Check with Allison@CREWtrust.org to make sure your membership is current so you can take advantage of early registration for all CREW Trust programs.
Member’s only week is starting October first this year, so be sure to mark your calendars and check back often to CREWtrust.org for more information on all our programs.
Back by popular demand – the Fall and Spring Wildflower walks with Roger Hammer. Enjoy new birding programs and carnivorous plant Specialty Walks. A whole new line-up of Strolling Science Seminars, exciting new family friendly programs and overnight experiences.
Members will have the first week in October to sign up ahead of the general public. Stay on the lookout for our pop-up programs throughout the year, such as our seasonal Wet-Walks and Moonlight tours.
CREW Trust Season of Events will go on sale at 8 AM, October 1st, 2022. General admission will begin on October 9th at 8 AM.
by Julie Motkowicz, CREW Trust Education Coordinator
Have you heard the news?
CREW Flint Pen Strand recently experienced several days of wildfire. While CREW agencies conduct intentional prescribed burns all the time at Flint Pen, this fire was treated differently because of how it started. Read through these frequently asked Q&A to discover the facts about our recent wildfire and fire ecology of Southwest Florida.
On Saturday, 3/26/22, local residents reported an active wildfire at CREW Flint Pen Strand in Bonita Springs. The fire began in northern Flint Pen outside of the hikable area, but spread to other areas within the preserve, including several of the CREW trails. The fire ultimately burned in three separate sections and was monitored over the following weeks. The Florida Forest Service and Bonita Springs Fire Department immediately responded with wildfire control measures. The South Florida Water Management (SFWMD) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aided the situation.
How big was the fire?
The fire burned approximately 190 acres, a majority of which occurred beyond the trails in northern areas of CREW Flint Pen Strand.
How was the fire stopped?
The Florida Forest Service used plows to create “fire breaks”. Fire breaks clear vegetation so that fire will no longer have “fuels” to burn and therefore extinguish itself. Natural fire breaks include bodies of water and even hiking trails.
How has the fire affected Flint Pen Strand?
The fire has visually changed the floral landscape of many areas of CREW Flint Pen Strand. For example, on parts of the Red Trail the understory of grasses and shrubs have been cleared, opening up lots of space for new growth. The fire breaks have created new open clearings on and around the trails that will take time to regrow.
Are the trails still hike-able?
Yes, but some of the trails were affected by the fire breaks and are very bumpy and sandy with plant debris that may overlap the trails. Be sure to watch your step and closely follow the trail markers such as flagging, tree markers, and wooden posts.
What is being done post-fire?
The plants and animals will quickly bounce back from the fire. CREW agencies are working to minimize the impacts of the fire breaks by flattening them and removing debris. CREW Trust staff are working to provide educational opportunities as the fire has created a unique hiking experience!
Is fire bad?
Fire is good! Our ecosystems in SWFL are dependent on fire. For example, most of CREW Flint Pen Strand is considered pine flatwoods. A pine flatwood is a type of ecosystem that needs a fire every 3-5 years to maintain its plants and animals. Fire returns nutrients to the soil, maintains understory plants for animals like birds and gopher tortoises, opens up new space for plants to grow, and overall is the “checks and balances” for many ecosystems. Frequent small fires prevent large, destructive fires, which is why our Land Managers practice “prescribed fire”. Unfortunately, wildfires can help the spread of invasive species of plants. Land managers and CREW Trust volunteers will closely monitor invasive species encroachment to prevent their spread.
What do animals do during fire?
Most larger animals like deer, bear, and panthers will simply move away from fire, while birds can easily fly away. Smaller animals like snakes, rabbits, and mice will seek shelter underground, usually in gopher tortoise burrows.
Are all the plants dead?
Some native plants may have died, but most of them will come back better than ever! Think of fire as a big haircut, promoting new, healthy growth. Just give them a few short months and you’ll see a lot of verdant changes. This is a great time to go hiking and observe how fire impacts our landscape!
What is the difference between a wildfire and a prescribed burn?
