Why don’t we see panthers when we’re hiking the CREW trails?

By Allison Vincent

Florida Panther with kittens. photo taken on game camera within the CREW project

Puma concolor coryi evokes in the minds of most Floridians a mysterious big cat that charms us, even if we’ve never seen this charismatic megafauna in person. Their familiar shape, profile and significance can easily be brought to the forefront of our minds and yet there’s little need to be frightened of meeting a panther face to face on the CREW trails.

Try as you might – hit the CREW trails every day of the week and you’re still not guaranteed a panther sighting. That’s because this federally endangered species makes it a habit to avoid us. No offense, but they (like bears) can smell you a mile away and will take the path of least resistance away from you.

If you’re like many Floridians (new or native) and spend the majority of your time on the coasts or in urban centers, your chances of bumping into Florida’s state animal is on par with winning the jackpot. There are ways to increase your odds, but you’re going to have to invest. That’s because these big cats are not synanthropes, another ten-dollar word defined as animals that benefit from an association with humans and the somewhat artificial habitats that people create around them. 

Why you probably won’t see a panther in the wild

Florida panthers avoid human interaction, unlike coyotes and racoons that fit the definition of synanthrope to a T. You’re more likely to see a bobcat, with their short tails and spotted adult coat of fur, or a roaming Florida black bear than ever to see the elusive “Coo-wah-chobee” – the Seminole word for “Big Cat” – the Florida panther. 

Panthers in general live a secretive life, far from anthropocentric (human-centered) urban settings – they prefer their wide-ranging “pumacentric” world of dense understory vegetation in hardwood hammocks and pinelands and prairie grasslands where they can stalk and ambush prey, like white-tailed deer and wild boar.

That’s why the majority of panther sightings are made by cattle ranchers and farmers and why they must take additional precautions to prevent a panther’s prey instinct from negatively affecting their livestock. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) outlines many best practices that can be initiated to prevent unwanted interaction between wildlife and livestock. Other organizations like the Path of the Panther work directly with cattle ranchers, private landowners and government agencies to incentivize wildlife corridors. 

Protecting what we can’t see

Many other species besides panthers benefit from preserving connected lands and utilize them to thrive. For instance, the Florida black bear, an omnivore that semi-hibernates, must forage over large forested areas to increase his or her bulk during the months leading up to our Florida winter, or dry season. Without these corridors allowing for their natural range of behavior, populations would suffer even greater losses.

Not to mention, Florida panthers are still rebounding under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. They were heavily hunted after 1832 when a bounty on panthers was created and the species was nearly extinct by the mid-1950s. 

The current panther recovery plan works toward the goal of establishing 3 viable populations, maintained for a minimum of 12-years (2 panther generations), of at least 240 individuals each (excluding dependent-aged kittens). Many partnering agencies are working to ensure sufficient habitat to support these populations. For purposes of the Florida panther recovery plan, a viable population has been defined as one in which there is a 95% probability of persistence for 100 years.

This is where we come back to the beginning of the story. The survival of the Florida panther depends on the protection of a network of statewide public and private lands, like those at CREW. Partnerships with sportsmen/women, private landowners, wildlife biologists, land managers and you all play an important role in protecting land with future wildlife conservation in mind. Every effort to preserve land and water is one step closer to achieving a sustainable future for our beloved species. 

Motion sensor photo taken on game camera within the CREW project

How you can help

Drive slowly in panther country

Panther activity is greatest between dusk and dawn, so when driving in panther country, be mindful and alert. Slow down and increase your distance between other cars. This allows you time to react.

Report panther sightings and interactions

If you see a Florida panther and can collect evidence such as pictures of the animal or its tracks, please share the information with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Reporting your observations can help biologists address panther conservation needs by identifying the areas used by these large cats.

