Florida’s Fall Colors

CREW Flint Pen Strand

by Nan Mattingly & Dick Brewer

If you miss the change of seasons in Florida, don’t despair. You’ll find some brilliant red foliage here in November and December, red leaves that will remind you of New England in fall. Not in the New England kind of abundance, but in flashes of red amidst our lush green forests and wetlands. Look for these plants or trees and their crimson leaves in fall:

photo of poison ivy

Poison ivy: as long as you don’t touch it and expose yourself to its poisonous sap, poison ivy is very attractive when its leaves turn red in autumn. A reliable identification is important, so be aware that poison ivy can take the form of a low-growing plant, a shrub or a climbing vine. Its most distinct characteristic is its green foliage – clusters of three leaves alternating on the stem. Those leaves may be smooth or serrated around the edges, and occasionally you’ll see a leaf that resembles a mitten. In fall poison ivy produces white berries that provide food for birds, deer, raccoons, bears and other wildlife at a time of year when food becomes scarce. Poison ivy is found along many CREW trails, but just remember: leaves of three, let it be. 

photo of red maple

Red maple: red maple trees are found all over the U.S. and Canada. In Florida we have our own showy variety of red maple, the Florida Flame, whose leaves turn a brilliant red in fall and then drop after just a few weeks. This variety has adapted to our environment and prefers to live in wet areas. The first part of the boardwalk at Bird Rookery Swamp is lined with red maples. Note that our red maples are not as tall as those found elsewhere in the U.S., rarely exceeding forty feet in height and showing a slim profile. When the bare trees begin to leaf out again in January or February, the new leaves are tinged with red.

photo of Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper: sometimes mistaken for poison ivy, both plants have red leaves in fall, woody stems and compound leaves, and they can both be aggressive climbers. You can distinguish Virginia creeper by noting that its leaf clusters contain five, not three, leaves. A Virginia creeper vine can grow to 60 feet or longer. Birds, squirrels and deer eat its blue-black berries in fall, and native Americans in Florida used the red leaves to make a pink dye. Some people are sensitive to its sap but the resulting rash is not usually as irritating as that caused by poison ivy. Think twice before you plant it in your yard; it tends to take over and it clings tenaciously to walls, fences, trees, etc., with strong adhesive disks on its tendrils.

photo of winged sumac

Winged sumac: winged sumac is another plant that provides us with flashes of brilliant red in the fall in Florida. A shrub or tree that grows up to fifteen feet tall, winged sumac is not poisonous even though it resembles poison sumac. It’s the larval host and an important nectar source for the red-banded hairstreak butterfly.

photo of a red-banded hairstreak butterfly

You may think that we have only two seasons in southwest Florida – hot and hotter, or dry and wet. But if you get out on the CREW trails in October, November and December, you’ll spot some gorgeous fall foliage that may remind you of the turning leaves found elsewhere. If you’re really lucky, you may enjoy some cool weather, too.    

CREW Concert Tickets

Why should you give?

You depend on CREW trust staff and volunteers to use your money wisely to provide environmental education for all ages. We take this job seriously and make sure we provide the best field trip experiences to all.  We emphasize the importance of protecting our watershed that we all rely on to provide water to parts of Lee and Collier counties. The CREW lands protect habitat for wildlife and also provides wonderful recreational opportunities.  

Revenue from last year’s CREW Concert helped to fund the Dr. David R. Cooper Education Fund which directly supports our education programs. This year, proceeds from the concert will support our efforts to develop more trails and education programs at our newest trail system, Flint Pen Strand off of Bonita Beach Road. Check out our free guided walks offered every Thursday through April to get a great introduction to this unique ecosystem – home to bald eagles, ospreys, many songbirds and other wildlife.

Have we mentioned how much fun our yearly concerts are?  Attending the concert is a great way to give back while having a great time with friends and family. Dance to the music of the High Voltage Band (a local group), buy some great food from local food vendors, enter a bid for something special in our Silent Eco-Auction and enjoy a night out with friends and family. Think of all you get and all you contribute to CREW for the cost of your ticket

CREW and YOU, part 1: WHO

This is part 1 of a 6-part series on the Who, What, When, Where, Why and Hows of CREW and the CREW Trust.

When we first meet people, whether it’s visitors, new members, new volunteers or residents, introducing ourselves (explaining who we are) can be confusing.

