American Coot

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The American Coot is also known as a Mud Hen. The Toledo Mud Hens are a minor league baseball team located in Toledo, Ohio that are named after this bird. Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America.  These were seen on the Lake Erie shore.

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Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots belong to a distinct order, a group of shoreline birds called Rails. Instead of having the webbed feet of ducks, coots have broad, lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on land.

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This is a social bird species that lives in flocks. Coots are the only members of the Rail Family to live in groups. They can make a wide variety of noises, from grunting to clucking, as a means of communication, between each other and to threatening predators.

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They are nicknamed “marsh hen” or “mud hen” because of they way their heads bob when they walk or swim.  They eat small aquatic animals, insects and vegetation. American Coots have the ability to dive for their food, much like ducks. When diving, they gather plants that grow on the bottom of waterways. After bringing plants up to the surface, they go through them looking for edible parts.

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A group of these birds has many collective nouns, including a “codgery,” “commotion,” “fleet,” “shoal” and a “swarm” of coots.

Third Eye Herp

Partridge Berry


Here are some “Christmas colors” that I saw in the woods today. This is a small, woody, trailing vine with 6-12 inch slender stems. It does not climb but instead lays on the forest floor.

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Partridge Berry produces trumpet-shaped flowers from late spring to early summer. The flowers grow in pairs and have white petals. They are pollinated by insects. Afterwards each pair of flowers produces a single bright red berry. Here are flowers that I saw in June.

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The berries contain eight seeds. Birds are the primary consumer of these fruits and therefore the main distributor of their seeds. For people, the berries are edible but rather tasteless, with a faint flavor of wintergreen.

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The humble Partridge Berry is a plant often underfoot and overlooked, but during the cold days of winter, it is a treat to the eyes with its deep, dark-green leaves and rich red berries.

Third Eye Herp

Silver Shiner

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The Silver Shiner is a slender minnow with large eyes. Adults average three to four inches. The body is silvery, with some blue or green iridescence. All of the fins are transparent, with no spots or other distinctive markings.

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Shiners are schooling fish. They feed, travel and spawn sometimes in very large groups. When feeding, the “dimpling” they create may look like raindrops on the water.

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They can often be seen jumping out of the water to capture flying insects at the tail end of deep swift riffles in moderate-sized, clear creeks.

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This fish can be found in large streams and small rivers with clean water flowing over a bed of rocks. They typically avoid muddy bottoms and rooted aquatic vegetation.

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The Silver Shiner is considered to be a minnow. Minnows are a huge family of fishes. About 2,100 species are distributed in North America, Eurasia and Africa.


Minnows are important food items for other fish species. They are essential in maintaining healthy aquatic systems. While several species of minnows are used as bait fish, the vast majority of them never even receive a passing glance from most humans.

Third Eye Herp

Yellow Sac Spider

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Normally these are outdoor spiders, but sac spiders often invade structures (like my house). Their numbers increase significantly in the Autumn when the weather turns cool and their food supply disappears.

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If there is food available, sac spiders can become established indoors. At night they actively search for small insects. When hunting, they run quickly while waving their forelegs in front of them. Their front legs are longer than their other three pairs of legs.

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Indoors, they can be observed on walls and ceilings, but they quickly drop to the floor and seek cover when disturbed. Yellow Sac Spiders construct a silken tube or sac in a protected area, such as within a leaf, under a log, or at the junction of a wall and ceiling.

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They use this sac as their daytime retreat; this is how the sac spider gets its name. These spiders do not build webs. Outdoors, this species occupies a wide variety of habitats, including trees, the forest floor, fruit orchards and other agricultural areas, as well as shrubs surrounding open fields.

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These creatures are usually pale in color and can range from yellow to beige. They are quite small (about 1/2 inch long) and easy to overlook, with no distinct markings.

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This species has eight simple eyes aligned in two rows of four, consisting of secondary and primary eyes. Secondary eyes are light sensitive and are used to track movement. Primary eyes are the only set of movable eyes and are used to view close objects.

Third Eye Herp

Northern Short-tailed Shrew


While checking out this habitat I came across an odd and seldom seen mammal. At three inches in size, it’s packed with energy. It is the largest shrew in North America.


The Northern Short-tailed Shrew consumes up to three times its weight in food each day. It is mostly carnivorous, preferring insects, earthworms, voles, snails and mice for the bulk of its diet.


It is one of the few venomous mammals that exist; its saliva is used to paralyze and subdue its prey. This enables them to kill mice and larger prey and paralyze invertebrates such as snails and store them alive for later eating.


This animal can be found in grasslands, old fields, fencerows, marshy areas, forests and gardens; its preferred habitats are moist with a fair amount of leaf litter or thick plant cover. Northern Short-tailed Shrews construct elaborate runways under leaves, dirt, and snow and construct their nests in tunnels or under logs and rocks.


Other shrews spend more time above ground than the Northern Short-tailed Shrew, which tends to tunnel below the ground or through leaf litter. Its tiny eyes indicate its poor eyesight due to a mainly subterranean lifestyle. Its ears are almost completely hidden by the fur.


The tail is quite short, amounting to less than 25% of total body length (most shrews have significantly longer tails). The Short-tailed Shrew’s species name, brevicauda, means literally “brief (brevi) tail (cauda).” These deceptively ordinary little creatures are one of our most interesting and overlooked mammals.

Third Eye Herp

Red Oak

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Red oak is a North American tree with spectacular reddish brown leaves in Autumn. It is a “Big Woods” forest species, typically occurring in mixed stands of elm, ash, beech and maple trees.

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Along with Pin Oak, it is also one of the few oaks that is an important shade tree in the landscape industry. It is notable for its rapid growth rate.

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Red Oak is native to rich woodland areas where it grows to 90 feet tall. Its branches and upper trunk are marked with long, light gray lines which remind some people of ski trails.

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Widespread in the eastern United States, it was long ago introduced into Europe as a landscaping tree. The Red Oak’s leaves contain tannin, a substance that makes them leathery and hinders their decomposition. At this time of the year they are dark red and fading to brown. They may remain on the tree well into Fall.

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Each leaf has 7 to 11 lobes and the tips of the lobes are bristle tipped. The sinuses (cut out areas) of the lobes are U-shaped. The leaves of saplings tend to be very shallowly lobed.

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The tough, heavy wood of this tree has a reddish-orange coloration, and is an important hardwood for the Ohio timber industry. It is used for beams, veneer, furniture and flooring.

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Its large acorns mature earlier in the season than those of most other oaks and provides a source of food by late Summer as well as Autumn and Winter for many forms of wildlife, including Blue Jays, woodpeckers, Wild Turkey, mice, squirrels, raccoon and deer.

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Third Eye Herp