10 Reasons we love STKs (Swallow-tailed Kites)

It is one of our favorite times of the year.

We actually look forward to the arrival of the Swallow-tailed Kites with something akin to the anticipation of a birthday or holiday.

And when the first birds arrive, the flurry of emails start as people brag about who saw the very first STK of the season.

A swallow-tailed kite soars with a frog in its talons.

We’re crazy about kites at the CREW Project and we know some of you are, too. Here are 10 reasons we love Swallow-Tailed Kites.

1 – Aerodynamics

We could watch kites soar all day long. As one of our volunteers pointed out, the entire design of the bird is aerodynamic and sleek, as if their body is made to slide right through the air. They swoop effortlessly and gracefully to grab prey and it’s while soaring that we are able to easily identify them by their long, forked tail.

2 – Migration patterns

Swallow-tailed kites migrate to Southwest Florida each year from South America to breed. We are their first stop on their winter migration and they normally arrive here in the third or fourth week of February, then gradually later through the rest of Florida, according to the Birds of North America website. Once the adults arrive, they begin gathering nesting material and prepare nests often in the same spot or vicinity as they nested the previous year. Swallow-tailed kites will stay in our area until June or July, and then the adults leave several weeks prior to the juveniles’ departure.

3- Nesting

Swallow-tailed kites are raptors, but they do not have particular strong feet or talons. That’s why they use Spanish moss as nesting material! They have been seen carrying very small, lightweight sticks, but their primary nesting material is Spanish moss. They also nest very high in the “V” of pine trees which make the nests challenging to spot. And, once they chicks hatch, the adults continue to add nesting materials. So, a nest that starts out convex to hold an egg, will eventually become concave as the chick grows!

(Thank you, Kathleen Smith, CREW biologist, for that fun fact)

Swallow-tailed kite carrying Spanish moss for nesting.

4 – Challenge

Everything about the Swallow-tailed kite is challenging! Have you ever tried to get a GOOD PHOTO? Especially of one flying? It’s extremely difficult and we’ve watched plenty of wildlife photographers on the trail gasp in frustration as the birds soar past. And it’s not just capturing the birds on film that is tough – finding the nests is also hard! Because the nests are so high in the trees, and only made sparsely with Spanish moss, they are difficult to find. But, once you have found the nest, you can go back each year and check for activity. For our biologists and volunteer citizen scientists, that challenge is part of the fun of monitoring the kites.

5- Coloration

From the beautiful snow-white head and underbody to the sleek inky wings and back, the kite is a study in contrasting colors. It makes them easily recognizable in the raptor family – for their color and for their forked tail.

6 – The Tail

That gorgeous, v-shaped tail is how all of us easily identify the Swallow-tailed Kite. And, as we inch towards summer, we can tell the juvenilles in flight from the adults because the adults will have longer forked tails than the juvenilles.

7- Feeding time fun

Part of loving raptors is loving the fat that they do raptor stuff – meaning we aren’t upset when we see a bird of prey carrying home dinner. The kites are no exception. They will eat large insects, but remember, they do not have strong feet so they don’t pick up heavy prey. Instead, they mainly eat herps – frogs, anoles and snakes. As a hiker and birder, it can be quite fun to try and puzzle out what they are carrying home to feed their chicks. 

8 – Nice Neighbors

One thing that makes them different from other raptors is that the kites will nest near other kites, forming loose neighborhoods (thanks for that name, Kathleen!). That makes it a bit easier for our citizen scientists and the CREW biologists when locating nests. It also makes for easy playdate scheduling (just kidding, birds don’t have playdates).

A kite and chick within the CREW Project.

9 – The CREW Trust Logo

The Swallow-tailed Kite is the bird featured on our logo! We are very proud of the kites, and the fact that the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed is land preserved for water and wildlife and provides habitat for these migratory raptors.

10 – Bringing Friends

The nest monitoring done each year by CREW FWC biologists and volunteers has shown that the numbers of swallow-tailed kites nesting within the 60,000-acres is growing! That’s exciting for us and great news for the birds. You have a really good chance of seeing Swallow-tailed Kites at all four of the CREW Project Trails. They roost around the lake at Bird Rookery Swamp (hike out to the lake, under two miles); they swoop over the red trail at Flint Pen Strand; they have a LOT of nests around the Cypress Dome Trails; and we spot them in the pine flatwoods areas of the CREW Marsh Trails. We hope you’ll celebrate the return of the kites – and their growing population within CREW – by coming out with your friends and exploring the trails in hopes of spotting a kite or two.

special thanks to CREW FWC staff and CREW Trust Volunteers for sharing the photos used in this blogpost.

Bear Calling Cards

That title seems terribly old fashioned. And maybe a bit fancy for bears.

For visitors who have hiked the Popash Slough or Bird Rookery Swamp, you’ve likely seen what we call Bear Trees.

These are trees where bears have rubbed the bark smooth and you can see the oil from their fur rubbed into the tree and sometimes, on special occasions, find some of their fur.

We spend a lot of time explaining how bears do this and why to somewhat disbelieving audiences. Let’s face it – when I’ve got my back to a tree and have my arms up over my head pretending my claws are grabbing onto the trunk as I shimmy my back up and down, I don’t seem like a very credible source.

Bears do this back-scratching-thingee not because they have an itch, but because they are leaving their scent.

Like bear emails. Or text messages. That seems a bit more up-to-date than calling cards.

We finally, FINALLY, thanks to Volunteer Tom Mortenson and his game cameras, have a photo of a bear doing exactly what I’ve demonstrated hundreds of times – scratching his or her back on a tree and leaving scent. They’ve just done it at night instead of in front of a crowd of visitors.


For actual scientific important information about bears and bear safety, visit myfwc.com

For something completely unscientific, enjoy this video of not-Florida-bears scracthing on trees along to “Jungle Boogie.”

The sweet smell of pawpaws

One of our favorite spring wildflowers is blooming! We spotted – and smelled – the first pawpaws blooming last week along the edges of the flatwoods in the Cypress Dome Trails and the CREW Marsh Trails.

For visitors lucky enough to attend one of the remaining free guided walks at the Marsh Trails with Janet Bunch, you’ll learn all about the pawpaws and likely get nose-close and personal with their sweet scent.

Pawpaws are important for several reasons beyond their beauty and smell. First, they are a host plant for zebra swallowtail butterflies. Second, the fruit they produce is a delicious foodsource for many animals including gopher tortoises.

Want to learn more about CREW wildflowers?

Additional resources to help you find and ID southwest Florida native wildflowers include:

Click HERE for a partial list of wildflowers found at CREW.

2019 CREW Concert: THANK YOU!

Saturday evening was fantastic. Great weather, yummy food and craft beer, amazing music and a LOT of people supporting CREW Land & Water Trust!

Thank you to everyone who attended the concert, donated items to the silent eco-auction, purchased auction items or stars (how fun were those?), sponsored the event or volunteered to work the event.

We’re already planning for 2020, so if you missed this year’s concert – we hope to see you next year!

Photo credits: Dick Brewer and Anne Reed




2019 Concert Countdown: Know Before You Go

We’re counting down to the 2019 CREW Concert Under the Stars & Silent Eco-Auction on Saturday, February 16 at 5 p.m. at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs. Today is our last pre-concert post – we hope to see you there!

Ready to dance? Eat? Drink? Buy all the Silent Eco-Auction items?

Before you go to our concert on Saturday, we have just a few things we think you should know. Check them out- and we look forward to seeing you at the 2019 Concert Under the Stars.

1- Tickets

The easiest and cheapest way to get your tickets to the CREW Concert is online through eventbrite. If you buy your tickets in advance, they are $15; if you wait and buy them at the gate, they are $20. That’s five dollars you could save for a cupcake (more on those tasty little treats later)! Here is a little secret – the tickets will be available for purchase online until 4 p.m. on Saturday, so if you decide last-minute to come, you still have time to save money and buy your tickets online!

2- What to bring (and what to leave at home)

Things you can bring: children (ages 12 and under get in free), cash and credit cards (for food/drink sales) and folding chairs.

Things you can’t bring: coolers and dogs.

Service animals are always welcome within reason – we’d hate to disappoint you and turn away your service brontosaurus due to lack of available space.

3- Where is the concert, and when does it start?

The 2019 CREW Concert & Silent Eco-Auction will be held at Riverside Park, located at 10451 Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs.


5 p.m. Gates Open

5:30 p.m. Silent Auction Opens

5:30 p.m. Welcome

5:40 p.m. High Voltage Band performs

8:15 p.m. Silent Auction Closes

8:30-9:15 p.m. Pick-up and Pay for Silent Auction Items

9:00 p.m. Concert Ends

4 – Food and Beverages

The Rotary Club of Bonita Springs returns this year and will serve wine and craft beer from Momentum Brewhouse. Our food vendors are Haney’s Cafe and Cherie’s Sweet Treats. Please bring cash for all food and drink, as we are unsure which vendors will accept credit cards.

5- Silent Eco-Auction

To preview all 37 items, click here.

How does the silent auction work? Walk through and check out the items and experiences offered. Write your name, phone number and amount you are bidding on the bid sheet. Check back often to see if you have been outbid, and bid as often as you would like! If you want to make sure you get an item, you can purchase it for the Buy It Now price. The auction closes promptly at 8: 15 p.m. Winners will be listed on the large sign near the entrance to the Silent Auction, and items won can be paid for and picked up from 8:30-9:15 p.m.

6- Parking

Volunteers will be directing guests to available parking spaces. A limited amount of handicap parking spaces will be available. Please watch for parking volunteers wearing bright green shirts. Parking for this event is free.

7- VIP Cafe

The VIP Cafe is a private area for VIP ticket holders with table seating and food. It is not accessible by anyone who is not wearing a VIP wristband. VIP Cafe tickets were part of this year’s sponsorship packages. If you are interested in being a sponsor for the 2020 concert, please contact Brenda (brenda@crewtrust.org).

9- Proceeds

CREW Land & Water Trust is a non-profit that provides environmental education for all ages on lands within the 60,000 acre CREW project. All funds raised at the 2019 concert will go towards the Dr. David R. Cooper Education fund, which provides funding for our environmental education programs along with paid internships, field trip supplies and more.

2019 Concert Countdown: Can’t Miss Auction Items

Each year our Silent Eco-Auction features unique eco-experiences and items. This year’s auction boasts 37 items including one really big, tremendous, gorgeous work of art that has to be seen to be appreciated.

Auction Item 37: Swallow-tailed kite table

Donated by Dick Anderson and Lucas Century

To call this item unique is an understatement.

The collaboration is astounding. Dick Anderson has contributed unique art in the past and his shark surfboard, tiki dude, and driftwood great blue heron have been hugely popular auction items.

This year, he found driftwood to make a table base, then salvaged a glass-table top. Then artist Lucas Century stepped in.

Luc, a Sanibel-island resident and world-renowned artist behind the etching of the names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington DC, used a sandblasting technique to etch the image of a swallow-tailed kite into the reclaimed glass table top.

The result is a one-of-a-kind art piece that has attracted the interest of birders and collectors of Luc’s pieces.

Auction 8: Eastern Screech Owl Box and Auction Item 9: Eastern Bluebird Box

Donated by Brian Beckner/Native Birdboxes

Brian Beckner’s handcrafted birdboxes are so wildly popular they go quickly as buy-it-now items after the auction opens. Why? The craftmanship is supberb and Beckner pays attention to details, including making the box resistant to predators but also easy to clean when the chicks have fledged. His boxes are used at golf courses across SWFL and in many residential neighborhoods.