To report wildlife/human interaction contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) wildlife hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

Aid injured and orphaned panthers

The Florida Panther Fund was established by The Wildlife Foundation of Florida to aid in the recovery of injured or orphaned Florida panthers, as well as to meet other panther conservation needs. The fund is an important resource that gives the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission flexibility to deal with rare, unplanned, and non-budgeted events. Visit the Help Injured Panthers Return to the Wild website.

Support panther research

Florida panther research and management by FWC is funded almost entirely through the Florida Panther Research and Management Trust Fund. This fund receives its monies from the purchase and annual renewal of the Protect the Panther specialty license plate in Florida. Tag holders give an annual $25.00 donation to the fund when they renew their registration. Visit the Protect the Panther license plate website to learn more.

Motion sensor photo taken on game camera within the CREW project

These are a few of my favorite CREW Trails 

By Allison Vincent

Pine Lily

CREW Trust Executive Director Brenda Brooks always says that she doesn’t have a favorite CREW Trail, but instead a favorite place at each one. Since I first heard that comment I have occasionally wondered which is in fact my favorite. After close to three years exploring the diverse CREW trail systems, I’ve found a few of my own favorite places that keep pulling me back for more, surprising me with their fierce beauty. Perhaps you’ve had the same thought as you’ve explored various CREW trail systems, that excitement of walking through your favorite place on the trail.

CREW Cypress Dome Trails

While we may not have traditional seasons in Florida, we do have seasonal indicators, like the first blooming pine lilies of the fall mixed with the purple liatris starting in September. I love finding these flowers along the CREW Cypress Dome (CDT) Green and White Trails, catching the eclectic variety of contrasting wildflowers lining the elegant long straightaways. 

CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail

To find my favorite place at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail (BRS), you’ll have to hike the whole thing, so if you’re down for the distance this is a full 12-mile loop. In fact, if you hike the whole thing and you’re considered a Looper cause let’s face it, you have to be a little loopy to do that (in a good way)! I recommend starting the loop clockwise, so after crossing the boardwalk and past the curve north at the large lakes, head west (or left) at the only fork in the trail. At this point, you will see a new “you are here” sign at trail marker B (don’t forget to hydrate). 

Now comes the fun and exciting dance I like to call the alligator-side-step, part of the enthralling section heading west between trail markers B and E . I think it’s best to get there early because the early bird avoids the alligators. After all that side-stepping, it’s quite relaxing to take a break at the lake, next to trail maker E. Sit, relax, enjoy a snack break – you’ve earned it! For those long-distance hikers willing to continue, you’re in for a treat, as this next portion is my favorite place on the trail, which you can also access from CREW Flint Pen Strand’s Purple Trail! For those of you ready to call it a day, trail marker E makes for a great turn around point. 

Are you still with me? Good! This section is amazing! Continue walking toward the northwestern curve of BRS, from trail markers E to D. This is a beautiful place where your eyes get a break from the sun under the dense verdant cypress trees arching high above. Preludes to this section are foreshadowed earlier along the trail, with the first cathedral-like corridor of cypress trees buffeting the raised railroad bed between amber swamp water on either side. Still, nothing compares to the density of this northwestern section of enormous cypress stands mixed with pond apple, maples and magnolia trees. Stop and take it all in!

The northwestern curve of the loop trail, which is essentially as far from civilization as one can get on a trail around here (outside of the Fakahatchee), will transport you beyond your day to day existence and allow you that moment of pause that happens at a truly beautiful vista. However, this place has no mountain view; instead it boasts a sensational overload of lively trees dripping with color, screaming with cicadas above and choruses of frogs below; mix in the whispers of warblers and you’ve got yourself (arguably) the best show in town. Reaching this far corner of wilderness is an empowering experience not for the faint of heart.  

CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails

Another of my favorite places is located at CREW Flint Pen Strand, on the section called the Yellow Trail North. During the rainy season this is like one huge lazy river- so splash in the seasonal sheet-flow of water cascading through the dwarf cypress forest, which starts just north of where the trail stops hugging the Kehl Canal. The dendrochronologist (tree lover) in me wonders at these cypress trees’ diminutive stature; with basically nothing to hold themselves up, they hold on. How they hover on spindly, sometimes hollow trunks buttressed by their neon-lichen painted skirts exploding with cardinal tillandsias swinging from their branches baffles my mind! I highly recommend you return to this trail at least twice a year, once in the rainy and once during the dry season to appreciate the dwarf cypresses and their fragile-by-appearance-only buttresses surviving in the sugar-sand, waiting for the waters to return, but thriving nonetheless. 

CREW Marsh Trails

At CREW’s oldest trail system, the CREW Marsh Trails (CMT), you’ll always find a diversity of ecosystems, wide open trails and a little more infrastructure than at the other trail systems. However, at CMT it’s the single-track section that winds through the pop-ash and oak trees of the southwestern loop on the Green Trail that captures my heart. My favorite way to navigate to this favorite place along the Green Trail is to approach it from the north. Head past Suzanne’s Pavilion, past the south-facing Blue “short-cut” Trail and around the dry gopher habitat until you’re forced to walk single file. That’s where the trail narrows and the trees grow. Enormous oaks dwarf your tiny little human body and give you that sense of wonder that accompanies forest exploration. Slosh through the muddy water in the wet season and revel in the brightly colored mushrooms reaching from the fallen limbs overwhelmed by carpets of green moss, resurrection ferns and “troll ponytails” (AKA shoe-string ferns). This is a trail that gives the sensation of forging a new path, as you carefully plan each step – looking up, down, side to side with every single step.

It’s special to take pause and stand witness to the innumerable special places at CREW. Maybe appreciate that place where ecotones exemplify the jargon that defines them (an ecotone is a transition area between two biological communities) such as enjoying that first overflow of water spilling from one marsh to the next during the rainy season. Take your time and you may find that you like to see the early wildflower buds ready to bloom, knowing what they will become, so you can plan your next hike to correspond with the future flowery-fireworks show! Whatever your favorite place or thing may be at CREW, we’re glad you continue to come back for more throughout each Florida season.

The CREW Project: Meeting a basic human need

By Allison Vincent

Hydrologic restoration results in better natural water flow at CREW Flint Pen Strand

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!  

CREW Trust leads seasonal walks through our watershed, at CREW Flint Pen Strand

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

Maypop passionflower with two small visitors

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.

Thank you!

The Impact of Frogs

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. 

drawn by Raymond Wann, a.k.a. Pappy

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. 

Third generation frog enthusiast

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.

Green tree frog by Dick Brewer

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. 

Summertime at CREW

By Allison Vincent

Scarlet Hibiscus at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

What should I expect on the CREW Trails this summer?

Water! You may have heard us say this before, but I’ll say it again here, CREW is ALL about water!

As rainwater accumulates on the ground, absorbing and leaching through the ground surface down through the porous limestone rock and into the aquifer, it replenishes the groundwater and restores the aquifer. 

Lakes around CREW Flint Pen Strand trails

We won’t see that water again until we either turn on the faucet, or visit the trails after the water table rises above the surface. That’s also the point when we describe the trails as, “inundated with water” and you should prepare for a wet walk. 

“It’s always amazing how that point of saturation seems to break the ground surface overnight in CREW, as the aquifer literally fills up and overflows on the trails.”

CREW Trust executive director Brenda Brooks

Saturation happens at different times throughout CREW because it is such a large watershed with 60,000 acres of land. After that stage, we start to see the next step in the cycle of water through the CREW lands, called sheetflow. 

Sandhill Cranes grazing around CREW Flint Pen Strand marshes

You may want to take a moment this summer when you’re out on the CREW trails to celebrate the rainy season because wet trails mean fresh drinking water, flood protection and numerous other benefits for humans and wildlife that frequent this corridor of Florida. 

Reclaimed water is the second phase of our drinking water extracted from underground aquifers (Bonita Springs Utilities)

CREW Trails

CREW Marsh trails: 

American Bluehearts at the CREW Marsh trails

On the northern side of the CREW Marsh watershed, you’ll find the CREW Marsh trails. These trails will remain dry, for the most part, the longest of any trail system, as most of the sheetflow from the CREW Marsh will slowly trickle southwest. However, smaller seasonal marshes along the ecotones of the trail will fill up around the same time as the CREW Marsh and flow over the trails. Once the water level is above the ground surface, expect to consistently get your feet to ankles wet on these trails. The Red trail that hugs the CREW Marsh will fill up first, along with the Green trail as they both border the largest accumulation of water, our 5,000-acre sawgrass marsh. 

CREW Cypress Dome trails:

Nesting Swallow-tailed Kite at CREW Cypress Dome trails

Areas of the Green trail near the cypress dome and almost all of the Wild Coffee trail will become increasingly inundated with water as the water table rises. If you hike the Wild Coffee trail and portions of the White trail, expect to get wet up to your waist at its highest and wettest point. Other sections of the White trail will pool water and increase the likelihood of getting your feet wet. The crossover from CREW Cypress Dome trail to Caracara Prairie Preserve trails will require you to ford across a small canal. This area can fill to waist height, so be prepared to get very wet. Caracara Prairie Preserve includes one elongated marsh crossing and several areas of the trails become inundated with water. 

CREW Flint Pen Strand trails:

Barred Owl at CREW Flint Pen Strand trails

Take a walk along the bumpy berm of the Red trail, left behind by the canal excavation constructed to direct water through the early farmlands once present in CREW Flint Pen Strand. Trails bordering the Kehl Canal, headwaters for the Imperial River which runs to the Gulf of Mexico, are a great place to watch water levels rise as we get more into our rainy season. Check out the Yellow trails north and south along with the Red trail to get a view of the Kehl Canal. Or hike east on the Orange and Purple trails, where you can see some of the impact of the hydrologic restoration (link to previous article) designed to restore and slow the sheet flow over the surface of the land, giving it more time to soak in and replenish the aquifer. All of these trails will eventually be underwater, especially in the marshes surrounding the lakes. 

CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail:

CREW Trust volunteers walking around a gator tail at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

The trails here were constructed on a historic railroad tram, which continues to provide a raised trail above the surrounding swamp. The low dips will fill with water and require crossing.

National Trails Day

June 5th, 2021

A Day of Service and Advocacy for Hometown Trails

Join the CREW Trust and take the #NationalTrailsDay Pledge. Millions of people have found physical, mental, and emotional restoration on trails during the pandemic.

Let’s return the favor.

Together we can care for our hometown trails and advocate for equitable access to quality green space.

Taking place on the first Saturday in June, National Trails Day® is a day of public events aimed at advocacy and trail service. 

Thousands of hikers, bikers, rowers, horseback riders, trail clubs, federal and local agencies, land trusts (including the CREW Trust), and businesses come together in partnership to advocate for, maintain, and clean up public lands and trails. 

So no matter where you are, celebrate National Trails Day and join trail lovers everywhere on June 5th! Here’s how you can get involved: 

While the CREW Trust doesn’t have a group event scheduled this year, you can get together with friends and family and make a difference on any trail. The CREW trail system with the most need is at CREW Flint Pen Strand. Bring some trash bags and a few extra hands to help pack out some of that unnatural garbage! Remember, trash collects trash, so the more we can pack out together, the longer lasting impact your work will have.

Not in southwest Florida? Check out these resources for events and needs in your area

Discing, shredding, prescribed fire and other disruptive yet helpful things at CREW

By Allison Vincent

Pine trees and understory growth after a prescribed burn at CREW Flint Pen Strand

Some recent guests on the CREW trails have inquired why they’re torn up? The long-range plans and efforts of the South Florida Water Management District (the District hereafter) can be a challenge on initial view, as “discing” and “shredding” projects can resemble hog damage or really knobby ATV tires wrecking havoc, both of which land managers set out to prevent. So why are they seemingly adding to the destruction? 

These tracks of discing and shredding are in fact intentional and well-planned measures designed to prepare for upcoming prescribed burns or chemical treatment, ultimately preventing vegetation from getting out of control. Vegetation can include non-native plants, shrubby understory, or native plants and trees that have grown out of balance with historical norms. Forestry science is behind the land management plans in place and its driving force is the long-range preservation goals of the CREW project. 

Even though the trails look less than ideal when torn up and the rough patches can make hiking and biking more difficult, just remember why CREW is here in the first place. It’s all about the water. These efforts benefit the watershed where we get our drinking water. Also, it’s good to think of the hierarchy of needs throughout the CREW lands like this: it begins with water and land management, then comes preserving habitat and then recreational opportunities for everyone.

Let’s discuss the management process we’re looking at on the trails. In order to perform a prescribed burn the District team must get approval from the state of Florida. Often this overlaps with an annual shredding plan, replete with maps and intensity, to clear the ground of any obtrusive vegetation before burns are scheduled. The burn prescription is based on several environmental factors, such as wind speed and direction, humidity and the burn history in the area. 

Assuming the burn prescription was approved the team, formed from several agencies including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC hereafter), must then coordinate their efforts and communicate their plans with the surrounding community. Working from a burn map (or planning map), the lead manager will direct the team to burn the fire line. In constant communication, the team stays on the fire from start to finish, following up the next several days for safety and reporting. 

Ultimately, the goal is to decrease the amount of understory vegetation in the CREW project, to prevent wildfires from getting out of hand, and encourage healthy native species growth. Many native fire-dependent species exist in the CREW lands, including the Slash Pine trees and Saw Palmetto which have evolved to withstand heat and benefit from fire. Prescribed burns also benefit the wildlife native to CREW, including the gopher tortoise, which prefers some open scrub to the encroachment of the long-living Saw Palmetto.

Hopefully, the next time you see the process or after-effects of the land management efforts to preserve these lands you will have a better understanding of their long range intentions. If you would like to learn more about this process, there are a few great resources found here. Always feel free to reach out to our office or that of the District with your questions.

Romance of the Sandhill Cranes

by Allison Vincent

photo by CREW Trust volunteer, Michael Lund

Hiking around the CREW Cypress Dome trails and into Caracara Prairie Preserve you’re likely to find at least one pair of sandhill cranes foraging together. These are often residents, as opposed to migratory, as our region of Florida is one of the few places to find year-round residents (ironic, we know).

These impressively long-legged, long-necked, heron-like birds fly with necks outstretched like geese and trumpet their calls with a distinct flair, like loud rattling bugle calls that can be heard up to 2.5 miles away. Calls are made in flight as well as on the ground for many reasons, including courtship. Their unique trumpeting is a product of anatomy: long tracheas (windpipes) curl into the sternum and help the sound develop a lower pitch.

Sandhill cranes find a mate around two years of age and stay with that one mate for the duration of their lives. Courtship rituals may be observed with patience and good timing, for which you may be rewarded with shows of dancing that includes jumping, running, and wing flapping. Males are larger than females, but external markings are identical. Sandhill cranes live to be older than most birds, some reaching 20 years old which makes their monogamous pairing even more significant.

Nests are built by both mates with grass, moss, and sticks from vegetation, starting with dried pieces and adding green material later in the nesting cycle. Both mates may gather material, tossing it over their shoulders to form a mound. Sandhill cranes breed in open wetland areas surrounded by shrubs and trees. Two eggs are normally laid incubating for 32 days and both males and females participate in incubating the eggs. When you see a solitary sandhill crane, that usually indicates that they are one half of a breeding pair, and their other half is with the nest.

The future of the sandhill crane population is mainly tied to the fate of their habitat which is another reason we should preserve wetland habitats. The sandhill crane populations are generally strong, however isolated populations in Cuba and Mississippi are endangered.

photo by CREW Trust volunteer, Michael Lund

View the Sandhill Crane Finder to explore Sandhill Crane distribution and locate cranes near you!

Did you see a banded Sandhill Crane? Click here to report your sighting.


Loud, rattling kar-r-r-o-o-o. Listen to Sandhill Crane calls:

Contact Call  | A soft, purring call expressing reassurance and location.

Unison Calls | A duet performed by a pair, to strengthen their bond and protect their territory.

Guard Call | A sharp, single call expressing alarm.

Conservation and Management

The Florida sandhill crane is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.


Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  2001.  Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Grus_canadensis_pratensis.PDF .

International Crane Foundation. (n.d.). Sandhill Cranes. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from Species Field Guide: https://www.savingcranes.org/species-field-guide/sandhill-crane/ 

Meine, C.D. and G.W. Archibald (Eds.). 1996. Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensisin The cranes: status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K. 294 Pp. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/cranes/gruscana.htm . Accessed  10/25/2010).

Nesbitt S.A., 1996.  Florida Sandhill Crane.  Pages 219 – 229 in J.A. Rodgers, Jr., H.W. Kale II,  and H.T. Smith (Eds.).  Rare and endangered biota of Florida, Vol. V:  Birds. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

Adapting to the pandemic on the CREW trails

by Nan Mattingly

Everyone has a story about how the ongoing pandemic has rearranged his or her life. Some changes are major – working from home or losing a job. Difficulty finding childcare. Worry about loved ones becoming infected.

And some changes are less drastic. Instead of shopping for groceries in the usual places, more people are ordering food from shopping services or ordering online. Wearing a mask in public. Avoiding large gatherings.

Here at the CREW Land & Water Trust we’ve had to adapt, too. Because all of the trails are owned by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the CREW Trust must follow state regulations. When SFWMD closed all four of trail systems in April, we had to implement changes mandated by the state. We cancelled any remaining in-person events and once trails reopened, we posted signs reminding our visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing.    

Now that the winter season is beginning, we are again offering weekly guided tours and we’ve added a few new experiences (more about those below). The CREW Trust requires program participants to wear masks and make every effort to social distance wherever possible. Before we set foot on the trail, guests will sign two liability waivers – one for the CREW Land & Water Trust and one for the SFWMD. And we’ve added a nominal fee for each weekly tour, $5 per person for most of our guided tours and $10 per person for our “Bike the Loop” tour at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp. As usual, special tours with experts, such as a birding tour with renowned ornithologist Bernie Masters in January, start at $20. (Sorry – Bernie’s tour is sold out!) Members enjoy a reduced rate for most events.

Why have we put a price on our weekly tours? Last year they were free (though registration at our website has always been required). But during this pandemic we’ve felt the pinch just like everyone else. We have had to cancel our major yearly fundraising event, the CREW Concert & Silent Eco-auction, so we have had to look for other ways to raise money to support our educational and outreach programs.

Our new initiatives are intended to safely introduce more participants to our unique environments as well as to support our programs. On two Saturdays a month during this season we’re offering a chance to Bike the Loop at Bird Rookery Swamp. Bring your own bike and be prepared to get dirty! The 12-mile loop offers a moderately demanding experience as well as a chance to see lots of alligators. We’ve also added weekend guided tours at various trail systems.

To sign up for a guided tour or other events, please go to our website CREWtrust.org and explore the possibilities. This is a great chance to get outside and enjoy the glorious winter weather. Please remember that we follow CDC guidelines to keep all of us safe during this pandemic. When you sign up for a tour, you’ll find a recap of those important guidelines. Please be prepared to follow CREW Trust requirements when you’re on the trail with us.            

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