Date: 4/4/17 10:19 am From: Ted Drozdowski <muddykayak...> Subject: [texbirds] Ellis County - Cut-off Rd. Sod Farm location and birding route
Hi Texbirders, I’ve received several requests about the location of the “Cut-off Road” Sod Farm in Eastern Ellis County. So I put this quick guide together with some tips on birding the Eastern Ellis County bottomlands along the Trinity River. First of all, I do not know the name of the Sod Farm, that’s just what I call it because it’s bisected by Cut-off Road. If you’re going to work Ellis County for your Century Club List, I highly recommend the following four spot described below. These are: The” Cut-off Road Sod Farm.” “The Cut-off Road Woods”. “Oilfield Road.” And the “Hwy 85 Crayfish Farm.”
Here are directions for the tour, starting with the Sod Farms and working your way south:
From the City of Ennis which sits on I-45: Take Hwy 34 about 10 miles east out of Ennis. Cut-off Road is the last right hand turn you can make before crossing the bridge over the Trinity River into Kaufman County. Hwy 34 is a fast highway with lots of truck traffic. There is a mining operation (Mon – Fri) going on just north of Hwy 34. So be aware of this. Once you get on Cut-off road it’s generally quiet and pleasant. It’s a really cool spot with great views and the Trinity off to the east.
(One side note: While on Hwy 34, about a mile before you actually get to “Cut-off Road,” you may notice another part of the Sod Farm on your right. The light is often bad here, the birds farther away, and the truck traffic horrific, but you can pull off and bird this if you want to. Hang on to your scope.)
Once you turn onto Cut-off Road, set your odometer to “0”. Once on Cut-off Road, you will cross a wooden bridge. The bridge passes over a slough, but don’t try to look for birds and drive the bridge at the same time. Stop on the bridge if you have to scan the slough. Once you get off the bridge the next couple hundred feet will determine if the road is too muddy for you. It is often very muddy here the day after a rain. Usually, two days after a rain and the road is quite good. My rule of thumb is if the tracks are bad enough to hold standing water, I park. The sod farm has their own grading equipment and they keep the wide road in good shape. If you don’t want to risk the mud, turn around and park back near the intersection with Hwy 34. The best place to park is right after you turn off of Hwy 34 onto Cut-off Road, you can park on the right side where the road is wide. This is before the trees and before ever going over the bridge. I park here when it’s really muddy. It is a nearly one mile round-trip to the good shorebird spot from here, if you choose to walk.
Ok, so after you turn onto Cut-off Road and zero your odometer, the best shorebird spot is from .3 to .5 miles, on both side of the road, but especially to the right.
There is a small tree on the right at .3 miles for reference. This area has had longspurs several times in the past, but not for the last four years. The sod farm workers and owners are friendly and they are used to seeing me pulled over at this spot with my scope. Just wave. The road is plenty wide here so stay on the dirt/gravel road and do not park in the grass. Also do not block any dirt entrances into the sod fields. It goes without saying that all birding must be done from the road. Do not walk into the fields.
Park on the either side of the road before you get to the tree on the right. Walk and bird the road, heading south. There is a brushy area with small trees on the right side of the road that usually holds a variety of passerines, including many species of sparrows and wrens. *This is the main birding area, from .3 to .5 miles south of Hwy 34*. Heading south from here, (presumably back in your car,) the shore birding gets more iffy, although it certainly can turn up birds. From .9 to 1.1 miles is a complex of wooden pallets and dilapidated buildings. There are three dogs here that will harass you when passing this area. The dogs are big and not well taken care of. These dogs will sometimes get physical with your car, and if you go slow enough, they will try to eat your car. Once you get away from the buildings they lose interest. The dogs always stay around these buildings, unless they’re out with the workers, and then they are friendly and well behaved. Still, I do not recommend getting out of your vehicle from .9 to 1.1 miles. Other than that, you shouldn’t have any trouble. The dogs have never approached me; I just don’t get out near the buildings. Once you get far past the buildings, there is a line of small trees on the left which can be good during migration. There is water in ditches all along Cut-off Road.
At 1.8 miles, the road turns right; continue on for some good woodland birding. (Do not reset you’re odometer here.) The birding can be good all along this road, which runs into a nice patch of mature bottomland forest. At 2.9 miles there is a gun range. A police officer runs the gun range. A couple of dogs will often lounge in the road in front of the gun range. These dogs are a lot nicer and they will not cross the bridge. I’ve seen them on the bridge but they stay very close to the gun range entrance. Carefully cross the wooden bridge and park on your left at 3.1 miles in the shade. I call this the Cut-off Road Woods and it’s often very good birding here, and quiet. Park your car and walk the road in either direction. (A passerby may stop and ask you what you’re doing, and every once in a while a truck will haul through here, but generally the few locals are pleasant.) I usually start out by working my way back to the bridge and bird on the bridge for awhile as it’s a nice view of a big thicket, willows, and streamside vegetation. This is a great place in the spring. This patch of woods is also a good place to get out of the north/south winds. Pileated Woodpecker is possible. You can bird all along here until about 3.3 miles when the woods disappear. Swallow-tailed Kites were found in this area late one summer.
At 4.6 miles you come to a stop sign facing west. This is Hwy 1181. Go straight and the road will take you back up to Hwy 34, or make a sharp left and drive to another secluded road called Oil Field Road. If going to bird Oilfield road, make the hard left and go south a few miles. Hwy 1181 makes a sharp turn to the right and it is at this spot that you go straight onto Oilfield Road. There is an interesting spot coming up on the right where some Saw Palmetto grows. Stop on Oilfield wherever it looks interesting. When you get to Hwy 85 make a right, and go east for a few miles to the Crayfish Farm which straddles the Ellis/Navarro County Line. This is a good birding spot as long as there’s water. There is also a permanent pond on the north side of Hwy 85 that has ducks in season. Most winters, large numbers of white geese roost in this area. If you do bird this spot and use ebird, make sure you know which county you’re in, because the County Line crosses through the Crayfish ponds and crosses Hwy 85.
Taking Hwy 85 ten miles west will take you back to I-45 and the City of Ennis.