A prescribed burn is a fire that is intentionally set in specific conditions by fire professionals. At CREW, prescribed fires are conducted by SFWMD and FWC. A wildfire is a fire that either begins naturally (by a lightning bolt) or by accidental or intentional arson. An unplanned fire may affect nearby buildings, become large and destructive to plants/animals, and pose a threat to humans.
What can I do to help?
Always report illegal activity such as arson, UTV/ATV use, drones, unpermitted vehicles, unpermitted camping, etc. to any of the following: 911, the local non emergency number (239-477-1000 Lee, 239-252-9300 Collier), or the FWC hotline (888-404-3922). The CREW Trust staff and SFWMD staff do not respond to reports of illegal activities, so please direct your reports to the appropriate agency previously listed. Support the CREW Trust’s mission by spreading the word about us or donating to us (www.crewtrust.org/donate). Environmental education is the best defense against preventable environmental destruction so please support our efforts to inform and engage with the community.
Will there be educational opportunities regarding fire?
Yes! Please join us for an interpretive hike along the affected trails at Flint Pen Strand for a unique experience post-fire. Observe the response of plants and animals displaying their resiliency to and dependence on fire.
May 4th, 2022 at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trail: In the Footsteps of Fire – Hike in the footsteps of fire to see a miraculous rebound of the Flint Pen Strand landscapes as flora and fauna return to the crispy trails. Register here – https://footstepsoffire.eventbrite.com
If you’ve hung around any tall pine trees lately, there’s a chance – even if you didn’t notice – that you’ve been within view of one of southwest Florida’s most social flying raptors, the swallow-tailed kite (STKI). Returning from South America in mid-February every year like a romantic poem written especially for a birder just in time for Valentine’s Day, they almost immediately start circling the tall tree tops in search of their favorite nesting spot. We have a lot of unanswered questions regarding these world travelers, but there is plenty that we do know! This article will be a refresher course covering some of the top questions we hear from you about our black and white aerial artists at the CREW Trails.
STKIs Journey to Nest
When we begin to spot STKIs in Florida in mid-February, they must be tired from their long journey because they’ve just flown in from South America, a journey of up to 6,000 miles. Some of them make it as far as seven of the southernmost states in the U.S. but Florida is their preferred destination and we see them in the greatest numbers here. We’re fortunate at CREW because they have a few favorite nesting areas within the CREW Project and between February and August we have the privilege of seeing them circle and soar over the treetops.
On arrival they begin looking for suitable nesting sites. There are two essentials for nesting, which they do in loose communities. They need tall trees (preferably pines, occasionally cypress and other tall trees) in open woodland where they can hunt abundant prey by sight, and they prefer to be near a source of water – a swamp, river, marsh or a slough – because they also capture and consume creatures living next to or in the water. Most STKIs return to the same nesting sites every year, often fixing up an old nest. In the early part of their stay in Florida, you’ll see them circling high overhead inspecting the territory.
Relationships of Swallow-tailed Kites
STKIs are believed to be monogamous. They may continue a relationship from the previous year, or they may find a mate during migration. Once the colony has chosen a good nesting site, they establish small territories around and above the nests and they guard their territories (or neighborhoods) by flying in small circles above the nest tree. Intruders are repelled with dive bombs and scolding cries sometimes described as loud, squeaky whistles.
Both males and females bring nest materials to the site. They can build the nest quickly, in only one day, or more slowly, up to two weeks. They begin by making a platform of small, loosely woven sticks and then line it with soft materials such as lichen or Spanish moss, creating either a flat surface or a shallow cup. Most STKI nests are situated at least 60 feet above the ground.
Each pair of STKIs produces a clutch of one to three eggs which incubate for 27 to 33 days. After the eggs hatch, the parents feed them frequently. The male STKI catches and carries prey in his talons to the nest, where he passes it to the female. She then tears it up and feeds it to the young.
Photos by CREW Trust Volunteer Dick Brewer illustrating STKI development stages (starts at top left).
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner – Feeding on the Wing
To catch that prey, the male hunts during the day “on the wing”, while in flight, picking prey off trees, shrubs and vegetation along rivers or other water bodies. And what are they looking for? STKIs like large insects such as dragonflies, wasps, cicadas, beetles and grasshoppers which they eat while flying. During the breeding season, adults also hunt small vertebrates, including tree frogs, lizards, nesting birds, and snakes. Occasionally STKIs devour bats, fish or fruit.