Auction Item 10: Swamp Buggy Ride for 10 at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Donated by Ed Carlson, CREW Trust Trustee

This item usually receives the highest bids each year. It’s a unique opportunity to tour Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and hear the stories behind the sanctuary. Ed Carlson helped install the original boardwalk at the sanctuary and is the former executive director. He is a current trustee for the CREW Trust and generously donates this experience each year to our silent eco-auction.

Auction Item 17: Birthday hike for 12 at the CREW Marsh Trails

Donated by the CREW Trust

Deer in party hats aren’t really part of this package, but you are certainly welcome to wear celebratory headgear when you and 11 friends hit the Marsh trails for a birthday hike led by a member of the CREW Staff or a CREW Trust volunteer naturalist. Included is a gift certificate for 12 delicious cupcakes from Cherie’s Sweet Treats, a 2018 and 2019 CREW Concert food vendor. This item was popular at last year’s auciton and we’re excited to see its return!

Auction Item 23: Passion for Painting at CREW Experience

Donated by CREW Trustee Kim Ruiz

If you love the serenity of nature and the CREW trails and want to let some of that emotion flow out onto canvas, this the perfect plein air painting package for you! The winning bidder and three guests will join Kim Ruiz for up to 4 hours at the CREW Marsh Trail campsite to create a painting that is uniquely theirs. This experience includes instruction and art supplies.

You can view the rest of our Silent Eco-Auction items on our auction preview page.

To bid on any of the auction items, purchase a ticket to our concert on Saturday, February 16. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. The silent auction opens at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 8:15 p.m., with payment and item pick-up beginning at 8:30 p.m. All proceeds of the 2019 CREW Concert Under the Stars will go towards the Dr. David R. Cooper Eduation Fund.


2019 Concert Countdown: See you at Momentum Brewhouse!

Our biggest fundraiser of the year is one week from Saturday!

And, to celebrate, we have an opportunity for YOU to get FREE BEER!

And not just any beer – this is fantastic, award-winning craft beer from Momentum Brewhouse in Bonita Springs!

CREW Trust staff and volunteers will be selling tickets for our 2019 Concert Under the Stars on Friday, Feb. 8 at Momentum Brewhouse from 5-10 p.m. Cash or credit card payments accepted.

If you buy a concert ticket, you get a free beer!

And you’ll be supporting our environmental education programs, AND you can look forward to great music and great food at our Feb. 16 concert.

What: CREW Trust concert tickets pre-sale

Where: Momentum Brewhouse, 9786 Bonita Beach Road SW, Bonita Springs, FL 34135

When: Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 from 5-10 p.m.

Cost: $15 for CREW concert pre-sale ticket. Buy one ticket, get one free beer.

Brrrrrrrr! Who is roaming Birdy Rookery Swamp in these wintry conditions?

Too cold to head to the trails? Thinking the animals will be huddling somewhere for warmth?

That is true for many of our reptile friends, but the weekend’s heavy rain combined with the cool temperatures made for a lot of wading birds out and about Monday morning at Bird Rookery Swamp!

CREW Trust volunteer naturalist Dick Brewer braved the elements and sent in his wildlife count from yesterday’s chilly excursion.

