Ask a Naturalist

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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

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  • Where can I see Purple Martins and Chimney Swifts?

    Question

    Do purple martins roost anywhere in Geauga county and if so, where? Also, where else do the chimney swifts roost besides the church on Chardon Square? Thanks.

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for your questions!

    Purple Martins:

    There are lots of Purple Martin shelters hoisted by homeowners all over Geauga County. Some good general advice is to try almost any street in the area of Middlefield, Huntsburg and Parkman townships. The wide-open spaces of farm fields can give birders great views from the roadside.

    Chimney Swifts:

    Small collections of Chimney Swifts are common sights over most fields and ponds. However, a few spots stand out as great places for viewing the “bird tornado” phenomenon of large numbers of swifts preparing for the autumn migration.

    As you mention, Chardon Square features a large number of old spires, chimneys and roofs – solid gold real estate for migrating swifts!

    Two other spots that have been reliable in past years are Burton Square and Berkshire High School, both in Burton.

    The swifts’ use of any particular site can vary year-by-year, though.  Here are some other sites that have sometimes hosted swift swarms:

    • Arms Trucking building (former Claridon Elementary School building)
    • Newbury High School
    • Ledgemont High School building in Thompson

    Best of luck in your bird quest! As of today, the Purple Martins have mostly moved on; it’s not too late to see the Chimney Swift vortex in some of the places, but they will be gone soon!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • What to do about the geese?

    Question

    We'd like to discourage a flock of approximately 200 geese that spend their days on three adjoining properties in our neighborhood. Do you have any advice?

    Naturalist's Response

    Canada Geese, a common sight today, were nearly gone from Ohio before nesting pairs were brought back in the 1950s. Now large flocks of Canada Geese are common anywhere there are ponds, wetlands and lawns which is nearly everywhere in Geauga County. Geese feed on the short grass of mowed lawns which of course means undesirable green scat deposited on lawns and golf courses where geese are often regarded as a nuisance animal. A simple way to discourage geese is to mow less, creating meadow or forest habitat for pollinators or other wildlife. Geauga parks like Orchard Hills Park no longer have the large flocks of geese that were common there. Visit Orchard Hills to see how beautiful and goose-free the meadow and forest habitat is now. This link from the Ohio Division of Resources Division of Wildlife is a great source for ideas regarding your unwelcome flock.

    Good luck, and please let us know what works for you.

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • What to do about mildew on our milkweed?

    Question

    Hi , I would like to ask Tami or another Naturalist about mildew on milkweed leaves (with caterpillars on the plant)...should we treat the leaves with mildew, and if so, what should we do... or ignore it?

    Naturalist's Response

    The safest control for mildew and other diseases and pests to your milkweed plants would be to remove the diseased leaves, but do not compost. Monarch eggs and caterpillars could be harmed by pesticides, even those labeled as safe or organic. It is best to control milkweed threats manually. Mildew is a result of factors like high humidity and moisture on the leaves, especially when plants are under stress. Keep your milkweed plants healthy by growing them in rich soil, and water the soil of your plants regularly (being careful not to overwater), preferably without watering the leaves.

    Here is a good link from Monarch Watch regarding “common milkweed pests.”

    Thanks for helping the Monarch Butterfly by growing milkweed!

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • Should we worry about this snake if we get a puppy?

    Question

    I have this snake under my from deck for years. This year he has gotten real big. Can you tell me what kind of snake it is. I have 8 yr old lab and i try and keep her away, we are thinking about getting a puppy and i am worried. He usually suns himself in the afternoon on or next to the ramp.

    Naturalist's Response

    The snake you photographed is a well-fed Northern Watersnake which likely has gotten big feeding on frogs, fish, chipmunks and other critters on your property. It does look like it might be eating something in your photo. This is not a venomous snake (the venomous water moccasin does not occur in Ohio), and snakes typically flee from people and pets. When grabbed, however, snakes are quick to defend themselves. A Northern Watersnake will bite and is capable of causing damage to a dog or person, especially a curious puppy. Good thing your older lab has learned to stay clear. ODNR tells us, “Northern Watersnakes are particularly fond of basking and can often be seen sunning upon logs, stumps and rocks or low branches overhanging the water. They are very wary and when disturbed drop into the water and disappear quickly.” Thanks for sharing your photo.

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • Why are the pools dry along the Discovery Trail?

    Question

    The vernal pools along the Discovery Trail are all dried up. Why?

    Naturalist's Response

    These pools are being maintained as seasonal pools that flood in the spring and dry by the end of summer. Drying out each year means these wetlands provide essential breeding grounds for amphibians like wood frogs, spotted and Jefferson’s salamanders who migrate from the woodlands to lay eggs here each spring. The tiny adult frogs and salamanders leave the wetlands before they dry in late summer. Predators like fish and green frog tadpoles found in other ponds cannot survive the drying of the vernal pools.

