On Saturday, May 4th, Mike Niles and I took five students on a *“modified”
Vertebrate Pentathlon*.  The Kearney HS students were senior Madison
Peisert, and juniors Connor Anderson, Sam Gazi, Andrew Carpenter, and
Camden Lyles.

Since I retired last May, and therefore am not employed by the school
district, we could not divide up into teams and compete as in the eleven
previous years.  This time, we were all one team in the one small bus I
drove since I am still a part-time bus driver.

For those unaware of what a Vertebrate Pentathlon is…we start the day at 5
am and go until 8 pm trying to find as many of the five vertebrate species
as we can.

We started at *Loess Bluffs NWR* near Mound City, MO. We totaled 78 species.
Here is the checklist:

There is still a lot of water but very little, quality mudflats.  The
flooding this spring obviously affected normal management of the pools but
the entire loop is now open.  During the morning hours we only saw 2-3
other cars so that was a great benefit.  I-29 is closed to the north and
detoured from the south at St. Joseph, MO to highway 71 and you have to
take backroads to get to the refuge.

Mike Niles had been told by a friend that the pools had froze solid this
winter and killed most of the snapping turtles.  Whether that was the case
or not, we easily saw 50 dead ones…some *very* large…floating in the pools.

As we were searching for shorebirds, Mike noticed a cloud of large, dark
birds on the horizon.  We were fortunate to see at least 40 White-faced
Ibises.  They circled around and dropped out of sight in the middle of the

As we drove the southeast side, we told the students to really look hard
into the small woody vegetation for Night Herons.  Well, Mike and I were
looking carefully as I drove slowly and Madison hollers out…there is a
large bird back there!  I stopped and backed up several feet and we were
privileged to see a beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron pretty darn close.  I
can still see its awesome red eye in my mind.  How we missed it and she
spotted it is baffling…ah, the blessing of multiple sets of eyes!! (And
some young ones at that!!)

As we were approaching to exit the refuge on the northwest side, everyone
but me spotted a River Otter just a few yards out in the pool.  It
evidently approached a large pipe running through the levee connecting two
pools.  The close end was boarded up so it went over the levee and into the
opposite end.  They said that was cool but…let’s keep heading out.  I
pulled over and said, nope!  I’m going to go see the otter.  Well, I laid
down on the side of pipe it entered, and looking upside down, I saw its
head swimming around quite a few feet away.  I then got up and….an American
Bittern flushed only 15 feet or so away.  We had heard two others earlier
but would have never seen this one if we hadn’t of stopped!  *Note*: if
anyone looked at my checklist earlier, I found I had made an *error*.  I
had one American Bittern and three Least Bitterns listed.  There were *NO*
Least Bitterns, just three American Bitterns.

The 78 species of birds, along with other wildlife, provided some great
viewing but my favorite was simply the Palm Warblers we saw near the
beginning of the boardwalk. They were 3-4 feet off the ground in great

We decided to try *Nodaway Valley CA* next.  We observed 21 species there
and here is the checklist:

The area had quite a bit of water and much of it was flooded cornfields.  It
was void of shorebirds as far as we could tell and not very birdy at all.  I
did finally get a Ring-necked Pheasant for the year… .

The rest of the day consisted of fishing local ponds and birding here and
there along the way....

*Concluding comments*:

Well, it wasn’t as intense as the last 11 KHS Vertebrate Pentathlons
because the competition had been eliminated by becoming a single team.  But,
it still served the purpose of exposing a few good students (and good young
persons!) to a very enjoyable and eye-opening day in the field!!  And, I
guess a big positive for me, I don’t have to report that Mike Niles had
increased his 8-3 lead over my teams…because, since we were all one
team….WE TIED!! 😊

*The following is our total list of vertebrates for the day*:

* = caught and released unharmed.


Large-mouthed Bass*

White Crappie*


Shortnose Gar



Blanchard’s Cricket Frog*

Gray Treefrog

Leopard frogs


E. Garter Snake

N. Water Snake*

W. Painted Turtle

Red-eared Turtle


*93 species total* - most are in two checklists above.  (And, at the end of
the trip, as we sat on the high school curb summing up the days
adventure…we had a FOY Common Nighthawk call to us...count me, count me



E. Cottontail

White-tailed Deer

E. Fox Squirrel



River Otter

*** It is always a great day to go out in nature and … “Get a Life!!” ***
Terry L. Miller
Plattsburg, MO
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"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his
eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have
been made."  Romans 1:20

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