We’re fortunate in southwest Florida to welcome these magnificent birds. You can identify them, at the right time of year (between February and August), first by noticing their long, forked tails and then by observing their graceful flight. They swoop and glide high overhead, catching insects in the air or descending to the treetops to find small creatures to eat. Unlike some other birds, they rarely flap their wings, and you should count yourself lucky if you see them on the ground. An individual STKI has a shrill “pee, pee, pee” call, but when they gather in flocks you’ll hear sweet, shrill cries or soft whistles. It’s a magical experience to find yourself looking up at a circling flock and hearing those whistles.
You may have noticed that the CREW logo features the swallow-tailed kite. We don’t like to choose favorites, but it’s hard to resist these charismatic birds which are recognized by many as the most beautiful bird of prey. Just ask Brenda Brooks, CREW Trust Executive Director until 3/31/22, when she will make her own version of a migration north.
Staged and ready after months of planning stands a congregated group of biologists waiting for a call. They shiver outside the CREW office field station, enjoying the unusually cool temperatures and wide open view from the pole-barn near a utilitarian series of land management buildings used to manage the CREW lands. They’re waiting for word from the houndsman, still out searching for signs of Florida’s big cat, the Florida panther, and our smaller wild felid, the bobcat.
When the call comes in that a bobcat has been tracked and treed, they load up the warmed-up swamp buggies and rendezvous with the houndsman in a remote area of the CREW lands. This time, they’ve tracked another male bobcat, not a target for collaring this season, given the biologists’ interest in females who might produce a litter of kittens that could provide developmental information about the feline leukomyelopathy (FLM) affliction. If they track a panther, they plan to collar it regardless of the sex.
The dogs respond to the houndsman’s signal and regroup, alert for the next search. The houndsman Cougar McBride, contracted by the FWC, is a second generation tracker and has worked throughout the Americas as far south as Paraguay, South America capturing jaguars. Here in Florida, the aptly named houndsman works collaboratively with biologists to safely track our endangered Florida subspecies of Puma concolor to supplement biological research and improve the chances of restoring the historic population of this important endangered species.
A major component of the panther program is radio collar data which tracks the range of these native predators. Using game cameras as a preliminary step, the panther team has a general idea of capture zones. This season they chose the CREW lands because of frequent game camera footage of panthers, including one that happens to have no ears – an indication of his age and survival skills. Capture zones where panther kittens were observed on the game cameras were avoided to prevent any conflict between the hounds and kittens. Safety of these wild felids is of the utmost importance and biologists will often walk away from a capture if the conditions are not right.
It’s still early in this year’s capture season and it’s an ongoing saga that we’ll report back on in future blogs. The research and understanding these seasons bring to our collective understanding of this elusive animal cannot be overstated. Their status as an endangered species serves as an umbrella to protect other wildlife and wildlife corridors throughout their range. In the years to come, the story that emerges from our understanding of their expanding range and recovering numbers will affect all Floridians.
With the long end-of-year holidays, kids need healthy and fun activities, things they can do with their families and friends. If they’re visiting Florida in December, this is the perfect time of the year to introduce them to the world of nature. The weather is fine for all kinds of outdoor activities. And the four different CREW trail systems offer a variety of sights, sounds and experiences.
But some kids have little experience with the great outdoors. Worms, spiders and other creepy-crawly things may intimidate them. They may resist getting wet or muddy. And they might find trees, trails and rocks uninteresting. Given a choice between playing outdoors or playing a video game, some kids would opt for the indoor game.
Some kids just need an introduction to nature. They need exposure to the physical world in order to learn to be comfortable in it. The adults in their lives can show them how to love nature and be safe in it. Nature promotes healthy growth by encouraging kids to be active. It’s also good for their imaginations, stimulating curiosity by introducing them to new and different experiences. Just being outside in our gorgeous Florida winter weather makes everyone, kids included, feel better.
So how can you persuade your kids to come outside with you? We have some suggestions.
