Ask a Naturalist

Understand the world around you We've got answers

Ever wondered who left that footprint? What kind of berries are those? Or why is that White-tailed Deer white all over? Look no further than your local naturalists, the people at your Geauga Park District whose job it is to help you understand the natural world around you.


Use the form below to submit your question – ideally with a photo (if available), description of sighting (including size) and location of sighting (somewhere in Northeast Ohio) – and you’ll receive an email when a naturalist responds.

Please note that while this form does collect your name and contact information, those items will not be posted with your question, only used in case we need to contact you for additional details.

What have other people been asking lately? Scroll below the form and enjoy some other naturalist Q&As on us!

Ask a Naturalist

Step 1 of 2 - Sighting Details

50%
  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, png, gif.
  • Coyotes in the parks

    Question

    I hear there are coyotes in your parks. Where are they, and what should I know about them if I'm going to visit?

    Naturalist's Response

    Coyotes have become more and more a natural part of Ohio’s wildlife ecology over the last few decades. What I can say about Geauga Park District is that we have done some basic calling surveys and camera surveys over the years and have documented them in every single park we have. They are very common (more common than many people probably realize) and serve an important role as a mid-sized (meso) predator.

    I have spent many, many days working outside in the field (often in more remote areas of our parks) and have never had an issue with coyotes. I have run into these animals many times and they are usually just as startled as I am and very quickly run away (in the opposite direction) in order to avoid me. The only times that I know of that Geauga Park District has had human/coyote issues is when park patrons do not obey leash laws and let their pets wander to close to denning coyotes. Coyotes are great parents and will protect their pups and dens. The best advice I can give folks is to respect all wildlife (not just coyotes) in our parks by keeping their pets on a leash.

    A lot of this is human perception also.  A coyote barking at someone or following them (at a distance) is just letting you know that you are in their territory and may be coming just a little too close to their home. They are certainly not stalking park visitors as prey. Coyotes are highly intelligent and fascinating animals which go completely unnoticed by most park patrons. For example, I vividly remember a few years ago watching one coyote in the middle of the day laying out in the sun (in a meadow) just 50 yards away from joggers, hikers, and walkers enjoy the sun too…none of these people knew that animal was there.

    These animals are unfortunately very misunderstood and often portrayed as villains and something to be feared. I have found the opposite to be true. Most coyotes desperately wish to avoid humans and often adjust their behavior in order to do so. My hope for coyotes is that people who hear them howling, barking, and yipping at night become intrigued and fascinated by these largely secretive creatures which play an important role in Ohio’s new natural history. If people educate themselves about these animals many potential real and perceived (by humans) problems will be avoided. Education is the key.

    -Park Biologist Paul Pira

  • Osprey in the parks?

    Question

    When are the ospreys roosting at your facility?

    Naturalist's Response

    As far as I know, no osprey are using any of the GPD parks for nesting or roosting.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Summertime suet?

    Question

    I've heard that you should not continue to put suet out during the summer. Is this true? Is it too much fat content for the birds?

    Naturalist's Response

    Actually, the reason to not supply suet in the summer is that there are plenty of insects with protein for the birds during this time of year; also, suet goes bad very quickly in the warm weather.

    -Naturalist Program Coordinator Denise Wolfe

  • Spring peeper pitch

    Question

    Are there parameters for peeper pitch? Is peeper pitch unique to a particular patch of peepers?

    Naturalist's Response

    Listening to a full chorus can leave one’s ears ringing for a time afterward. Listening through the din, one will “note” (pun intended) that not all of the piping peepers are singing on the same pitch. Additionally, often at least one among them will let out a staccato trill; I call these “Pavarotti Peepers.”

    Local nature audiologist, musicologist and musician Lisa Rainsong’s blog, Listening in Nature, features a focus on spring peepers.  I think you find some interesting insight here. Lisa’s auditory adventures outdoors have explored the vocalizations and sounds made by crickets, katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas, as well as birds and amphibians.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • What creates these mud hills?

    Question

    What makes these giant mud hills? They are as tall as my hand. They look like they should have an opening at the top but they don’t. They were dry and very hard. (Yes, I have green paint on my hand.)

    Naturalist's Response

    These are crayfish chimneys, not mole hills as I surmised sight unseen earlier this morning.

    Terrestrial crayfish that burrow down to the water line. As they dig, they bring up the mud and dump it outside of the burrow entrance resulting in a “chimney.”

    I will try to stir up more details from our Natural Resource Management time.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Why is this deer colored this way?

    Question

    Can you please ask a naturalist if this is shedding or a little piebald? Taken at Chagrin River Park. Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    I would say it’s piebald, though minimally so. Also unusual is that the white hair, pretty much limited to the snout and circles around the eyes, appears in a symmetrical pattern across the face. Piebald markings are generally asymmetrical with no apparent pattern. As marginally piebald, the deer also doesn’t exhibit the other characteristics of piebald deer which can include downward sloping of the snout, short legs, swayback (scoliosis) and short lower jaws. As the piebald genetic condition is in itself rare (less than 1 percent of white-tailed deer), this example would be even rarer.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Black-necked swans on Best Lake?

    Question

    Two black necked swan at Walter Best Preserve are suppose to be native of Brazil. What am I seeing? Sorry, no pictures, they stayed out in the middle of the lake.

