Spooky Stories from the CREW Trails

By Allison Vincent

Do you know that feeling of Florida fall? When a subtle temperature change transforms the muhly grass from commonplace to extraordinary, the pine lilies are in bloom and poison ivy is tempting you to pick some classic autumn-colored leaves for your seasonal table. September passes and October slowly creaks along toward the season when we observe the shortening of days with pumpkin patches, delicious goodies and general spookiness. Somehow, the mood of the season enhances even the most commonplace hike at CREW. 

Barred owl’s eye-shine reflecting the morning sunrise

Here be dragons

Early morning fog punctuates the stark blowing grasses – skillfully brushing the sky like a paintbrush – transforming it into a grey hidden world with the stroke of each breeze. Dark shadows envelope the edges of the marsh, never fully unveiling their inhabitants as animate or inanimate – where each worn water-soaked log floating half submerged could just as easily be a 7-foot alligator. 

Mornings like this play tricks on the eyes, part of the fun of winding your way around the hidden corners of the trails – each turn welcoming a curious new view, usually complemented with a spider web at the level of your eyes. Near the lakes at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails, the path opens up to a field of sawgrass and the deepest sections of the lakes’ steam in the morning sun as the insects awaken from the edge of rust-centered flowers. 

Above, you feel a whoosh of small wings and discover that hovering just above your wide-brimmed hat is a swarm of dragonflies! Not just any whirling dragons either – but a spirited bunch of Halloween pennant dragonflies. Zooming in closer with a long-lens camera or binoculars, one can make out the intricate painted pattern of the aptly named Halloween pennant with its alternating stripes of burnt sienna and translucent orange hue. Their eerie witch-like hovering puts a spell on you as they patiently wait for the moment one holds still long enough for a proper seasonal photo.  

Hidden in plain sight

The next time you’re out hiking the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, keep an eye out for these straight out of ghostbusters, Slimer-green, green lynx spiders. Catch how they camouflage in the verdant world that is southwest Florida and beware, because while you’re admiring a lovely flower they might be admiring you back. Many hikers have discovered a green lynx spider just inches from their nose when suddenly their eyes focus on this fuzzy movement coming from some segmented appendages that look like part of the flower and they realize it’s a spider instead. 

Like a Dia de los Muertos painted skeleton, their colorful bodies craftily pieced together, for the swift purpose of keeping in check the smaller insects of the ecosystem. In fact, the aggressive attack of the green lynx, the largest North American lynx spider, is the reason many are released by agricultural pest management companies, not to mention the fact that they very seldom bite humans. 


On a long winding path through Caracara Prairie Preserve accessible by the CREW Cypress Dome Trails, your boots crunching through fallen pine needles and oak leaves of early fall, you hike quickly through the Caracara Prairie Preserve path – hoping to make it back to the parking lot before night begins its shift. Steady paced and calmly watching the colors change in the sky, you peek around the corner of a particularly large oak tree, its branches haphazardly low over the trail – hovering just like a standing bear – making even darker still the fading light of time passing away. 

Suddenly, there’s an unusual crunch underfoot and, hoping not to have disturbed one of the bee-hives that sometimes break away from the decaying oak branches above, you look down. What you see is quite a different thing indeed. Opaque and eggshell white with etches of brown earth worked into its crevices – these things are long, segmented and curving into brachiated points. Bones! And they look human! 

Panic begins to set in as your backwoods comfort zone is suddenly put to the test. Instinct overcomes fear and you quickly excavate the area enough to find the rest of the decayed fingers and notice something distinguishable and entirely not human about them. They have claws! Skunk ape? No. Black bear! 

Relief sets in as the wild ways of nature come hand-in-hand with the cycle of life. The hikers take a note of the location with their GPS and finish the trek feeling stronger and more in touch with the darker side of the CREW trails. 

Hoppin’ Zombies

Survivors of the swamp, the greatest and strongest, the lubber grasshoppers inhabit all the CREW Trails, but seem to prefer the CREW Marsh and Cypress Dome Trails. They begin their lives as part of a hoard of black-bodied swarms, survivalists banding together to deter predators from eating more than one, given their pesky poisonous innards (evolution is maniacal). 

Their gastrointestinal group defense expands and transforms with their exoskeleton into the adult formation, a neon-orange pumpkin color like the store’s holiday isles everywhere starting around September. 

These native hoppers persevere through the devastation of their nemesis – the loggerhead shrikes, also known as butcher birds, who feast during lubber season, ready with a deadly preconceived attack. Butcher birds will in fact spear the lubber carcass on spikes, draining the poison before enjoying their meal. 

Still, the lubber grasshoppers survive and by mid-October they’re at their most terrifying stage yet. The remaining can resemble the walking dead hobbling along the trails – missing limbs and sometimes whole abdomens. Yet their Frankenstein-like potential for survival, with or without their whole body – because who really needs all that poison – means they’re still out there, the zombie grasshoppers of CREW just biding their time, until the next generation returns, to strike their revenge.

Tuesday’s Critter Count from Bird Rookery Swamp


Check out yesterday’s count from the almost 13 miles of trail at Bird Rookery Swamp!

photo by Dick Brewer


Wood Stork – 42

Anhinga – 25

Great Blue Heron – 8

Great Egret – 53

Snowy Egret – 11

Cattle Egret – 2

Little Blue Heron – 2

Tri-Colored Heron – 1

Black-crowned Night Heron – 22

Yellow-crowned Night Heron – 1

White Ibis – 5

Black Vulture – 68

Turkey Vulture – 28

Swallow-tailed Kite – 7

Red-shouldered Hawk – 39

Mourning Dove – 4

Common Ground Dove – 1

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 3

Barred Owl – 3

Chimney Swift – 2

Red-bellied Woodpecker – 46

Pileated Woodpecker – 11

Great-crested Flycatcher – 18

Carolina Wren – 48

White-eyed Vireo – 21

Blue Jay – 1

Fish Crow – 2

Tufted Titmouse – 14

Gray Catbird – 16

Northern Mockingbird – 2

Common Yellowthroat – 1

Black-and-white Warbler – 1

Northern Parula – 3

Northern Cardinal – 23

Common Grackle – 2



Palamedes Swallowtail – 54

Tiger Swallowtail – 11

Zebra Longwing – 4

White Peacock – 29

Viceroy – 4

Gulf Fritillary – 1

Common Buckeye – 2

Red Admiral – 1

Phaon Crescent – 8

Great Southern White – 3

Cassius Blue – 1

Brazilian Skipper – 1

Palatka Skipper – 2


Eastern Pondhawk – 8

Great Blue Skimmer – 1

Blue Dasher – 3

Band-winged Dragonlet – 6

Halloween Pennant – 4

photo by Dick Brewer


Alligator – 246

Brown Anole – 1

Red-bellied Turtle – 4

Banded Water Snake – 1

Green Treefrog – 1

photo by Dick Brewer


Raccoon – 5

White-tailed Deer – 1

Gray Squirrel – 1

A View of Bird Rookery Swamp- May 2, 2015

Below are first hand observations from our volunteer Dick Brewer. Who does weekly visits to Bird Rookery Swamp and very week sends us incredible stories of the magical 12 mile loop. If you would like to see more of his observations visit: http://www.dickbrewer.org/CREW.html

barred owl
By Dick Brewer

“Water levels are down more, even after the recent rains. Consequently, gator and wading bird numbers are down too. 

One Roseate Spoonbill spent most of the day at Ida’s Pond, so visitors coming in had a spoonbill, Banded Water Snake, gators, Anhingas, Red-bellied Turtle, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, and Great Egrets to greet them.

The “hot spot” for the day was past marker 2 where the barbed wire fence ends and a service road splits to the left. There’s a depressionnat the junction of the main tram and the service road where a River Otter spent time catching and eating Crayfish that were left. A young
Barred Owl was in a cypress overhead, and while I was talking with four women who were enjoying the otter and owl, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo called from behind us. Later, hikers and bikers all commented about the otter and owl, so it was a great day for everyone.

The tram between markers 6 and 3 hasn’t been mowed recently, so the higher grasses are attracting lots of butterfly species, especially skippers”.

By Dick Brewer

Bird Rookery Swamp observations
Saturday, May 2 ~ 7:15 am-1:30 pm

Anhinga – 11
Great Blue Heron – 2
Great Egret – 6
Snowy Egret – 4
Little Blue Heron – 3
Tri-colored Heron – 1
Black-crowned Night Heron – 3
White Ibis – 1
Roseate Spoonbill – 1
Wood Stork – 8
Black Vulture – 44
Turkey Vulture – 18
Red-shouldered Hawk – 11
Common Ground Dove – 6
Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 1
Barred Owl – 1
Belted Kingfisher – 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 15
Downy Woodpecker – 2
Pileated Woodpecker – 4
Great-crested Flycatcher – 6
Blue Jay – 2
American Crow – 1
Tufted Titmouse – 7
Carolina Wren – 11
White-eyed Vireo – 14
Northern Cardinal – 23
Common Grackle – 6

Palamedes Swallowtail – 5
Tiger Swallowtail – 1
Zebra Longwing – 2
Ruddy Daggerwing – 7
White Peacock – 58
Red Admiral – 1
Viceroy – 2
Queen – 1
Monarch – 1
Great Southern White – 12
Tropical Checker – 6
Whirlabout – 1
Twin-spotted Skipper – 1
Delaware Skipper – 1

Raccoon – 1
River Otter – 1
White-tailed Deer – 1
Alligator – 84
Brown Anole – 12
Red-bellied Turtle – 7
Banded Water Snake – 1
Pig Frog – 3
Green Treefrog – 5
Cuban Treefrog – 2
Great Blue Skimmer – 1
Needham’s Skimmer – 2
Eastern Pondhawk – 85
Gar – 28

 By Dick Brewer

Great Blue Skimmer
By Dick Brewer

Wild File Q & A: Why do owls turn and bob their heads so much?

Q: Why do owls turn and bob their heads so much?

A young Barred Owl watches activity below.
A young Barred Owl watches activity below.
By Dick Brewer

A:     Owl eyes are very large. They are so large that they cannot move in their sockets. Imagine having a pair of binoculars up to your eyes and looking straight ahead. If you hear a sound to the side, you can’t see what made it unless you turn your whole head so the binoculars are pointed toward the sound. That’s how an owl sees all of the time.
Without binoculars, you can roll your eyes up or down and move your eyes left or right without moving your head, but an owl can’t. And even when looking forward, owls have a smaller field of vision than people do.

To see what your visual field looks like try this experiment. Hold your arms out with both of your index fingers in front of your nose. While you stare straight ahead, move your arms in an arc toward your sides, still staring forward. When you can no longer see your fingers
stop moving your arms. The arc that your arms made is your visual field and measures approximately 180 degrees.

An owl’s visual field is only about 110 degrees. For an owl to focus well, it must turn its head to get an object into its visual field. In addition, owls often bob their heads up and down to judge distance.

By Dick Brewer


Wild File Q&A: Why don’t birds fall off their perches when they’re sleeping or napping?

by CREW Volunteer Naturalist, Dick Brewer

Q:      Why don’t birds fall of their perches when they’re sleeping or napping?

A:      From small wrens and warblers to large herons and egrets, birds have a seemingly uncanny ability to sleep in trees and other vegetation without ever falling off of their perches.  How do they do that?

It’s not magic. The bird’s toes lock around the branch automatically; no conscious action is needed by the bird whether awake or asleep. Tendons pass from the muscle at the back of the bird’s leg, down around the back of its ankle, and to the inside of its toes. When a bird settles its weight on a branch, the legs bend. That tightens the tendons so much that the toes are automatically pulled tight and clamped around the perch. All conscious or controllable actions are bypassed, so even when it’s asleep, the bird cannot possibly move from the perch.          When the bird straightens its legs, the tendons relax and the grip is released. That’s why a bird often seems to ‘spring’ off of its perch — it’s just unlocking its hold. Even if it’s resting on just one leg, the bird is locked onto its perch.

Barred Owl Perched by Dick Brewer
A Barred Owl naps, one leg tucked in and the other firmly locked around the branch. (Photo by Dick Brewer)