Prepare before you load up to hit the trail. Before you take the kids on a CREW hiking trail, share your own enthusiasm about what they might see, hear and experience in the woods. Keep your research simple, and note anything that seems to capture their interests. If they express an interest in spiders, help them do a little research to figure out where and when they might see a spider in the woods. Early morning sun at any of our CREW trails illuminates spider webs and makes them look like jewels adorning the bushes. Choose one particular web and study its construction with your kid, explaining how the spider builds its webs to capture its prey. The Green Lynx spider is a bright shade of green and can be found on many trails.
Tell your kid what he or she is likely to see in the woods. Here in Florida’s forests there are Florida panthers, black bears, bobcats and other mammals, as well as too many birds and insects to name. Address any fears they may express. You can explain, for instance, that Florida’s panthers and bears are shy and can smell you from a long way away, so it’s easy for them to avoid us. If your child is fascinated by panthers, bears and bobcats, show them how to look for the tracks of these animals on a muddy or sandy trail. We have a dazzling array of butterflies in Florida. The beautiful white peacock tends to fly low to the ground so they’re easy to spot. You may also be lucky enough to spot the striking zebra longwing, the Florida state butterfly. Show your kids the photos here and help them look for these colorful treasures in the woods.
Devise a simple game or set a few easy goals for your time outdoors. If your kid is reluctant to touch things in the woods, you can create a simple scavenger hunt that they can complete through observation. Give them a checklist to allow them to check off each item as they spot it. Keep it simple; don’t name a specific bird. Just list “bird” as one of the things they can look for. Other things you can put on the list: worm, bird’s nest, flower, animal track, and big tree. Or you could announce that whoever spots the first bird or butterfly during your outing gets a special prize.
Parents, prepare for your kids to play in the mud. Bring clean clothes, extra shoes and water to wash their feet.
Model good behavior for your kids. Explain the “Leave No Trace” principles to them and make sure you take any trash home with you. It’s important that kids learn to respect nature, so explain to them why we don’t feed animals in the wild. This is especially important in Florida where every pond or lake is likely to house an alligator or two. Feeding them destroys their natural fear of humans and encourages them to approach people. Alligators are fascinating to watch but teach your kids to do so from a distance. In Florida’s public parks and nature preserves, it’s illegal to pick plants or to remove anything, so encourage your kids to take photos instead of collecting wildflowers. Take the things you need for safety (bug spray, hat, sunscreen, lots of water) and explain why you’re putting them in your backpack. Let the kids choose a snack.
Before you go, take a look at the CREW website (CREWtrust.org) and decide which of our four trail systems would provide a good introduction to nature for your kids. The rainy season has ended and most of our trails are now dry. If you want to experience the magic of walking through a cypress forest on a boardwalk, consider Bird Rookery Swamp. The red trail at Flint Pen Strand offers easy hiking through pine flatwoods and a prairie where you may spot some deer or even a red-headed woodpecker.
Your child may be excited to get outdoors if you allow him or her to bring a friend. Recognize that kids usually walk at a slower pace than adults and allow them to linger over things that interest them. Most of all, enjoy yourself. Show your own curiosity about things you see. Your enthusiasm for nature in all its varied forms will be contagious.
At the CREW Project, we’ve got four different trail systems for hiking, biking, running and just enjoying the outdoors.
In general, the human mind operates at an exponential pace, keeping time with the flow of society. We tend to have trouble slowing down and observing the different habits of other living things. Likely, that is because it can be difficult to notice these other forms of life living in our human-centric culture, but it can be done closer to home than you might think.
Think about your first memory of being in a forest, nature preserve or park. You get outside seeking adventure, and whatever you’re expecting, it pales in comparison to the real thing. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to see something that is actually majestic – like a white-tailed deer with a strong prancing grace and huge skyward-facing rack of antlers, or some Everest-high clouds rising above a flat Florida landscape.
Oftentimes it’s these personal connections that make these natural places special to us as individuals and it’s only through time and experience that we realize the significance is more than it seems. You’ll be glad to know that accompanying the vistas and wildlife along the CREW trails, there’s a long-range plan in effect, one that looks to our universal need for water and the protection of watersheds.
Watersheds are everywhere, get to know yours at CREW!