Photo credits: Dick Brewer

Bird Rookery Swamp

Monday, January 28, 2019 ~~ 7:20 AM – 1:20 PM

temperature: 47.1-54.0º ~~ RH 84.0-76.8%

sky: overcast ~~ wind 7-10 mph


Muscovy Duck – 1

Double-crested Cormorant – 2

Anhinga – 29

Great Blue Heron – 16

Great Egret – 34

Snowy Egret – 2

Little Blue Heron – 19

Tri-colored Heron –  7

Black-crowned Night Heron – 35

White Ibis – 145

Roseate Spoonbill – 2

Black Vulture – 38

Turkey Vulture – 9

Red-shouldered Hawk – 14

Belted Kingfisher – 5

Red-bellied Woodpecker – 15

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 1

Downy Woodpecker – 1

Pileated Woodpecker – 7

Great-crested Flycatcher – 3

Eastern Phoebe –  3

White-eyed Vireo – 9

Blue-headed Vireo – 2

Tufted Titmouse – 3

Carolina Wren – 10

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – 8

Gray Catbird – 28

Northern Mockingbird – 1

American Goldfinch – 1

Common Grackle – 11

Black-and-white Warbler – 1

Common Yellowthroat – 10

Palm Warbler –  19

Northern Cardinal – 9

Painted Bunting – 3


Alligator –  7


Gray Squirrel – 2

River Otter – 2

Raccoon – 5

White-tailed Deer – 1

CREW Trust to host annual concert on Feb. 16 at Riverside Park

CREW Land & Water Trust will host the 2019 CREW Concert Under the Stars on Saturday, February 16 from 5-9 p.m. at Riverside Park, located at 10451 Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs.

This year’s concert will raise funds for the Dr. David R. Cooper Education Fund, named for the CREW Trust’s longest-serving volunteer, Dr. David Cooper, who passed away in May 2018. Many of the CREW Trust’s members, staff and volunteers spent time on the CREW Marsh Trails with Dr. Cooper, who was a self-taught volunteer naturalist.

“Dr. David was instrumental in introducing CREW to so many people and educating them on the value of this important watershed,” explained Brenda Brooks, Executive Director for CREW Land & Water Trust. “The education fund was established in 2014 and renamed in January 2018 to honor Dr. David and continue his passion for education. His legacy lives on through this fund, which provides support for our expanding education programs and provides resources used to teach students of all ages about the importance of preserving the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.”

A truly unique artistic collaboration is the centerpiece of this year’s silent eco-auction. Lucas Century of Lucas Century Glass is working with CREW Trust member Dick Anderson to create a coffee table with a driftwood base topped with beveled glass sandblasted with images of swallow-tailed kites.

“Swallow-tailed kites have been a part of our logo for years,” noted Brooks. “These graceful birds return to Southwest Florida every year and many nest within the CREW Project. This is the first time we have worked with Lucas Century Glass and we are excited to see one of our favorite birds captured in this unique piece of art.” Other auction items include handcrafted bird boxes, private hikes and tours, sunset and shelling cruises and one-of-a-kind works of art.

The High Voltage Band is the featured performer at this year’s concert

High Voltage Band returns for this year’s concert, playing everything from Motown’s greatest hits to today’s Top 40 songs. High Voltage Band has played for the NFL Players Association, Panasonic, The Boston Red Sox, Toyota, The Dale Earnhardt Jr. Foundation, Hope for Haiti and more.

The Rotary Club of Bonita Springs will sell wine and a selection of craft beer from Momentum Brewhouse. Owner Brian Hahn is working to craft a unique brew in honor of CREW that will be served at the concert. Food vendors will also be on-site, including Cherie’s Sweet Treats.

Cupcakes from Cherie’s Sweet Treats


Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit and enjoy the concert; dogs and outside food and drink will not be permitted.

Sponsorship opportunities are available and include access to the VIP café. General admission tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate; children 12 and under are free.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit crewtrust.org.

Egret Rescue at Bird Rookery Swamp

On Friday, visitor and photographer Bill Grabinski noticed an egret that was entangled in fishing line.

Fortunately, Kathleen Smith, FWC biologist for the CREW Project, was on site at Bird Rookery Swamp and was able to assist. She noted that someone had cut their fising line and the hook was on the bird’s leg, and the line was entangled on the shore. When the bird would attempt to fly away, it would be yanked back. She was able to untangle the bird from the line and release it.

Mr. Grabinski captured the rescue in the photos below.

If you see wildlife that needs assistance while hiking the CREW Trails, contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 to speak directly to an FWC representative.

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