MOORE — Even city parks have a bit of a wild side, especially through the binoculars of Neil Garrison.
The retired naturalist from Martin Park Nature Center said a pilot program developed with the city parks department in Moore is a chance for folks to learn a little about the plants and animals that live in their own backyards.
Cardinals chimney swifts — even a rare public appearance by the conspicuous belted kingfisher — were among the birds spotted Saturday by Garrison and his troop of tots and parents during the first Explore Little River Park tour.
In fact, there were quite a few surprise showings from birds not regularly spotted in a busy urban park, especially during the daylight hours — a Mississippi kite, stoic on a high tree branch; a great egret, hunting fish in the pond; a night heron looking to ambush its prey on the shore.
“Usually in the middle of the day they would not be out on the edge of the water, but I'm sure at this time of year we've got a lot of hungry babies and they're telling him to get to work,” Garrison said of the heron.
About two dozen kids and parents, as well as a couple who came without children, spent a little more than an hour touring the park with Garrison, making regular stops at critters, bushes, trees and animals intercepted along the way.
The hikers learned some plants have medicinal value, while others are to be avoided entirely.
Three leaves versus five leaves on a lush green vine can mean the difference between poisonous and safe, Garrison said, but the bark of a black willow, with its slender, delicate leaves, can be brewed as a tea.
A slippery elm — tall, with a reddish trunk and sandpapery leaves — can be effective treating minor pain, Garrison said.
“Back in the old days before there was a store on every corner, when people got sick they had to know stuff about the outdoors,” he told the children. “The same stuff that's found in aspirin is found in the bark of this tree, but it does taste terrible.”