Forward-thinking people have for generations set aside huge swaths of land, like the CREW Project, for future generations. These public lands benefit the present inhabitants of an area manyfold, while also protecting our ongoing needs. The need for water, one of Maslow’s seven basic needs, is met by protecting the CREW watershed where many southwest Florida’s residents get their drinking water.
A unique mixture of partners divide up the roles of preservation at CREW. Land management falls to the primary land owners, the South Florida Water Management District (the District for short) which takes on the arduous role of long range planning – taking into account the complex needs of people and wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) pursues in-depth and long ranging scientific observation projects focused on CREW’s native wildlife. The non-profit CREW Trust expands public access to the lands through a 36+ mile network of trail systems and provides environmental education to our community through contributions via membership, donations, sponsorships, trail visitation, and volunteerism.
Whatever first brings you to wild places like CREW, or even if you never visit, every single resident in this region of southwest Florida contributes to and benefits from the foresight of protecting CREW’s lands for water. The 60,000+ acre watershed that makes up CREW is permeable – under all those pretty wildflowers and trees that we enjoy on hikes, water soaks through – purifying it through the limestone rock and storing it in the aquifer below.
Make a connection with CREW
Hiking along the CREW trails, listen for the erratic yet hypnotic buzz of a bee hive you could easily miss in the rapid pace of society. Instead, allow yourself to pause and listen; search for the pixelated movement of wings, coming to and fro from the hive epicenter. It’s not like bees often stop to look at us either, but humans are capable of slowing down to witness another life form. FWC biologists do it all the time at CREW and we are all capable of this broader understanding; that’s why we’ve made it easy to practice your observation skills at CREW.
Whatever brings you to the CREW trails and if you only remember one important thing from this article remember this: alligators love suntanning as much as Floridians. Seriously though, your contributions- through your tax dollars, your membership with the CREW Trust, or your visits to CREW trails with friends and family – are making a difference for generations to come.
We often use the phrase “hard-wired” to suggest a natural instinct or reflex – an unconditioned response that happens without thinking, that you feel deep in your bones. Migratory birds in that sense are hard-wired to navigate on long journeys – sometimes crossing continents and oceans, which for their size is a feat worthy of recognition in itself! Consider the Swallow-tailed Kite who travels 5,000 miles crossing South America, Central America, and the Gulf of Mexico spending only months in places like CREW just to turn back and do it all over again! Still, how they do it is even more impressive.
Scientists have been fascinated by the phenomenon of migration even before Darwin’s observations on the HMS Beagle and they continue to research compelling migration theories to this day. One leading explanation concentrates on the biological and chemical makeup of some long-distance migrants and their relationship to the earth’s magnetic field through an adaptation with magnetite.
Magnetite is an iron oxide crystal that aligns with magnetic north, kind of like a tiny compass needle, and amazingly it can be found in the cells of some birds. Scientists think the magnetite crystals even serve as receptors, or inclination compasses, that send directional information input to those species predisposed to this genetic variation. Studies conducted found that magnetite can be adversely affected in the birds by demagnetization either naturally or in the lab; therefore it appears that birds can still defer to their “plan b” with their powerful eyesight.
Extensive research conducted on some populations of birds, especially the Bobolink, has produced fascinating results. Through rigorous and ethically-minded scientific testing, researchers found that when temporarily demagnetized, Bobolinks lose their sense of direction. When their magnetic senses were restored they regained their instinctive migration route.
So what happens when it’s not the researchers disturbing migratory birds’ cellular receptors? Laboratory demagnetization mimics natural disturbances in the environment, such as changes of terrestrial magnetism like earthquakes, tsunamis and even solar flares from the sun. With all the natural interruptions observed in the field, researchers continue to look for birds’ evolutionary/emergency “plan b”.
And they seem to have found their answer in the most fascinating place – the cones of the eye; animals who possess cells that include iron oxide crystals may also have the ability to sense magnetic fields through vision. It appears that birds sensitive to magnetic fields have light-sensitive pigments in their eyes, known as cryptochromes, that serve as magnetic sensors distinguishing magnetic fields through color changes.
