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 refuge. 

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 light…awesome!!

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 too!!)





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
[log in to unmask]

"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

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 Spring Meeting: May 3-5, 2019 at Bunker Hill Retreat near Mountain View, MO Details and Online Registration