When I was a child, this place was magical. In fact, I trace my passion for the outdoors and specifically my love for waterfowl to the “Basin”, now known as McPherson Wetlands, a fairly recent land acquisition made possible by Ducks Unlimited and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. It was here that my dad and I spent many hours before dawn setting up decoys and clearing out and camouflaging our blind with frost bitten brown sunflower plants, only weeks after their splash of brilliant yellow painted the Kansas landscape.
McPherson Wetlands is truly a well kept secret, existing in the shadow of Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, where nearly extirpated flocks of Whooping Cranes and tens of thousands of flocks of various waterfowl wing their way through the plains of Kansas during their semi-annual sojourns.
But for me this “basin”, as locals still call it, was far greater than the legendary duck hunters’ paradises just an hour to the west. It was in this “basin” that I found my first salamander, a treasure even greater than the bag full of lifeless ducks that Dad coveted with their gorgeous iridescence and contrasting Earth tones decorating each feather. Yes, this salamander was extraordinary. Photograph © Larry L. Miller
I found the yellow spotted and striped, black and rubbery, 8 inch long creature at the bottom of a pit style duck blind located at the still-existing McPherson College Pond, bordering what is now the “Wetlands”.
It was a bright summer day when my friend and I rode our bicycles four miles out of town in search of a new fishing hole. It was on this journey that I discovered the marvelous amphibian,
an animal that, up to then, I had only seen in books . We placed him in a rusty tin can and raced for home, as I couldn’t wait to tell my big brother what I’d found. The Barred Tiger Salamander made a great pet for me. It gobbled up earthworms, crickets and grasshoppers in my tank for the rest of the summer. I amused friends and relatives, and I began to develop quite a reputation as a wildlife collector.
As always, around Labor Day weekend, the north winds brought cooler temperatures, large flocks of doves, and seemingly endless strings of migratory waterfowl against clear, blue Kansas skies. It was then that I developed a lifelong conservation ethic. With great anticipation, we were on our way to the “basin” to scout out the ducks for the coming season. As we were leaving, I asked Dad if we could stop by College Pond, and on that day I returned the salamander to its original home, where I believe it must live to this very day.