Recollections from the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Field Trip

As one of the trip coordinators for this year’s field trip, I must say that even though I was a bit stressed when our journey began and not everyone decided to take advantage of the free van transportation, it didn’t take long for me to relax as I watched the participants striking up conversations with each other in the field.

Our first stop was at the Headquarters of the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge where we met with Kim Martin, Federal Law Officer at the refuge.  She showed us a 12 minutes video introducing us to the history and growth of the national wildlife refuge system.  She then talked and answered questions about the Marais des Cygnes refuge and her duties in federal law enforcement.

After our introduction, we check 15 small mammal traps that had been baited and set the afternoon before.  The traps were set in a recently burned restoration area, a non-burned restoration area, and a non-burned area that within a remnant tallgrass prairie.  We had no success in either of the restorations but captured a single hispid cotton rat and lone deer mouse in the prairie remnant.  While traversing the prairies the young naturalist in our party enjoyed netting the numerous great spangled fritillary butterflies we observed pollinating a stand of dogbane.

From there we travel to another prairie restoration along Yardley Road to search for Mead’s Milkweed.  This federally endangered plant is known to exist naturally at three locations on the NWR property.  The plants we saw were individuals that had been planted into one of their restorations.  Participants were able to find a couple of plants that were in full bloom.

From there we returned to Linn County Park for lunch and a short siesta.  When finished, we returned the NWR and headed to Stick Pond adjacent to the photoblind to check 4 turtle traps that had been baited and set the evening prior.  Three of the traps were hoop traps and one was a cage trap.  Each were baited with creamed corn and mackerel.  Interestingly enough, three of the traps had not a single turtle while one of the hoop traps contained 13 turtles of three species – 1 large snapping turtles, 1 painted turtle, and 12 large sliders (2 males and 10 females based on fore fingernail length).  It took us awhile to safely position the snapping turtle for removal from the trap and get a few pictures.  You’ll have to check out the KABT Facebook site for images of the turtles.  I had my hands full and didn’t want to get my camera wet.


After our interactions with the chelonians, we traveled a wooded area surrounding an abandoned coal mining operation.  We were in search of the only stand of swamp white oak in the entire state of Kansas.  We read the informative email from MdCNWR Biologist, Tim Menard, which contained the following information –  “As you walk west from the state line parking lot, the swamp white will begin to appear before you get to the old service road, and definitely before you get to the flowing creek.  many of these trees are forked at the base.  Then you can see many more as you walk to the northwest.  The leaves look like chinkapin (which are just on the other side of the hill).  However, look for last year’s acorn caps with the long stem attached.”  We successfully found the trees.  At this stop we also witnessed a ringneck snake and the caterpillar of the pipe-vine swallowtail butterfly.  Chris Ollig from Blue Valley North High School introduced the group to dendrochronology and the appropriate use of the increment borer.




Next, we traveled to Turkey Foot Pond, a man-made pond resulting from previous coal mining activities.  There we checked four additional turtle traps as well as surveyed for freshwater mussels known to occur at the site.  As the name implies, Turkey Foot Pond has three fingers.  On our descent to the western most finger, we encountered a lush stand of equisetum.  Two young snakes were observed – a plain-bellied water snake and a northern water snake – and a horsehair worm was discovered swimming in the pond along the shore.  We found a number of mussels the most abundant of which was the three ridge mussel.  The identities of the other mussels encountered awaits verification by mussel experts.  In the second finger we searched, we captured two sliders in one of four traps deployed.  Check out the aged slider that doesn’t look like a slider anymore in the images below.


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Finally, we travelled to the Marais des Cygnes River itself to search for the mussels beds that eluded Kelley Tuel and I on our previous trip to the refuge.  The group rallied their remaining reserves of energy to make the 1/2 mile walk into the site.  Along the way a number of gravid ribbon snakes were found hanging out in a warm ephemeral watered ditch.  Most of the kids and only two adults made there way into the river.  Not thinking, I swam downstream looking for mussels and found a few weathered shells and a young slider basking on a log.  Otherwise, the kids enjoyed this final swim one of the parents of the big muddy.

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On Sunday, those that were left travelled to the Smith Ranch newt pond.  We encountered a large plain-bellied water snake (check out the story on the KS Herpetology Facebook), a worm snake, and a ground skink.  None of us braved the muddy pond to seine for newts.

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I will be adding some links in the future, and subsequently will be creating individual posts for some of the information that we planned on sharing but didn’t seem the time to.




