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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    • Can I forage mushrooms in the park?


      Can I legally forage any variety of mushroom in Eldon Russell park,if so which ones?

      Naturalist's Response

      Per Geauga Park District’s Rules & Regulations:

      4.1 No person shall destroy, disturb, deface or remove any natural, archaeological or cultural feature from any area within the Park.
      4.2 No person shall collect any animal including birds, invertebrates (including mollusks), non-game fish, amphibians and reptiles or plant material in any area of the Park without written permission of the Executive Director, except leaves that have dropped from trees may be collected for educational purposes and game fish may be taken as designated in Section 12 “Hunting, Trapping and Fishing.”

      To request permission through our permitting process, click here and scroll down to Special Uses.

      Thank you for asking!

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • Whose scat is that?


      Hi! Can you help me identify this? I found it a few days ago in my backyard field, and assume it's scat, though I can't find anything like it online. (I might have seen this in my yard about 4 years ago.)
      I live in Madison, OH, on 5 acres in an area of fields and dense woods. A tributary creek from Arcola Creek runs across the back. We see a good variety of Ohio wildlife.
      The pile is easily the size of an open hand. If you zoom in, you can see another piece to the right.

      Naturalist's Response

      This was a tricky one!

      We pride ourselves on knowing our scat, but your animal-droppings question almost had us stumped.

      The consensus from naturalists Andy “Number One at Number Two” Avram and John “Dr. Scat” Kolar is that this is probably deer scat, just in an uncommon form.

      White Tailed Deer

      Typically, when deer have been browsing on leaves and twigs, their scat takes the form of discrete “pellets.” (The parallels to Raisinets candy are rather precise.)

      Deer scat in snow

      However, when deer have been eating more grasses, weeds and forbs, their scat can take on a stringier shape, with each bolus connected by fibers to its neighbors in an (ahem) necklace-like configuration. (We think that’s what’s in your photo.)

      Mystery scat

      Naturalist Karie “The Droppings Whisperer” Wheaton notes that this type of scat also gives you an X-ray-like image of the deer’s intestines.

      When they’re freshly deposited, even pellet-like scat can still sometimes retain this shape, like a mass of garlic-clove-shaped boluses joined end-to-end, as you can see in this stock photo:

      Massed deer scat

      That might have been more information about scat than you wanted, but it’s a fascinating opportunity to learn about Nature.  Thanks for sharing your observation!

      – Geauga Park District’s Naturalist Team (written up by Naturalist Chris Mentrek)

    • What type of squirrel looks like this?


      This guy showed up yesterday at my house: webbed middle tows, every color of a squirrel. What do you think it is? It does not appear to have mange, but the hair on its back is very thin, short and white. Someone I know thought you might be able to tell me.

      Naturalist's Response

      Thanks for your photo!

      Your question really created some discussions among the naturalists.

      It looks like the animal in your photo is a Red Squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, with an unusual color variation.

      Red Squirrel

      Despite their name, Red Squirrels can have an astounding variety of colors in their fur: red, white, brown, and even gray.

      Take a look at this snapshot of an unusually colored Red Squirrel spotted in Hambden Township by Naturalist Andy Avram:

      Unusual squirrel coloration

      Unusually-colored squirrel in Hambden

      The color variations arise as perfectly natural genetic variations, and are sometimes passed on within particular squirrel families. As a result, different color variations can become more common in a particular location.

      Every so often, a litter of squirrels is born with a “piebald” or varied color variation, and the squirrels become local celebrities. Last year, a piebald Easterm Gray Squirrel named “Pinto Bean” charmed the University Of Illinois campus.

      Naturalists Dottie Drockton and Nora Sindelar point out that your squirrel seems to also show some fur loss, particularly in its tail.  There are a huge variety of fungal infections, pests and other diseases that can cause fur loss, which is well explained in this summary from Purdue University.

      If you want to get involved in a science project centered on squirrel coloration, check out Squirrel Mapper! You can contribute photos of color variations in Eastern Gray Squirrels via iNaturalist, or you can classify other people’s photos online.

      Squirrel Mapper logo

      It will be interesting to see whether or not there’s a larger population of these unusually colored squirrels in Northeast Ohio. Keep an eye out, and let us know if you spot any!

      – Geauga Park District’s Naturalist Team (written up by Naturalist Chris Mentrek)

    • Where have the birds gone?


