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 road.


- 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 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 Racer.


- 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 Carson


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The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
Archives / Subscription options / ASM Website / Email the list owners

ABA Birding Code of Ethics

ASM Fall Meeting: September 23-25, 2016 at Camp Clover Point, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Kaiser, MO Details and Online Registration