KHS Fall Field Trip to Jewell County

September 17-18

I should have posted a few weeks back on this opportunity but it came upon me a bit quick this year.  Usually the trip is held in early to mid-October.  Did you have anything to do with this change, Stan?  jk

Well, since I missed seeing you all at the KABT meeting yesterday, I figured why not post on next weeks field trip and maybe I’d have the chance to catch up there instead.  So, here goes…



The Kansas Herpetolgical Society has been holding field trip since its inception in the mid-1970’s, so I am told.  The mission of the society is, as Joe Collins states on their website:

…to encourage scholarship, research, and dissemination of scientific information through the facilities of the Society; to encourage conservation of wildlife in general and of the herpetofauna of Kansas in particular; and to achieve closer cooperation and understanding between herpetologists, so that they may work together in common cause.

Beside publishing a quarterly newsletter and then journal (see pdf archives), the society has organized a fall meeting, and a spring and fall field trip annually.  This year’s meeting will take place on November 4-6 at the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, KS.  A summer field trip was held for the first time in more than 15 years this year as well.  Although the society doesn’t display photos of their trips via their website, you can become a member of a related Kansas Herpetology group on Facebook that does.  Travis Taggart also maintain the wonderful KS Herp Atlas (one cool thing you can do at the site is get a current listing of herpetological taxa by county).

My Experience

I have been participating in the society since the mid-1990’s having been made aware of the society via Dr. David Edds at Emporia State University (thanks David!).  I have taken students to participate in the spring and fall field trips for over a decade now.  You can navigate to my website with pdf slideshows of our past forays.  In fact,  view at least one of these slideshows would be the best way for you to get a feel for what the trips are like.

For those of you that are now considering participation in the KS EcoMeet after yesterday’s introduction, I can say that my students have learned a lot on these trips over the years without realizing they were learning anything.  In fact, our success in winning the state competition the past two years is likely attributable their scoring so well on the herpetology taxa test.  This year’s taxa test is on birds so it won’t help as much but…

So, here is what I do every year to keep this going:

  • I edit a Field Trip Information Form that I prepared years ago for the particular county we will be traveling to.  Click on the link for the form for this year.   I also have particular district forms that need to be handed out and signed by parents as well, and have to make the district aware of the field trip since it usually is quite a distance from school and is an overnight trip as well.
  • I advertise the trip in my classes by showing pictures from a previous field trip, and hold an informational meeting generally 2-3 weeks prior to the event.  If you hold it too soon, student priorities change too much and some will drop out.  By holding it early enough though, you can have a separate meeting the week before the event to arrange whose is bring tents, etc…
  • On the day of the trip, I have students drop off their supplies before school so that I can pack the van during the day and be prepared once the school day is done to get on the road.  In more recent years, I have received permission to leave earlier in the day on those more distant trip so that we might arrive with some daylight remaining.
  • Then, the rest is all about being yourself.  If you demonstrate your passion about the outdoors, your students will behave in kind.  I have never had a bad trip (knock on wood)!

Realize that when I first began involving students in this field trip, I actually met a small number of student at the site for just the Saturday’s events.  I didn’t drive them, I didn’t have a forms, I just told them about this public event and met them there.  So, don’t feel like you have to go for three days, camp out, stay up road cruising until 2:00 am in the morning, etc… 

I’d be happy just to see you on Saturday which would be quite doable for those of you in the middle of the state for this years trip in Jewell County (north of Salina on the Nebraska border).

So, that is that.  I hope you found something that might help you lead a KHS Field Trip in the future.  If you have any questions I will respond to your comments or feel free to e-mail me at

Hope to see you in the field!






Home, Home on the Range

Where the Mule Deer and the Pronghorn Antelope Play…

Reflections on the KABT Field Trip in Logan County, June 4-6, 2010

I am not sure what KABT’s goal for the field trip were but for me they were two-fold.  I wanted to provide an inspirational outdoor experience for four of my senior students, and two of my children, who eagerly participated in the trip, while learning myself about the wonderful short-grass prairie from our very own sage, the Yoda-like natural history master, Stan Roth. 

In both regards the trip was a resounding success, even though I failed to continue to follow Noah’s driving lead into better pastures where he was finally able to witness the character of our pursuit, the endangered a recently re-established Black-Footed Ferret (see Noah’s posts). 

If you are sad that you missed the trip, continue on since I did my best to record it all for you…

More specifically, follow along to see what I saw, learn what I learned, listen while I contemplate what KABT may have learned, and educate yourself on the prairie dog wars of Logan County, Kansas in hopes of a return trip to this wonderful county… 

Continue reading “Home, Home on the Range”