      Hi, I've been seeing a lot less birds the past few weeks and expected to see them back today with the snow. Is there something going on with the birds - I usually have blue jays, cardinals, chickadees mostly but the only ones here this morning are the juncoes. The last bag of black-oiled sunflower seeds we bought look a little brownish, could they be bad? They came from Centerra in Munson and I wondered if anyone else has said anything about them. Please let me know if you have any ideas. If there is no bird disease going around, I'll try replacing the seeds. Thanks for your help.

      Naturalist's Response

      I don’t know why birds disappear from people’s feeders sometimes. Maybe something in the surrounding habitat has changed, or because the weather has been mild these past couple winters, the birds are finding their own food; maybe the seed could be bad; or maybe a combination of some or all of the above.

      -Naturalist Linda Gilbert


      Why do birds
      Suddenly disappear
      Even if
      Seeds are here

      Just like me
      They long to feed
      Somewhere new

      But seriously, I am on board with what Linda said.

      -Naturalist Andy Avram

    • Does the Park District tag deer ears?


      Today we saw a deer eating english ivy in our yard. Not sure if it was male or female. Question: It had both ears tagged. Does the park district tag the ears of a deer & why? Thanks.

      Naturalist's Response

      Sorry for not having an answer in this case, but no, the Park District does not tag deer. I know there are deer farms in Middlefield that raise deer; maybe one of theirs escaped.

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • Bright blue substance on vines?


      On Jan. 19, I was a short way along the Overlook Trail at Welton's Gorge and noticed some cut branches (vines?) that had a very bright blue sap-like substance coming out of the cut ends. The blue certainly doesn’t look natural color-wise, so I wouldn't be surprised if it is some sort of treatment. Thanks for any information you can share!

      Naturalist's Response

      Occasionally, Natural Resource Management controls grapevines that pose a threat to some of the park’s more mature and valuable wildlife trees (like oaks). Normally, we do not control these grapevines because they are valuable in their own ways; they provide nesting material for many songbirds, and of course food and habitat for wildlife. Once in a while, though, there are situations when they begin to damage our highly important mature trees. After discussion with me, the land stewards decided to remove some of them in this case . The vines are first cut, then carefully treated by our licensed pesticide applicators (land stewards) with an approved herbicide. The blue you see is simply a dye that helps them keep track of which vines have been treated.

      Thank you for your interest in our parks.

      -Park Biologist Paul Pira

    • What is this critter I saw, then couldn’t find again?


      Found this on our property in Hambden Twp. in May. Came back to see it again in about 5 minutes and it was gone. Any idea on what it may be? Thank you!

      Naturalist's Response

      Thanks for sending a nice picture of a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar.

      Giant Leopard Moths belong to the tiger moth family. If you haven’t seen what the moth looks like, check out this link at

      Look for the adult next spring/summer they are attracted to lights.

      -Naturalist Linda Gilbert

    • Rarest flowers in Ohio?


      What are some of the rarest flowers in Ohio, and where/when can they be found?

      Naturalist's Response

      Perhaps the best thing you can do is check out this list by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Happy learning!

      -Naturalist Denise Wolfe

    • Can I see a recording of “Plant Your Own Meadow”?


      I was unfortunately unable to attend the "Plant Your Own Meadow" event because it was filled when I went to sign up. Was the event recorded? If so, could I please view it? If not, could you please share any information? Thanks so much for your help!

      Naturalist's Response

      Although I am not able to share the Park District’s presentation, here are a few sources that should be helpful.

      A recording of Shana Byrd’s webinar (week #5) is available here. And our presentation also used Doug Tallamy as a resource. Find his website here: TALLAMY’S HUB — HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK.

      You can also watch for more Park District programs on native habitats in 2023. Thanks for your interest!

      -Naturalist Dottie Drockton

    • Best park to enjoy pine and evergreen trees?


      Which is the best park to enjoy pine or evergreen trees?

      Naturalist's Response

      Eldon Russell Park has a small, beautiful pine forest along the Duane Ferris Trail, and Headwaters Park has a substantial amount evergreens in the campground area as well as the north end of the lake. -Naturalist John Kolar

      Orchard Hills Park also has some big pines, and then there is the Boreal Trail with hemlock at Big Creek Park. Enjoy! -Naturalist Denise Wolfe