Introduce children to the outdoors at CREW 

By Nan Mattingly

CREW Trust environmental education programs brings all ages to the CREW Trails

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.

Kids plot out the route at CREW Marsh Trails

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. 

(photo of Green Lynx spider)

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.  

(photos of white peacock and zebra longwing butterflies)

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.   

Mud and everything in between at CREW Cypress Dome Trails

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 ( 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. 

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.”-


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:


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 “

Wildfile Q & A: How old are the bigger slash pine trees?

pine_0604Q: How old are the bigger slash pine trees?

A: Slash Pine in South Florida lacks data, probably because there is not a local lumber industry.

However,  Roy DeLotelle, a researcher for Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat in Collier County, has collected data on the age of pine trees important for the woodpeckers. It comes from coring pines in the woodpecker’s habitat in Picayune Strand in Collier County.

Slash Pines grow a little larger in the drier pine/palmetto forests (mesic flatwoods) than in the wetter pine/grass forests (hydric flatwoods), and there is a good deal of difference between individual trees. Note the variations between the individual dots and the
“average” line in the graph, so a tree’s diameter in DeLotell’s graph below may not tell the precise age.

In the field, biologists use a different indicator of an “old” pine tree: a flat top shape to the pine canopy.

In DeLotells’ graph of his data, DBH is the Diameter at Breast Height. The R-squared values show how well the line fits the data points. R-squared ranges between 0 and 1 with the higher number showing the line is a good fit for the data.

Slash Pines can easily live past 200 years, and there are many that old in Collier County.

-By Dick Brewer
pine tree graph

Wildfile Q& A: Do all spiders bite, and are they poisonous?

shoreline spider

shoreline spider
Shoreline Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) By Dick Brewer


Q: Do all spiders bite, and are they poisonous?

A: There are two problems with this question: a technicality, and a set of false assumptions.

First, the technicality. “Poisonous” and “venomous” are two different things. No spider is poisonous — harmful to eat, breathe, or touch. Mushrooms are sometimes poisonous, but spiders are not. Spiders are venomous; their toxins are proteins which only work when injected.

Second, all spiders do bite, but most local spiders are harmless because they are not aggressive and will not bite indiscriminately, or their fangs are simply too small to nip through our comparatively thick skin. Just because they are venomous does not mean they are
dangerous to people.

Spider venom does not exist to harm creatures which are too large for spiders to eat, like humans. The purpose of spider venom is to subdue the spider’s prey, almost always insects. In brief, it’s an insecticide.

Nevertheless, all larger spiders with a body length of a half inch or more should be treated with caution. Avoid flicking them away from your body. People allergic to bee stings may react more strongly to the bite of a spider than an ordinary person.

Bees and wasps kill more people in the United States in one year than spiders and snakes combined kill in ten years, and dogs and cats kill or injure more people each year than bees and wasps. Yet most people like dogs and cats and fear spiders and snakes.

For More Information:


By Dick Brewer

Book Release by Bernard F. Master

Bernie Master


Author Bernard F. Master chronicles his adventures as a medical professional, businessman and legendary birder in No Finish Line.

Yellow-throated Warbler, BRS

Bernard Master is a avid hiker of the CREW Trails, a phenomenal birder, and a great educator. We have been lucky to have him as a leader in our Strolling Science Seminar series. He lead Birding with the Master at Bird Rookery Swamp in March 2015 and will be returning in our 2015-2016 series. Below details Dr. Master’s new book.

No Finish Line, Discovering the World’s Secrets One Bird at a Time, is one man’s epic journey through life as a successful doctor, businessman, lifelong birder and internationally recognized conservationist. Readers will be mesmerized with his travel adventures spanning six continents and 105 countries. He shares his most exciting adventures searching for the rarest birds in the world. He is the first American to see a representative from each of the 229 bird families in the world, as well as Vireo masteri, a bird in Colombia named after him.

Whether he is meeting Queen Noor of Jordan to discuss birds and world conservation or attending a special dinner in his honor with Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to receive a commendation in recognition of his world conservation efforts, there is always an interesting story to tell. His forays take him to exotic locations including Venezuela where he rediscovered a bird that had been absent for fifty years. Additional adventures include a thwarted kidnapping in Brazil. His quest to see a representative from all the bird families takes him to Rwanda, the Arabian Peninsula, Cameroon and China, providing readers with photos of extraordinary birds and accounts of his 7,800 species to date.

In between birding trips, Dr. Master was busy building two thriving companies, Health Power, Inc. and its sister company, the MEDCenters. His thirty-five year medical career begins with a tour in Vietnam as a battalion surgeon in a combat unit and a year as post surgeon for the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence School. Obstacles and successes are the narratives he shares outlining the intricacies of founding a healthcare company and ultimately taking it public on the NASDAQ.

