But this visit was in the dead of winter, some 50 years after my childhood adventures. Some things have not changed at all. The herd of 50 elk that was introduced to the area in 1951 remains, hanging out in the bottomland timber on this chilly day.
The herd of American Bison numbers between 200 and 240 and is very approachable in between cattle guards on the 2000 acres of prairie.
Waterfowl squeezed into the remaining open water on McPherson County Fishing Lake within the refuge grounds. Highlights were Cackling Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Ring-necked Ducks and Common Goldeneye.
But today my target species was a particular raptor. Not the ubiquitous Red tails and harriers, but something a bit more swift and elusive. Somewhat of a nemesis bird to me through the years, I figured that my odds were good in the vast mid grass prairie on this winter day in central Kansas.
After completing my run through the refuge, I took a little used road one mile west of the public land. The red hues of the winter prairie glowed, even in the overcast, late afternoon light. It was there that I saw my prize lift off of the fence post and swing back beside me. Dark "wingpits", stealthy low altitude flight..... The falcon turned upward for a moment, and I saw it approaching a high altitude falcon before veering off to the west. I quickly backed the car up 1/4 mile to where I saw the bird dip into the valley, and there I relocated the beautiful adult Prairie Falcon on the fencepost.
All in all, I enjoyed two wonderful hours of wildlife watching in a place that can take you back in time 50 years, or even a 1000 years, on a Kansas prairie.