Park- Is a small park located at the southwest edge of Topeka. Clarion Woods Nature Trail features a small fishing pond and a half-mile trail that winds through a red cedar woodland. The park is not the most productive birding park in the county but it has become the most reliable place in the Shawnee county to find nesting Painted Buntings. In late spring and early summer, male Painted Buntings can often be viewed while sitting in your car in the small parking area. Directions: From 29th and SW Fairlawn Rd, drive south on Fairlawn Rd. As Fairlawn Rd bends and turns into 37th Street, the parking lot of Clarion Woods Park will be on the south side of the road.
9. MacLennan Park (Governor Mansion Trails)-is a 244 acre park that is located adjacent to the Governor Mansion. The park has 2.7 mile trail that winds it way through woodlands and prairie grasslands. There also are three smaller dirt trails that run through wooded area of the park. The wooded part of the trail is excellent spot to find migrating passerine species. During the late spring and summer, nesting Dickcissels, Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows can be found in the grassland section of the park. Kaw River State Park is located directly west of MacLennan Park. Directions: From I-70 take Fairlawn Exit 357. Turn north on Fairlawn, drive about 1 mile, turn left onto SW Cedar Crest Drive. Parking lot is at the end of Cedar Crest Drive.
10. Kansas Historical Society- Located within the 80-acre Kansas Historical Society grounds is a 2.5 mile long nature trail. The unpaved trail is well maintained and allows access to both riparian woodlands and tall grass prairie. A small creek runs through the grounds and birding along it in the spring can be very productive. Directions: Take exit 356/Wanamaker Road on I-70 in western Topeka. Turn north, enter the roundabout, and follow the signs directing you west.
Updated December 2012, JM
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