What lucky kids to have teachers like you. Your account of the day is so
interesting; thank you so much for sharing!


Jo Ann Eldridge, Kearney, Clay

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From: Missouri Wild Bird Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Miller, Terry
Sent: Monday, May 09, 2016 1:20 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: 9th Annual KHS Vertebrate Pentathlon


On Saturday, May 7th, the 9th Annual KHS Vertebrate Pentathlon competition
occurred on a beautiful spring day!!   Areas visited include Watkins Mill
SP, Cooley Lake CA, Martha LaFite Nature Sanctuary, Smithville Lake, Crystal
Lakes, Tryst Falls County Park, Weston Bend SP, Platte Falls CA, and some
private ponds and lands, etc….  And, of course, all the roads and country
while in transit between them.


For those unfamiliar with our Pentathlon, it was a competition I created
nine years ago that involves identifying (seeing/hearing) as many
amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  At least two members of a team
must see/hear a species to count it.  Fish species must be caught (one of
each species is all that is required) and additional points occur with any
herptile that is actually caught (all released unharmed).  Finally, points
are given for as many species of active bird nests found (not disturbed).
We start at 5:00 a.m. and end at 8:00 p.m..  NOTE:  The MDC is aware of the
competition and proper ethics occur.


My fellow science teacher, Mike Niles, took 3 students for his team: David
Weaver (Jr.) and Spencer Steward (Sr.), and Ben Brzink (Sr.--- a German
foreign exchange student).    I also had 3 students: Morgan Holloway (Sr.),
Zac Courtoise (Sr.), and Hayden Rogers (Jr.).  The ultimate purpose of this
event is to provide select students with an experience that will last a
lifetime and hopefully light a fire of passion for knowing and understanding
our precious gift of nature!!


RESULTS:  Mike Niles’ team won 618-549 and continued the dominance of my
teams while pulling further ahead (6-3) in the series.   Reptiles proved to
be the deciding factor again as my team caught 2 species and found 4
species.  Niles’ team was able to catch 5 species and find a total of 8 (an
exact 69 points which was the exact difference)!!  We also observed fresh
road kills of 4 Black Rat Snakes and 2 Yellow-bellied Racer.  My team
identified 86 species of birds while Niles’ team identified 92 species. The
combined total of bird species for both teams was 106 species!!  And, many
common species eluded both teams…. .


I will list all species at the end of this posting but I will now indicate
several of the highlights of the day.  These are primarily the ones
mentioned during our tallying of scores and reflecting and sharing as the
teams met at Subway:


- Dave Weaver spotting a Blue Grosbeak as they were driving 40 mph down the


- Mike Niles stepping on a huge N. Water Snake accidentally at Cooley Lake
CA and jumping away wildly…. .


- We had a N. Water Snake swim toward the pond bank and settled on the side
of a floating log.  I wanted Hayden to simple “scare” him onward toward the
bank.  Next thing I know, Hayden had kicked off his shoes and waded in
quickly.  The snake started toward open water and he tried to catch it.  In
my mind, I thought oh…no, he will probably grab it in the middle and get
bit!!  Instead, he super quickly caught it by the end of the tail and lifted
it up without being harmed at all!!  Wow!!


- Spencer triumphantly catching a shortnose gar after Mr. Niles expressed
great doubts that he could.


- Ben, our foreign exchange student from Germany, absolutely loves diversity
in nature and is very into photography.  His goal was to photograph a coyote
and that occurred early in the day.  Later he caught a 3 ½ foot Black Rat
Snake and he definitely lit up when he described it as we shared at Subway.
On another occasion, as they were driving about 40 mph down the road, Ben
spotted a tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird way up on the telephone wire!!
And finally, Ben expressed his great amazement of how colorful the birds are
here as compared to the much duller ones in Germany.  This day will surely
live in his memory as one of his favorites during his time in the USA.


- at the site for E. Collared Lizards, we first spotted an absolutely
beautiful male in breeding colors in full sunlight!! Stunning to say the
least!!  After getting photos, we approached to try and catch one of the
five we had spotted.  Let’s just say every student on my team was astounded
by just how fast they were.   We did eventually catch a smaller one…very
neat lizards!!


- Nile’s team had a sequence where they looked under 3 structures and found
3 reptiles; a Black Rat Snake, an E. Garter Snake, and an E. Yellow-bellied


- my team had just turned on to a road south of Smithville lake and we saw a
mammal up ahead.  Well, as we drove nearer, there were three adorable Red
Fox pups staring at us from the ditch on the side of the road.  Just as
Morgan got her camera up, they all three ducked into the pipe/den under the
road.  Easily one of the day’s highlights!!


- at Cooley Lake CA, water was flowing over one levee to the next pool.  The
carp were acting like salmon and were struggling up the water flow and were
making it into the upper pool.


- American Redstarts putting on wonderful visual displays at Weston Bend SP.


- at the “magic” pond on the west side of Smithville lake, we were parked
and were scoping a W. Painted turtle and Morgan saw a bird with a long tail
fly over the car.  A male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had cruised over and
landed on the barbed wire fence.   She got some good pictures as it moved
down the fence.  It eventually went across the road and into a medium-sized
backyard tree where we also spotted the female on a nest.  Morgan again was
taking photos from our van as numerous family members were in the same
backyard.  A man started over to determine what we were doing.  I explained
and pointed to the male in his tree that they were oblivious to its
presence.  We went up the road to turn around and, when we came back, the
whole family was looking at the flycatchers and the man was taking pictures
with his cell phone!!


- at Martha Lafite, Niles’ team observed a freshly emerged Luna Moth…the
largest Mike Niles had ever seen…at least 6 inches in length.  They said it
was stunningly beautiful!!

- Niles’ team played a Barred Owl song as they were parked.  An owl soon
appeared and thrilled the group by flying directly at their front windshield
and cruised a mere four feet above and over his Honda CRV while they sat
there amazed!!!


- And finally, one student summed up the value of the experience.  He stated
he never knew how much he was missing….From now on he will notice so many
more aspects of nature!!


Well, to conclude, I created this competition almost 10 years ago….and I
keep losing!!  But, in all reality, no one ever loses when they participate
in a Vertebrate Pentathlon!!!  We just go home wondering why we let
ourselves become so busy that we miss so many opportunities to enjoy all the
natural wonders around us!!  Nature is a “drug” Mike Niles and I have been
pushing at Kearney HS for a long time…always hopeful to create numerous
addicts!!  Those who do participate in the V.P. are the most susceptible!!


Birds (106):

Canada goose

Wood duck



Blue-winged Teal

N. Shoveler

Hooded Merganser – Cooley Lake CA

Wild Turkey

Am. White Pelican

Double-crested Cormorant

American Bittern – 1 – Cooley Lake CA

Great Blue Heron

Green Heron

Turkey Vulture

Osprey – numerous at various locations

Bald Eagle 

Cooper’s Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk 

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel

American Coot


Spotted Sandpiper 

Greater Yellowlegs

Least Sandpiper – Cooley Lake CA

Baird’s Sandpiper

Bonaparte’s Gull 

Ring-billed Gull

Common Tern – 4 Watkin’s Mill SP

Forester’s Tern – Smithville Lake

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared Dove

Mourning Dove

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl

Common Nighthawk

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

N. Flicker

Acadian Flycatcher

E. Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

W. Kingbird

E. Kingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – 4 – near Smithville Lake

Yellow-throated Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Horned Lark

Purple Martin

Tree Swallow

N. Rough-winged Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren 

House Wren 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

E. Bluebird

American Robin

Swainson’s Thrush

Wood Thrush

N. Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Orange-crowned Warbler

N. Parula

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

American Redstart – several Weston Bend SP

N. Waterthrush

Kentucky Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Wilson’s Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat – Cooley Lake CA overlook

E. Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow 

N. Cardinal

Summer Tanager

Scarlet Tanager – Watkin’s Mill SP

N. Cardinal

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak – near Lawson, MO

Indigo Bunting


Red-winged Blackbird

E. Meadowlark

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Baltimore Oriole

House Finch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow


Fish Caught:


Largemouth Bass

Green Sunfish


Channel Catfish

Black Crappie

Creek Chub

Rock Bass

W. Mosquito fish

Gizzard Shad

Shortnose Gar


Amphibians: (* = caught)



W. Chorus Frog

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog*

Leopard Frog species*

Gray Treefrog*

Spring Peeper

American Toad*


Reptiles: (* = Caught)


W. Painted Turtle*

Five-lined Skink

Worm Snake*

N.Water Snake*

E. Yellow-bellied Racer*

Snapping Turtle

E. Collared Lizard*

E. Garter Snake*

Black Rat Snake*




White-tailed Deer


E. Fox Squirrel

Gray Squirrel


Bat species

Red Fox – pups






Bird Nests Active:


Bald Eagle

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Am. Robin

E. Phoebe

House Sparrow

Purple Martin

Great Blue Heron

E. Bluebird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Wood Duck

E. Starling

N. Mockingbird

N. Cardinal

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher



Terry L. Miller

Kearney High School

Ecology/College Zoology/Genetics/Botany/Astronomy/Earth Science Teacher


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"It is the inherent dignity of every human person that we must strive to
respect, to inspire, and to believe in....and what a great responsibility we
have as teachers and role models!"


"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the
companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him
the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."       Rachel



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