    Limiting the survival of predatory fish and tadpoles means more adult wood frogs and salamanders in our forests! Wait for winter and spring precipitation to again fill these vernal pools.

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • Should I move amphibians out of the community pool?

    Question

    I am a volunteer for a community pool. With the pool not being in use the summer, it has attracted frogs and tadpoles. I would like to relocate them to my backyard with a creek 1 mile away. Do you have any tips on trapping? And is it okay to introduce them to a different location?

    Naturalist's Response

    In the spring and early summer each year, amphibians typically return to the ponds and vernal pools where they hatched from eggs and grew as young tadpoles and larval salamanders. If vernal pools are filled as humans change the landscape, the adult frogs and salamanders sometimes mistakenly end up in a swimming pool or other structure containing water. What should we do when we find the adults, eggs or young amphibians in these places and want to help?

    To protect wildlife and prevent the spread of disease the recommendations of NEPARC (Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation):

    * DO NOT TRANSPORT WILDLIFE. To reduce the spread of disease, fish, amphibians and reptiles should not be released in areas where they did not originate. This includes transportation and release of live or dead animals.

    * If you frequent wetlands, be sure to decontaminate your boots and other gear between each visit. Items that come into contact with water NEED to be cleaned prior to entering another wetland. For decontamination procedures and other information, visit the NEPARC website.

    Habitat loss and pollution threaten the survival of frogs and salamanders, but recently amphibian disease is considered to be perhaps the most serious threat. Humans may be the primary transmitters of ranavirus and other diseases, which can cause die-offs of wood frogs and other vernal pool breeding amphibians.

    Moving the amphibians to a nearby pool or wetland that is likely the place where they originated would be the best option and the least likely to spread disease.

    Another option, if it is possible, is to leave the young amphibians in the swimming pool to allow them to grow to adult frogs or salamanders in place. Wood frogs, toads and spring peepers, as well as Jefferson and Spotted salamanders, will become adults and leave the pools by the end of summer. Provide the adults a way to climb out of the pools. Burlap hanging over the edge of the swimming pool sounded like a great escape route for the tiny frogs and salamanders.

    Thanks for looking out for these critters!

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • Name this flower

    Question

    What is the name of this flower that I saw last week at Claridon Woodlands?

    Naturalist's Response

    This is the flower of the ramp, also know as the wild leek. It is a member of the onion family (making them quite stinky). They grow in moist woodlands, and in the early spring they send up broad green leaves which die back as the leaves come out on the trees and there is less light reaching the forest floor. Then, in mid- summer, they form these globe-shaped flower heads.

    When harvested from private property (not Geauga Park District), ramps are also quite delicious, hence the various ramp festivals dedicated to this plant. Nice sighting!

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Is this hawk OK?

    Question

    Have had a medium to large hawk in the yard since yesterday. Doesn't seem injured but not sure. Rather nervous to go outside. Doesn't seem particularly intimidated by people. Other birds and wildlife naturally seem agitated. Not unusual to see hawks but have never had one stay. Is this normal?

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for your question about the hawk in your backyard.  I wish there was a picture so I could see what species it is.

    While I can’t say for sure that anything is wrong with it or not, another possibility might be that it is an immature bird. In my opinion, some immature birds that have recently fledged aren’t very smart and haven’t yet learned to be wary of people. I have walked right up to immature woodpeckers at my bird feeder and they just stayed there looking at me. So that could be the case with your hawk.

    In the future, unless it appears injured in some way, I wouldn’t interfere with it.

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

  • Why might owls make monkey sounds?

    Question

    I was camping in Headwaters Park & kept hearing what sounded like a monkey. Then while hiking, we saw 2 owls in the trees taking turns screeching back & forth. We figured out it was barred owls making both sounds. Do their monkey sounds mean something different than when they were taking turns screeching?

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for your interesting observation about the Barred Owls.  They can make all kinds of strange sounds.  The “monkey-type” calls are part of their normal song; they say “who ,who, who cooks for you” or sometimes “hooo-awww” or a mixture of both.  The screeching noises are usually made by the young birds that have recently fledged and are still wanting their parents to feed them. So those screeching noises are begging calls.

    Maybe the young owls were practicing their songs and asking their parents for food, too!

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

  • Whether or not to clean my next box

    Question

    Should you clean out your birdhouses every year? I have one that fell down and was occupied.

    Naturalist's Response

    Nest boxes should be cleaned out after the birds have finished nesting. Some birds, such as Eastern Bluebirds, nest multiple times in one season, so you can clean out the nest box in between each nesting. If you watch the box on a regular basis, you’ll know when they have finished nesting. It is also a good idea to clean out the boxes in early spring because other animals like field mice often make a cozy home inside the nest boxes for winter.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe