Misunderstood animals (and insects) are the main draw at these park events.
A dragonfly won't sting or bite you — unless you manage to jab your finger into its tiny mouth. It's just one of the myths naturalist Mike Greene hopes to dispel when he leads hikers of all ages through fields and near water on a hunt for the winged creatures. "We don't want people to fear them; we want them to appreciate them," he says. "They're an important animal to have around because they do eat mosquitoes." Dragonflies: The Mosquito Hawks, Pheasant Run Trail, July 31, 3:30 p.m., Metro Parks serving Summit County, 330-867-5511, summitmetroparks.org
Try explaining to a 4-year-old that muskrats are diurnal (active during the day) while beavers are nocturnal. So naturalist Pat Rydquist takes the hands-on approach, leading tiny trekkers into the creatures' marshy habitats to look for droppings, tracks and building materials. And because live sightings are rare, she provides taxidermy versions so kids can learn to see their differences (muskrats are smaller, and the creatures' tails are flattened in different ways). Bonus material: She's also got a stuffed groundhog, so kids realize that's a whole other animal. Kinderrealm: Beavers & Muskrats, Goodyear Heights Pavilion, July 13; Firestone Metropark, July 14; Nature Realm, July 23 & 24; Metro Parks serving Summit County, 330-867-5511, summitmetroparks.org
Coyotes live throughout Northeast Ohio and in almost every park within the Lake Metroparks system, says interpretive manager Andy Avram. "They're not really these big, scary things," he says. "Coyotes are one [species of wildlife] that really gets a bad rap." Because coyotes are nocturnal, we rarely see them, which adds to the legends that they're cunning tricksters. So Avram takes visitors into the park to look for the animal — or at least for signs of it, such as footprints and droppings. Coyote! Veterans Park, Aug. 20, 8 p.m., Lake Metroparks, 440-256-2112, lakemetroparks.com
The annual return of the buzzards at the Cleveland Metroparks Hinckley Reservation gets all the press, but the birds, officially known as turkey vultures, actually put on a show for park visitors most of the summer. Bob Hinkle, the chief of outdoor education and official buzzard spotter for the Cleveland Metroparks, recommends packing breakfast and heading to the Hinckley Lake Dam and boathouse around 7:30 a.m. during June and July. The buzzards, which have been roosting in the trees all night, fly over the lake and assemble in a huge cloud then alight on the lake's small islands to bathe. "That morning flight is really something to see," Hinkle says. Buzzard Sunday, mid-March, 9 a.m., Hinckley Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, 440-526-1012, clemetparks.com
Batman loves gadgets, so it's no wonder Paul Motts does too. On his expeditions, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's interpretive ranger uses bat detectors to convert the winged mammal's ultrasound-range calls into something we can hear. So listen up: This is the Year of the Bat in Summit County, and you'll find a variety of programs at the Metro Parks, the Akron Zoo and national park. Motts takes visitors out to the Stanford House barn for the "Watching Bats" program, during which you'll discover (holy spectacles, Batman!) that bats are not blind at all. Cuyahoga Valley National Park Year of the Bat events: Bat Watch, Oak Hill Trailhead, July 23, 8:30 p.m.; Twilight Bat Flight, Aug. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Watching Bats, Stanford House, Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Bats and Biodiversity, Aug. 26, 330-657-2752, nps.gov/cuva
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June 17, 2010