Imagine that when a cool color, like blue or green, strikes their eyes, electrons in their eyes become energized resulting in something resembling science fiction – north and south become color-coded! When these birds look toward or away from the magnetically charged poles, their field of vision changes color from intensely colorful to lacking in extraneous color.
Many other animals apparently also have iron oxide crystals in their cells: magnetite has been found in the heads of migratory fish, sea turtles and humpback whales. However, of all the wildlife navigators, birds so far are the best studied.
Migration research is a fascinating field of study and leads one to wonder how widespread these genetic-based abilities have developed in other less studied birds. For instance, could our local migratory Swallow-tailed Kites also use this form of navigation? However likely it seems, thus far research has focused on migration monitoring via tracking studies. The future of research is always ripe for possibilities, so stay connected!
Note: Two great CREW trails to observe the next magnetic migration on are the CREW Flint Pen Strand trails and the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trails. Keep an eye out for the Bobolinks and other migrants like White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes that have been observed on these CREW trails.
Read more about this subject in a recent article in Nature (there’s even a model drawing for magnetoreception!)
When you visit the CREW lands you’ll come across invasive plant species, and whether you’re aware of them or not, they’re there! Some invasive species are beautiful, like the caesar weed, and you might find yourself wondering why the land managers have it out for them. What could a few plants possibly do to impact the broader ecosystem?
Let’s begin with a few definitions, because invasive species are best understood by discussing the meaning of native and non-native and their interactions with humans. The scientific community agrees that native species wandered into an area naturally and long ago – some time during or after the mid 16th century at the time of European contact with the unexplored land across the Atlantic – either by wind, sea, birds, animals or other natural factors. As species expand or contract their native territory, they go through a process called “range change”. The native species then go about the process of adapting to the changed ecosystem, which in geographic terms was a feat considering that much of Florida was once the bottom of the ocean.
Non-native species, on the other hand, are introduced to a new environment either intentionally or by accident. The distinction in defining invasive takes non-native issues one step further because invasive species, in addition to being introduced by humans, often pose an environmental or economic threat and may cause harm to humans.
Still, what exactly is so negative about the impact of these invasive plant species, given they all make oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide? These tough questions are outlined by land management professionals who rely on current science to categorize the level of impact invasive species have on lands they manage, like the CREW lands. For instance, some invasive species, like the Melaleuca tree, will overtake wetlands and absorb an inordinate amount of water if not treated, which is exactly why they were brought to southwest Florida – to drain the swamps.
In turn, land managers use mechanical, chemical and biological control efforts to manage the spread of invasives, because without naturally occurring factors that limit their impact – like weather, diseases or insect pests – invasive species can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem they’ve supplanted, often out-competing and displacing the native species. The reduction in biodiversity can adversely impact wildlife and alter natural processes such as fire and water flow, all of which directly affect the human population which relies on those same resources.
Let’s talk more about the unintended impact that invasive species have on human populations, specifically in south Florida. Primarily, invasives threaten remaining wetland environments that provide a freshwater recharge of our drinking water sources in the underground aquifers. Native species have had time to adjust to the particular conditions of the Florida environment, so when the wetland composition goes from a natural state to a place overrun with counterproductive species, some of our basic needs – like water and safe shelter – are drastically affected.
Protecting these wetland areas provides habitat for wildlife that in turn generates billions of dollars a year in expenditures by wildlife enthusiasts, hunters and anglers. The financial benefits of preserving the complicated ecosystems of south Florida are well documented and worthwhile. Without the wetland environment to slow the flow of rainwater so that it can be absorbed into the ground and replenish the drinking water supply in the aquifers, Florida would not be able to sustain its current significant population, much less what we expect to see in the future.
The CREW Project began watershed preservation in the late 80s and the CREW lands will continue to be preserved in perpetuity. Several large scale projects, like the hydrologic restoration project completed at CREW Flint Pen Strand and the ongoing CREW Marsh trails restoration focused on carolina willow, provide visible examples of the land management process you can witness in person on the trails over time. The 60,000 acres of CREW preserve land for water retention, wildlife and all the other ways these important resources overlap. To protect this land and the water it stores for the next generation we all must partner to fund this preservation, to protect it, and to educate everyone about it.