    Naturalist's Response

    Although it is spring migration and these swans are native to South American, it is doubtful that these two swans resting on the lake have migrated. Their local range in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and southern Brazil is far enough south that they would have migrated farther south to summer breeding grounds.

    It is most likely that they are a pair of escaped domesticated swans. They can be bought as ornamental waterfowl. Usually, these domestic waterfowl are pinioned or have had their wings clipped so that they cannot fly off your pond or leave the area. Which still leaves the mystery of how they got to Walter C. Best. 

     -Naturalist Trevor Wearstler

  • Abandoned fishing line & lures

    Question

    Hello, GPD Naturalists!

    I live in the neighborhood of Bass Lake Nature Preserve, a beautiful place. The fishing season has started, and already I am seeing fishing line and lures that are left behind, tangled in tree branches and brush along the shore, especially by the inlet. Can you please do something to:

    1. Educate people who fish in our parks about the importance of not leaving fishing line and other debris in or near the water; and

    2. Remove the fishing line and lures that fishers leave behind. Usually, the tangles of line and lures are too far out in the water and/or too high up in the branches to collect from shore.

    Last year, there were times during the Summer that the shoreline by the inlet looked like it was decorated for Christmas, with plastic bobbers and lines galore! A colorful display, but could be dangerous for wildlife, yes? Some of the fishers are meticulously conscientious about their behavior, but not all.

    Thank you.

    Naturalist's Response

    Geauga Park District’s “Pack It In, Pack It Out” approach to litter in the parks encourages patrons to clean up after themselves, minimizing the strain on taxpayer dollars for this service; anglers are asked to remove fishing line and tackle that becomes entangled in vegetation. As park staff (Operations and Rangers) see it left behind, however, they do what is needed to keep these areas clean and pristine for park visitors and wildlife.

    Some additional insight on this problem from Park Biologist Paul Pira:

    Monofilament line is great for fishing, but can cause real problems for other wildlife if improperly disposed of. Many wetland birds, reptiles and amphibians can become entangled in this line. Plus, anglers can lose costly lures caught up on others’ improperly discarded line.

    To help reduce these negative environmental impacts from improper disposal of fishing line, anglers can follow these tips.

    1) Good anglers check their line frequently for nicks and frays that may cause it to break easily. You certainly don’t want to lose that big fish to bad line, and you definitely don’t want to lose that line in the lake where it can damage wildlife.

    2) If you do break your line, please make every effort to retrieve all of it.

    3) Good anglers practice casting a lot to hone their skills. Also, try to avoid casting around low-hanging trees and shrubs, utility lines and obvious areas where line may get caught.

    4) If you see improperly discarded fishing line while you are out, pick it up and stow it away to be disposed of later. Anglers can make their own fishing line storage bins to keep with them while they are fishing so that line can be stored out of the way. To make such a bin, simply cut an X in the lid of something as simple as an old tennis ball container or coffee can.

    5) Monofilament and fluorocarbon line can be recycled in designated bins found at many boat ramps, piers and tackle shops. Some of Geauga Park District’s lakes and ponds already have such recycling containers installed. For example, Eagle Scout candidate Doug Schuder installed several fishing line recycling boxes at Beartown Lakes Reservation in 2016 as part of his Eagle Scout project. You’ll be pleased to know that Natural Resource Management staff also just recently installed a recycling container at Bass Lake Preserve’s boat ramp (pictured).

    Thank you for your concern about this important issue!

  • Where’s the pawpaw?

    Question

    I've tried to find the pawpaw trees out at Big Creek Park. I parked near the primitive camping, walked back to the tent camping sites and proceeded down the trail that heads out to the right toward Robinson Road. I saw the small bridge and then proceeded to the next small creek. I was told the trees are somewhere along one of those two creeks, but not sure if they are north or south or which creek (the first or the second). Can you point me in the right direction?

    Naturalist's Response

    Oops, you just missed the pawpaw grove. Just as you did: park in the campground lot, head into the tent camping area, turn right at the fire circle, walk past the grey water disposal and down the PawPaw Trail into the ravine.  Standing on that first bridge, turn to your left and there they are.  They are small trees, sapling size. You can discern them by their distinct buds.  See photo.

    The leaf bud is at the end of the twig, the dark round bud is the flower bud.

    -Naturalist Dan Best

  • Why is this possum awake?

    Question

    I was surprised to see an opossum during the day because I know that they are nocturnal. Why might this animal be awake at this time? -William, age 11

    Naturalist's Response

    Hi, William:

    Wow, those are some great opossum photos! Thanks for sharing them!

    You’re absolutely right that opossums are usually nocturnal. However, in the winter, it can become so difficult for them to find enough food that they change their habits and stay active during the daytime.

    (Here are The West Woods Nature Center, we frequently see an opossum coming to our bird feeder on winter days. There’s no better cold-weather snack than bird-scattered sunflower seeds!)

    If you’re lucky enough to see your opossum again this spring, try using binoculars to take a closer look at its ears and tail. These bits of exposed skin can easily be injured by frostbite, and can serve as a good clue about how rough the winter has been for your opossum. (March and April are also the most common months for spotting opossum babies, so keep an eye out!)

    If you’d like to read more about my favorite fifty-toothed forest-floor friend, you could try the book There’s An Opossum In My Backyard by Gary Bogue, or any of the many other great books about nocturnal animals.

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton