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I’ve come across this distinctive duck a few times while out and about. This large, big-headed diving bird has a gently sloping forehead and a stout neck.

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Breeding males have a chestnut head and neck set off against a black chest, with a whitish body and black rear. Females are pale brown in the areas where males are chestnut and black and they have a grayish, rather than white body.

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Canvasbacks breed in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America. They prefer to nest over water on permanent prairie marshes surrounded by cattails and bulrushes, which provide protective cover.

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I only see these ducks in Ohio in the Winter. Canvasbacks migrate through the Mississippi Flyway to their wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic United States, including the Great Lakes Region.

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The Canvasback dives for its food, which consists mainly of the bases and roots of plants growing under water. Wild celery is particularly favored. They also consume mollusks, insects and some small fish.

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With its distinct, angled head and auburn hues, the Canvasback is one of our most striking waterfowl species and a favorite of mine to see in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Stone Centipede

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January isn’t the most ideal time to look for most types of invertebrates in northeast Ohio, but on above-freezing days some cool things can turn up. This month I found a few of these distinctive looking creatures by lifting rocks in my backyard.

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Centipedes (which in Latin means “hundred foot”) are exclusively predatory creatures. Because their exoskeletons lack a waxy coating that helps to retain water inside their bodies, centipedes require moist environments to survive.

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This particular type is known as a Stone Centipede; it was a species that I often encountered as a child growing up in Cleveland when looking for bugs. Though we used to call them “Hundred Leggers,” they only have 15 pairs of legs. They thrive in soil, leaf litter, under rocks and inside dead wood or logs.

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Centipedes are some of the oldest terrestrial animals and were some of the very first creatures to crawl from the sea onto the land. The first centipedes were probably very similar in appearance to modern centipedes. All are nocturnal and actively hunt down insects and other small animals.

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To subdue prey, this creature uses “poison claws” which are located on each side of its head. At less than two inches in total length, the Stone Centipede is harmless to humans, but deadly to spiders, sowbugs and any other smaller creature it may encounter.

Third Eye Herp

North American River Otter

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As I was hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath this week, I noticed some movement in the water in the Cuyahoga River. Once I got a good look at them and made a positive identification, I was pleasantly surprised to be observing my first wild North American River Otters.

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North American River Otters are native to Ohio, but in the early 1900s they were extirpated from the state due to poor water quality. Throughout the twentieth century, Ohio waterways started to bounce back and in 1986 the Division of Wildlife decided to reintroduce otters to the state.

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These mammals are built for swimming. They have an excellent cardiovascular and respiratory system that allows them to stay under water for up to 4 minutes at a time. They can also close their ears and nostrils to keep water out and have a clear third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane that protects their eyes while under water.

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A North American River Otter’s diet consists of mainly fish, but they will also eat various reptile and amphibian species as well as small mammals and birds. I got to see these animals eating their prey, which in this case was a European Carp.

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These animals are often seen in family groups in the Summer and early Fall. They are generally nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk), although daytime activity is not uncommon in undisturbed areas. They are known for being playful and I saw one rolling around in the sand, seeming to enjoy himself.

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A member of the Weasel Family, this is a stocky animal weighing 11 to 33 pounds, with short legs, a muscular neck and an elongated body. It has long whiskers that are used to detect prey in dark water. Its body length ranges from 26 to 42 inches.

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It was awesome to observe these animals in the wild and to witness their natural behavior.

Third Eye Herp

Hare’s Foot Inkcap

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Since the rain has started last week, our rock garden has filled with inkcaps. The small, umbrella-shaped fruit bodies (mushrooms) of the fungus grow in grass or woodchips and are short-lived, usually collapsing in a few hours.

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This is an inkcap of woodland habitats, where it grows among twigs and leaf litter. Outside of its “natural habitat,” in parks and gardens, this little mushroom is common in flowerbeds covered in woodchip mulch.

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Coprinopsis lagopus gets its common English name from the way the young “fur-like” fruiting body begins to come out of the ground before turning into a traditional-looking mushroom. this inkcap has a worldwide distribution, occurring on every continent except Greenland and Antarctica.

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The slender, whitish stems are up to 5 inches long and very thin. When the fruit bodies are young and fresh, the caps are reddish brown and can glisten – especially if wet. As the mushroom matures, the outer edge of the cap turn a greyish color while the center remains reddish brown.

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This is known as a saprobic species, meaning that it obtains nutrients by breaking down organic matter into simpler molecules. The cool shapes and intricate patterns of this fine, fragile fungus make it a welcome sight on a January day.

Third Eye Herp

Pitch Pine

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This interesting tree is found in environments which other species find unsuitable for growth, such as acidic, sandy and low nutrient soils. It is known as a “pioneer species,” since it is often the first tree to vegetate an area after it has been cleared away.

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Pitch Pine has an exceptionally high regenerative ability; if the main trunk is cut or damaged by fire, it can re-sprout using epicormic shoots.

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This is a rapid-growing tree when young, gaining around one foot of height per year under optimal conditions until the tree is 50 – 60 years old, whereupon growth slows.

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Pitch Pine trunks are usually mostly straight with a slight curve to them. They are covered in irregular, thick, large plates of bark. Its globular form of twisting, gnarled, drooping branches does a poor job at self-pruning.

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This is one of the most fire resilient eastern conifers. Its adaptations allow for survival in a high frequency fire area such as the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

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High resin content in this species produced the name “Pitch Pine.” Early American settlers would often ignite pine knots for torches. Because of its high resin content, its decay-resistant wood was once popular for ship building, mine props, railroad ties and fencing.

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Today Pitch Pine Pitch is an important food source for wildlife. Sprouts and seedlings serve as browse for White-tail Deer, Cottontail Rabbits and Meadow Mice. Its seeds are eaten by Red Squirrels and a wide range of birds.

Third Eye Herp