“My own life has been one amazing adventure after another with no finish line in sight.” Author Bernard F. Master currently resides in Worthington, Ohio.

No Finish Line, Discovering the World’s Secrets One Bird at a Time is available on

Bernie Master
Bernie Master

How to ID panthers and tracks

FWC Id panthers

With rainy season around the corner  wildlife tracks will become more visible. Not everyone will see a Florida Panther in their lifetime but they are more likely to come upon their tracks. Though spotting and identifying a track is definitely harder than identifying a Florida Panther itself. Lucky for us FWC came out with a E-Z guide on how to ID panthers and their tracks:

FWC Id panthers

Some of the information you will find in this online document:

  • Florida Panther identification
  • Florida Panther vs Bobcat
  • General track knowledge
  • Panther tracks vs Bobcat tracks
  • Panther tracks vs Dog tracks
  •  Data on Florida Panther sightings

To help with monitoring the Florida Panther, please send your photos of panthers or their tracks to: 


Wildflie Q&A: Florida Black Bears

A Florida Black Bear looks, listens, and sniffs the air. By Dick Brewer

Q: What should people do if they see a black bear on one of the trails?

A Florida Black Bear looks, listens, and sniffs the air. By Dick Brewer
A Florida Black Bear looks, listens, and sniffs the air. By Dick Brewer

A: Florida Black Bears are the only bear species that inhabit Florida. Safety tips are different with different species of bears due to their varying life histories. The following safety tips refer to black bears and not necessarily brown bears, Grizzly bears, or other bear species.

Think of a black bear as a large, stray dog in your neighborhood. Precautions you’d take with a stray dog apply to black bears too. Don’t make direct eye contact (a threat gesture), don’t run, and don’t turn your back to it.

First, make some noise (clapping hands, bell, whistle) so the bear knows that you are there. Surprising any wild animal is not a good thing.

Stand tall and make yourself look larger by raising your hands above your head. Adults should pick up and hold small children.

Then, back away slowly and get a safe distance away from the black bear. Just like dogs, black bears have a chase instinct and will go after something running from them even if they do not mean any harm. Once you are at a safe distance, you can snap a few photos and enjoy the moment.

Black bears in the wild are shy animals and generally not aggressive towards people. Exceptions would be a black bear that is strongly food conditioned and smells any food you are carrying, and a female black bear who is protecting her cubs. If you see a small cub seemingly by itself, back off immediately. The mother black bear is somewhere very close, and she is watching her cub and she is watching you.

A black bear is a large, powerful, wild animal. It pays to be cautious and to not provoke it, so know a little about black bear behavior before meeting one.

If a black bear stands on its hind legs, it’s not a threat; it just wants to get a better look and smell of the situation.

However, stamping its front legs, jaw popping (snapping its jaws together to make a popping noise), huffing (blowing air out of its nose and mouth quickly), or bluff charging (rushing toward a person but stopping before physically making contact) means it is nervous, and you need to back away from the black bear. Allow the black bear plenty of room to escape, which is all it really wants to do.

If a black bear does approach you and attack, hold your ground and fight back.

If camping at CREW, never store food or any heavily scented items (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) in your tent. Always store it in a hard topped vehicle, hung from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet away from trees, or in a bear proof container that can be purchased at an outdoor recreation store. Food coolers are not bear proof containers. Click here to camp at CREW.
Online resource:

By: Dick Brewer

Strolling Science Seminars 2014-2015

We had a great Strolling Science Seminar (SSS) series this season (say that 5 times fast). The SSS series started in 2011-2012 to provide adults with scientific knowledge from local experts. The experts engaged the participants in outdoor scientific study and enabled them to conduct citizen science as part of local, national, and global projects. Each event is filled with laughter, science, and new knowledge.

This year we were lucky to have:

  • Mad Batters of CREW- Kathleen Smith, FWC Biologistbat sss
  • Mosquitoes of the Marsh: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- Neil Wilkinson, FGCUmosquito
  • Fire & Water: Primal Forces Shaping CREW Wildlife Habitats- Jim Schortemeyer & Joe Bozzo, SFWMD


  • The Gopher Tortoise: How Protecting One Species Actually Protects Hundreds- Dr. John Herman, FGCUjohn herman and group
  • Birding with the Master- Dr. Bernie Master & Tiffany Thornhill, FWC

Birding with the master 2015

We will start planning the 2015-2016 series of strolling science seminars this summer. If you have any ideas, comments, or contacts that you would like to share  for a SSS event please email Jessi Drummond at, or call 239-657-2253. All ideas are welcomed!

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