Every one of us has many teachers throughout our lives, some traditional while others guide in more subtle ways. Learning is something that never stops, if you are so inclined to heed the nuances of life’s lessons. Reflecting now on when I was young, my grandfather would often write me little stories on note cards incorporating some small event in his day that reminded him of a shared experience we had. These stories took on a fable-like direction, reminiscent of the tales of Peter Rabbit, one of my grandfather’s favorite tales to read to me as a kid. The likes of which heavily influenced his hand-drawn characters that often accompanied his thoughtful notes.
From an early age, my grandfather taught me the importance of appreciating the little things in life, observing their everyday magic. He highlighted the joy of first observing these things, like in his letter about a little green tree frog, lost in the unnatural expanse of his swimming pool. My grandfather recognized his role in the unfolding drama, which ultimately led him to gently move the tired frog from the chlorinated depths back to the refuge of his rose garden, giving it a chance to thrive.
Life lessons come in many forms, bringing both inspiration and responsibility to shape our future. When you’re out catching tadpoles and frogs as a kid, the experience and subsequent memory can lead to so much more. Observing the significance of these small moments is the key to intergenerational stewardship of the natural world. It’s these magnificently minor interactions that, when coupled with more formal environmental education, will spark the fire of action in defense of the natural world and potentially lead to a future which aims to preserve it.
So get out on those CREW trails and observe the plethora of small frogs and toads hopping about. Our insiders would recommend the CREW Flint Pen Strand along the Orange and Purple trails around the lakes if you want to observe the burgeoning oak toad population. However, life moves quickly and you never can tell where you’ll catch a truly impressive view of these agile amphibians. Either way, I can guarantee you that observing these small things in life, like frogs, will have bigger implications than you can imagine.
At CREW, you will see examples of life lessons leading to positive investments in the environment all the time. Turns out, some kids grow up and count frogs for science! Frog Watch is one of many surveys conducted on the CREW lands with broad implications.
But, what is Frog Watch and why has CREW been doing it for so long? For starters, CREW is not the only place that Frog Watch occurs. As the name implies, Frog Watch with a capital F & W is the title of a larger nationwide program known as FrogWatch USA that invites volunteers, who act as citizen scientists, along with researchers across the country to collect croaking-raw data throughout the year. In each region, coordinators report the research to a nationwide database with the American Amphibian Monitoring Program and FrogWatch USA, two sides of the same coin in the amphibian research field. Locally, Frog Watch presents the data at meetings and forums and they publish the results in peer reviewed journals. The five and ten-year publications are available on their website frogwatch.net. Currently, they are summarizing the data for a 20-year assessment.
Frog calls represent measurable scientific data that can be used by scientists to report the changes in species variations, think about that chorus of cane toads you can hear after a big rain these days compared to a few years ago. Have you noticed the increase? This citizen science approach is important for collecting data that conservation scientists and land managers around the world utilize to address long-term implications and stressors on frog populations and all that their numbers imply for us and the environment we all depend on.
The Frog Watch conducted at CREW, along Corkscrew road, has been going on for over 20 years! All the standard scientific observation practices, such as starting right after sunset, to the amount of time listening at each stop, and weather readings recorded are recorded and eventually published as part of the public record, making it available to all researchers and interested parties. The work is transformed into a wide range of relatable resources, informing and guiding land development projects and referenced in public awareness campaigns. This is one of the intersections where habitat preservation and wildlife management are the signposts and researchers and volunteers are the drivers.
Amphibian species watched the dinosaurs come and go, and yet because of current environmental trends, some are facing their own rapid decline toward extinction. As part of the most threatened vertebrate group in existence today, frogs are indicator species within a greater ecosystem, often foreshadowing larger ecological changes over the short and long term. Fortunately, data can be used to direct land management planning in subtle and impactful ways. Frogs as both predator and prey, balancing the insect population while also providing food to resident and migratory birds. Protecting the ecosystems where amphibians thrive allows us all to strike a balance in our life on the planet.
Whoever your teachers were and whatever your role in society is today, all of us are life-long-learners. Our collective challenge, as the dominant species on the planet, comes down to how we share that knowledge. Whether it be through academic research or a thoughtful letter to your granddaughter, we all make an impact on our world.