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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  • Should I worry about coyotes on our deck?


    Should I worry about coyote coming up to our deck? We live in the Lake in the Woods neighborhood. We hear them often and see them run by every once in awhile. This week we saw three of them walk through the woods quite close to our yard. Then, that night, we were woken up to them on and near our deck! I'm worried they may be building a den. It's a neighborhood full of children and pets. Is this the time of year they build dens? It seems odd that they're coming so close to our house? Our kids play in the woods, but if it sounds like they're making a den this would be unsafe. Thanks for any insight you may have!

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for your question about coyotes. Geauga County has perfect coyote habitat. These mammals are highly adaptable and are capable of living among humans, but prefer to shun people. Most of the time folks don’t even know they are around.

    I’m not sure why they would come up on your deck.  Hopefully there isn’t any pet food, etc. that might be attracting them. I wouldn’t worry unless they start appearing on/around your deck on a regular basis.

    You’ll want to secure any places under your deck to exclude unwanted critters. Female coyotes choose a den site in late March and April, so it is too early for them to be making a den; also noteworthy, breeding time is the only time they use dens.

    Coyotes do not live in packs, but rather in family groups that consist of the alpha male and female and any offspring, so you probably have a family group traveling through their territory. I made a picture with Lake-in-the-Woods at the center of a circle that shows the size of a coyote family group territory: approximately 2470 acres.

    If you have further questions, feel free to give me a call at The West Woods Nature Center.

    -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

  • Red-winged Blackbirds in January?


    I spotted these Red-winged Blackbirds in my yard. I am surprised to see them in January - any explanation? Thanks!

    Naturalist's Response

    Nice find!

    Although the majority of our local Red-winged Blackbirds do migrate to warmer areas in the winter, it is not unusual to see small numbers remain in Geauga County throughout the winter.

    I have seen larger flocks, like the one you had in your yard some winters. But more often than not I see smaller groups and individual birds throughout the winter.

    Often it depends on the weather; the harder the winter, the lower number of red-wings that we see.

    In about a month or so, start listing for their “kon-ka-reeee” song, which is one of the true harbingers of spring! At that point, their numbers will dramatically increase in Geauga County and we’ll be rounding the corner to that warmer weather…


    -Chief Naturalist John Kolar

  • Why do birds fly off with seed?


    When the birds fly away with the seeds or peanuts, do they store them somewhere or do they eat them? They seem to go quite a distance between each trip to the hand or feeder.

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for asking about where all the seeds are going that the birds take from you and the bird feeder. I have observed woodpeckers caching food, but I was not sure about chickadees, nuthatches and other feeder birds. From the articles I found in these links, though, it seems chickadees and nuthatches also store food and apparently are able to find the food later when they need it!

    Do birds store food for the winter? (All About Birds)

    What are they doing with all those seeds? (FeederWatch)

    Thanks for sharing your observations!

    -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

  • What is the goal of stream restoration at Sunnybrook?


    What is the goal or purpose of the "stream restoration" at Sunnybrook park?

    Naturalist's Response

    In 2019, Geauga Park District (and the Chagrin River Watershed Partners) were awarded $120,000 by the Ohio EPA’s 319 Grant Program to rectify environmental concerns related to Sunnybrook, which is located within Sunnybrook Preserve. Both entities worked closely with consultants RiverReach Construction, EnviroScience and GPD Group to develop a dynamic plan for restoring 500 linear feet of stream. Doing this will mitigate erosion issues and enhance in-stream habitat for fishes and other aquatic life. This project will also improve surrounding floodplain and wetland habitat for wildlife through numerous native tree/shrub plantings (2021) and invasive plant management.

    -Park Biologist Paul Pira

  • Where can I see Purple Martins and Chimney Swifts?


    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?


    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?


    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?


    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?


    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?


    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