It’s not an easy answer.

For example, when you introduce yourself, you say “Hi, my name is Blankity Blank, and I’m a rockstar astrophysicist who enjoys entomology.”

(Also, if that is you, let’s be friends as soon as possible)

But when we, the CREW Trust meet someone knew, explaining who we are can take five minutes – and that’s the short version.

Most people check out within the first two sentences – once they realize we’re going to say a lot of really long words, some of which may be new, like “aquifer recharge” and, well, honestly even what CREW stands for trips people up.

So let’s break it down into WHO exactly we are, and how that relates to CREW.


The acronym stands for the Corkscrew Regional Ecosytem Watershed, which is a 60,000-acrew watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties in Southwest Florida.

(we will get into the WHAT of the watershed in our next post)

So, CREW is the name for the land. (super short version of the definition)

The CREW Project

We sometimes refer to the entire 60,000-acres as the CREW Project, because CREW involves multiple agencies.

Those agencies include the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Conservation Collier, Conservation 20/20 and the CREW Land & Water Trust. Corkscrew Audubon Sanctuary is also within the borders of the CREW Project.

CREW Land & Water Trust (CREW Trust)

We, the CREW Land & Water Trust, are the non-profit agency attached to the CREW Project.

We help with funding and land acquisition and provide environmental education at the four trail systems within the CREW Project – the CREW Marsh Trails, Cypress Dome Trails, Bird Rookery Swamp and Flint Pen Strand.

The CREW Trust is often confused with CREW (as in, the names are used interchangeably) but we try to stress that we are part of the multi-agency project and NOT the land owners, land managers, biologists, law enforcement… we are helpers within the CREW Project.

We are ultimately tasked with helping each person we meet learn about WHAT CREW is (and what you can do at the trails), WHERE it is located (along with the trails), WHEN the project started and its timeline, WHY it’s important to protect the watershed, and HOW the public can help.

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.


Hit the trails for National Walking Day

National Walking Day is the first Wednesday in April, and the CREW trails are a great place to get out and walk, no matter what your fitness level may be. Check out our suggestions for a few spots to celebrate with some fresh air and sunshine.

CREW Marsh Trails 

Location: 4600 Corkscrew Road (CR 850), Immokalee, FL 34142. Approximately 20 minutes east of I-75.

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Difficulty: Easy

Wear: Closed toed shoes and socks

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars and cameras

Take a stroll on wide, hard-packed, mowed trails to the observation tower, where you can view the 6000 acre sawgrass marsh that helps clean the water that flows south and replenishes our aquifer. On the way to the tower, you will travel through pine flatwoods and an oak hammock. You may see butterflies, dragonflies, swallow tailed kites, red shouldered hawks, palm warblers, gopher tortoises and wildflowers in bloom. Approximate distance: 1.4 miles to the tower and back to the parking lot.

Cypress Dome Trails

Location: 3980 Corkscrew Road (CR 850), Immokalee, FL 34142. Approximately 15 minutes east of I-75.

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Difficulty: Medium

Wear: Closed toed shoes and socks

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars and cameras

Start on the yellow loop from the parking lot and follow it around to the green loop. You’ll walk through pine flatwoods, cypress domes and you can stop to rest on a small bench overlooking one of our seasonal marshes. The end of the green loop takes you past Jim’s Pavilion, a great spot to sit and enjoy a snack or lunch. You may see butterflies, red shouldered hawks, wildflowers, warblers, woodpeckers, yellow rat snakes and box turtles. Approximate distance: 2.4 miles; if the distance is too much, use one of the two blue short cut trails.

Bird Rookery Swamp Trail

Location: 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd., Naples, FL 34120

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Difficulty: Hard

Wear: Closed toed shoes and socks

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars and cameras

Become a “Looper” and hike the entire loop at Bird Rookery Swamp! You’ll walk on wide, grassy raised trams and share the trail with wildlife, including alligators, otters, banded water snakes, red bellied turtles, barred owls, roseate spoonbills, egrets and more. Approximate distance: 13 miles; if the distance is too much, head back to the parking lot before you begin to feel tired. The loop may take six or more hours; it is very important to bring food and water with you and to check your energy levels often to determine if you can make the full loop or not. as there are no shortcut trails.


Take A Child Outside Week

Take a Child Outside Week-group of students on the CREW trails

 September 24—September 30 Annually

 ” Take A Child Outside is a  program designed to encourage children and adults to spend time together outdoors. By giving parents, grandparents and teachers information on outdoor
activities and places to go, our goal is to help children develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment and an enthusiasm for exploring the natural world.”- http://www.takeachildoutside.org/


IMG_0273Get out to CREW :

CREW offers three different trail systems that
you can explore. The CREW Marsh Trails offers a scenic tour around Southwest Florida’s premier watershed. The Cypress Dome Trails provides a peak into the vast world of Cypress Domes, and is a great place for fall wildflowers. Bird Rookery Swamp is a 12-mile loop full of wildlife and wonders. Be prepared to get wet, and have fun. Getting children outdoors helps them not only connect to the natural world, but helps them focus in school and has shown to reduce rates of obesity. So get involved and take a child out doors!

For more information visit: http://leef-florida.org/net/calendar/details.aspx?s=74621.0.0.37432&dateid=8397


A View of Bird Rookery Swamp- Water on the Trails

Black and White Warbler
Bird Rookery Swamp observations
Saturday, September 5 ~ 7:15 am1:15 pm
“Below are my observations from today at Bird Rookery Swamp (BRS). Not a bad day for birding, especially with more Barn Swallows over the meadow opposite the start of the boardwalk and a small “flock” of Eastern Kingbirds between markers 6 & 3. Attached is a photo of a Black-and-white Warbler that was prying little insects from bark crevices in a cypress near Ida’s Pond; it has one in its bill. Ida wasn’t visible while either going out or coming back. Several pairs of hikers armed with cameras were on the trails plus two bicyclers; the bikers turned back a little past marker 3 toward marker 6 when the mud got slippery and the water was flowing over the trail. Other than that, a nice day!

Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warbler

Anhinga – 1
Great Blue Heron – 2
Great Egret – 4
Snowy Egret – 9
Little Blue Heron – 11
Tri-colored Heron – 10
Green Heron – 8
White Ibis – 6
Black Vulture – 71
Turkey Vulture – 12
Red-shouldered Hawk – 7
Mourning Dove – 2
Common Ground Dove – 1
Belted Kingfisher – 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 13
Pileated Woodpecker – 5
Great-crested Flycatcher – 2
Eastern Kingbird – 7
Barn Swallow – 46
Blue Jay – 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – 3
Tufted Titmouse – 10
Carolina Wren – 12
Northern Mockingbird – 1
White-eyed Vireo – 13
Prothonotary Warbler – 1
Northern Parula – 1
Black-and-white Warbler – 1
Ovenbird – 1
Louisiana Waterthrush – 1
Northern Cardinal – 12
Common Grackle – 7

Palamedes Swallowtail – 11
Spicebush Swallowtail – 4
Ruddy Daggerwing – 8
Zebra Longwing – 1
White Peacock – 15
Gulf Fritillary – 1
Viceroy – 1
Common Buckeye – 1
Pearl Crescent – 1
Cloudless Sulphur – 3
Brazilian Skipper – 7
Silver-spotted Skipper – 1
Tropical Checker – 2

Eastern Pondhawk – 34
Eastern Amberwing – 2
Blue Dasher – 3

Raccoon – 2
Cottontail Rabbit – 1

Alligator – 39
Brown Anole – 13
Red-bellied Turtle – 1
Pig Frog – 17
Greenhouse Frog – 2
Green Treefrog – 1
Cuban Treefrog – 1 “

Wildlife Q & A: How can you tell if an alligator is male or female?

Baby alligators stay close to their mother for protection.

Q: How can you tell if an alligator is male or female?

Baby alligators stay close to their mother for protection.
Baby alligators stay close to their mother for protection.

A: There are three ways. Two are easy; the third is not.

The first easy way is to gauge the length of an adult alligator. If it measures 10 feet or more, it’s a male. Females don’t grow that long. If it’s less than 9 feet in length, it could be either a male or a female.

The second easy way is to see if there are lots of small, newly born alligators around the adult. They will stay by their mother for up to a year and she will protect them. A male gator could eat them, even if he’s the father, so the mother usually won’t let him anywhere near the babies.

There are minor physical differences in head and body shape, but basing a decision on those alone is risky at best.

So much for the easy.

To be absolutely certain of an alligator’s gender, it’s necessary to either feel or visually identify the copulatory organs that are hidden inside the alligator’s body in the cloaca, or vent, on the animal’s belly. It is a slit located between the rear legs.

For newly hatched gators, the sex organs can only be seen with a magnifying glass. The baby gator is turned on its back, the vent is opened using a tweezers, and the organs are illuminated by a magnifying glass. If they fill the entire cloaca and are dark pink to
dark red, it’s a male. Female organs are half that size and are light pink or white.

For a larger alligator, the gator must be flipped over and a person must insert a clean finger into the vent and feel for the copulatory organ which is pulled out, measured and examined. This procedure does not harm the alligator if performed correctly; however, large alligators don’t allow themselves to endure such a demeaning intrusion.

So unless an alligator is over 10 feet long or it is protecting baby gators, there’s no way to be sure if an alligator is male or female.

For more than you ever wanted to know about sexing alligators, visit


By Dick Brewer

Last Chance: End of year Giving #Givingtuesday

The CREW Trust is wrapping up its 25th anniversary with a year-end giving campaign centered around #GivingTuesday.

The campaign started December 2nd, 2014 and goes through December 31st.

 flyer for #givingtuesday

Help us raise $25,000 by the end of the year for our Education Fund. Donate online today at https://crewtrus.mystagingwebsite.com/donate/

  • Donors of $250 or more receive 4 general admission tickets to the CREW Concert and Silent Eco-Auction on March 21st, 2015.
  • Donors of $150 will be entered into a drawing for a variety of nature-related books
  • All donors of $25 or more will receive a link to a special set of CREW Wildlife photos taken by some of the best photographers in the area.

Your gift is an investment in the future of southwest Florida – helping us to provide more high quality environmental education experiences for people of all ages! With over 42,000 annual visitors to the CREW trails, there is much more to be done.

Help us make a difference. Give big. Give small. But give today.

Donate here picture

Identify the Plant and Give the Gift of Education

Can you identify the plant in this photo?

dog fennel

This plant, with its feathery foliage and towering stature, grows alongside the trail out at the CREW Marsh Trails. The trails get a lot of visitors this time of year, especially 3rd graders from Collier County as part of their field trips to CREW. Schoolchildren visit CREW with their teachers and spend half of their morning on a nature hike, guided by our very own Jessi Drummond, who leads them through stops that feature explanations about prescribed burns, how to identify poison ivy and why it’s an important food source for deer, and even, if they are lucky, investigating scat (most often Bobcat scat). The other half of their field trip is spent dip netting and identifying the different living organisms in their water samples. The kids then have lunch, and leave- hopefully- with a pretty clear idea of why the watershed is important, with discussions that focus on habitat, the water cycle, and how the marshlands help clean our water.

This plant that is pictured above is one of our sensory teaching tools. Jessi stops with the students, takes off a few leaves, and passes them around to the students. “What do you smell?” she asks as little hands eagerly shoot up in the air. The students share that they smell everything from licorice to mint, and Jessi then lets them know that she smells pickles when she smells this plant which is Dog Fennel. Tying in their senses- hearing, touch, smell, sight- is an important part of the field trip for so many kids who just don’t spend enough time outside.

Education is a very important part of our mission at CREW, and this year, we’ve got a fundraising campaign for the month of December. Our goal is to raise $25,000, and an end-of-year gift from you, our supporters and members, can make that happen. It’s part of #GivingTuesday, an effort by many non-profits nationwide to remind everyone that after Black Friday and Cyper Monday, sometimes it’s nice to find a way to give back and pay it forward. Your donation will help further our education efforts at CREW and support all of our educational programs, including our field trips.

You can find out more about our #GivingTuesday campaign on our website (https://crewtrus.mystagingwebsite.com/2014/11/10/6996/). All donors receive a link to a special set of photographs of our CREW wildlife and donors at higher levels can receive special goodies, like tickets to our Concert and Silent Eco-Auction in March.

Next time you are out on the CREW Marsh Trails, watch out for the Dog Fennel, and take a moment to appreciate how this plant on the side of the trail has such a huge impact on 3rd graders in Collier County.

– Anne Reed

group of students on the CREW trails

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