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

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  • 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

  • What to do with a small turtle in my driveway?

    Question

    Hi - I found a small turtle (painted I believe) in the middle of my driveway. No larger than a half dollar. No idea where he would have come from or where he might have been going. Just glad I didn't t smash him with my car. I have him in the garage in a tub and he seems to be doing fine. I bought some turtle pellets from the pet store but he seems to prefer flies that I swap and put in his tub. I have a small fish pond (apx 10 x 10 x 2'). Would he thrive in that environment or could he be kept in the tub?

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for saving the little one from getting run over.

    Turtles lay their eggs from late spring into summer. The eggs and newly hatched turtles will remain in the ground until the following year, which is really amazing considering that they will stay buried all that time and still be OK.

    Despite its size, your turtle is very capable of fending for itself and should be released right away. These turtles thrive in ponds, so by all means place it near the pond you mentioned. It will be a much more natural life for it.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Name this snake!

    Question

    I saw a very long, thick black snake in the middle of the Bridle Trail in The West Woods on June 10 around 5 PM. From research, could it be a Black Rat Snake or Eastern Racer? Just curious, including most importantly to confirm it's not venomous. Thanks!

    Naturalist's Response

  • What’s growing in our backyard?

    Question

    Over-four-foot-tall plant in our backyard. Weed or flower?

    Naturalist's Response

    You have a yucca on your hands.

    With their long, thick, pointy leaves, they kind of look like a dessert plant, don’t they? I personally think they look pretty out-of-place here in Ohio. But they are still frequently for landscaping due to their tall, stately flower stalks.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

  • Name this “pea-sized tree pumpkin”!

    Question

    Found these on a hike this afternoon, if I had to guess I'd call this pea-sized tree pumpkin!? A number of these were falling from the canopy!

    Naturalist's Response

    Wow, that’s a great photo!

    Our number-one suspect is an pokeberry. Here’s a terrific photo from the Ohio State University Weed Guide website.  They look like little green pumpkins about this time of year, though some have already started ripening into their trademark dark-purple color.

    (A great way to identify pokeberry fruit with 100% certainty is to make sure that it has exactly 10 sections; I’m afraid I can’t count the sections on the berry in your photo.)

    The only oddity would be that pokeberries falling from the tree canopy, since they only grow to about the height of an adult human.

    Our number-two suspect is an unripe buckthorn fruit.  They’re about the same size as pokeberries, but buckthorn trees grow much higher than pokeberry plants.  Maybe they’re the ones dropping on you from the canopy. Here’s a photo from a buckthorn-removal hobbyist.

    Buckthorn trees/shrubs are a fast-spreading nuisance that we try to control in our parks; however, there are still plenty of buckthorn saplings along some of our trails.

    Thanks for sharing your finding. I hope this helps to figure out what you saw!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek

  • Fungus ID?

    Question

    I found this fungus on the base of one of my trees in my yard. I believe it to be brittle cinder fungus which, according to my research so far, is pretty serious. I want to get rid of it but I have found nothing to tell me what the best course of action would be. While losing one tree is bad enough, I'd prefer to prevent the spread of this fungus to the rest of our trees. Ideas? Thoughts? Thank you.

    Naturalist's Response

    I would recommend that you contact the Master Gardeners of Geauga County at 440-834-4656 or email at http://mastergardener.osu.edu/ask.

    The Master Gardeners are still taking calls, but you may have to wait a few days to get an answer.

    I have also forwarded this to one of our staff that is interested in fungus.

    Thanks for your inquiry.

    -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

     

  • What kind of snake did I see?

    Question

    I recently saw a black snake with white rings, about 4ish feet long, in a lower tree in my back yard in Bainbridge. I didn't have my phone so I didn't get a picture. Not sure exactly what it is, king snake? Thanks

    Naturalist's Response

    Thanks for posting your observation!

    Our #1 suspect is Pantherophis spiloides, the snake that books call a “gray ratsnake,” and that most Ohioans call a “black ratsnake.”

    They’re the dark-colored, tree-dwelling snakes that are typically the size of a garden hose, and up to six feet long.  Ratsnakes are non-venomous constrictors that hunt in the trees, seeking out rodents, birds, eggs, frogs, and just about anything that they can swallow.

    When they’re young, they can have a variety of markings ranging from white to gray to black.  Here’s a terrific set of photos from Marshall University comparing the appearance of the multi-colored juveniles to a solid-black adult.

    Based on your size estimate (about four feet long) and description of the color, I’d guess that you’re sharing your backyard with a juvenile ratsnake.

    See if it will “hang around” for a photo!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek