County Seat: Smith Center
County Size: 896 square miles
County Checklist: 208 species
DeLorme pages 20 & 21
Google Maps of Smith County
Best Birds: Baird’s Sparrow, Snowy Owl, Snow Bunting
Smith County is located in north central Kansas, along the Nebraska border. The main east-west highway is U.S. 36, going across the county in the northern third, through Kensington, Athol and Smith Center. The main north-south highway is U.S. 281, bisecting the center of the county through Smith Center. Kansas Highway 9 bisects the southern third of the county, going from Kirwin in Phillips County, through Cedar, and Gaylord, then follows U.S. 281 out of the county, through Harlan to Portis, in Osborne County. This is the same path that the North Fork Solomon River takes through the county. Kansas Highway 8 goes north from Athol to the Nebraska border. Kansas 181 comes out of Osborne County along the eastern border with Jewell County, and changes to part of U.S. 281 through Lebanon and to Red Cloud Nebraska. White Rock Creek cuts across the northeastern corner of Smith County, on its path from Nebraska into Jewell County and Lovewell Reservoir There are various creeks within the county that can provide some decent riparian habitat, including Cedar Creek around Kensington and Beaver Creek between Smith Center and Gaylord. Others can be found on page 20 of the DeLorme map
Smith County has a diverse mix of upland habitats, with abundant native grass, supporting Greater Prairie Chickens and other grassland species. Areas north of Kensington, Athol and Smith Center all have prairie chickens present. Timber is mostly restricted to riparian zones along creeks and the Solomon River corridor. There are ample areas of farm land throughout the county, supporting waterfowl, Horned Larks, longspurs, etc. Smith County is extremely limited on public property, with only a small acreage shared with Phillips County (800 acres total) in the form of the Francis Wachs Wildlife Area, approximately 2 miles west and 10 miles north of Kensington. It is a mix of native grass, planted food plots, shrubs and some riparian area. The area is signed and straddles the county line, with only about a third of it is on the Smith County side.
1. North Fork Solomon River – there is no public access to the river, but bridge crossings can be productive, especially south of Claudell and Cedar. The river comes out of Kirwin Reservoir/National Wildlife refuge in adjacent Phillips County, so spending some time in the southwest part of Smith Co. can be good for waterfowl going out to feed or returning to the lake.
2. Creeks – there are numerous creeks throughout the county, with many small bridges and associated riparian areas that can be birded from the road right-of-ways. There is some really good bur oak habitat in the extreme southeastern corner of the county, on Oak Creek, which ultimately flows into Waconda Lake in Mitchell County. White Rock Creek, in the northeastern corner of the county has decent habitat, flowing into Jewell Co. and ultimately into Lovewell Reservoir. Other creeks with good riparian zones include the Middle & East Cedar Creeks in the Kensington area and the Beaver Creeks (West, Middle and East) in the Smith Center area.
3. Farm ponds – the county has many farm ponds that can hold waterfowl during both spring and fall migration. Larger ones are shown in the DeLorme: page 20, but many other, smaller ones can be found when driving the countryside. These can be good during migration for waterfowl and possible shorebirds when water levels are low.
4. County roads – without a premier bird watching destination location in Smith County, some productive birding can be done by driving county roads. With the mix of agricultural fields, pastures and other grasslands, and riparian areas, many birds can be seen on a day trip, especially raptors, sparrows, longspurs, etc. There is some good habitat north of Smith Center in the Thornburg and Womer areas, near the Nebraska border. That area has hosted some common eastern woodland species during spring and summer, including Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo and Chipping Sparrow.
5. Towns – many species can be found in the towns of the county, including Kensington, Athol, Lebanon, Cedar, Gaylord, and Smith Center. Smith Center does have sewer ponds that can hold waterfowl and shorebirds, but they are not easily visible and are posted as no trespassing. Smith Center’s Center View Cemetery, just a mile north of town from the U.S. 281 and U.S. 36 intersection, could be potentially be productive as it has a decent stand of trees around it.
Smith County is woefully under-birded and probably has had many more species there than the 203 on the official list. However, with very little public land and no major body of water, it’s hardly been a prime destination for birding. Hopefully with more folks interested in doing county listing, additional time will be spent in the county in prime times of the year and more species will be discovered. Smith County boasts the Geographic Center of the Conterminous (lower 48) United States, just to the northwest of Lebanon, the Home on the Range Cabin, nine miles north of Athol where Dr. Brewster Higley wrote the famous Home on the Range song, and the Old Dutch Mill in Smith Center. Birders with a little extra time on their hands can make a point to visit these local landmarks.
Updated February 2013 - MR
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