Where do you look when you hike?

By Allison Vincent

Guided program at CREW Flint Pen Strand on the Purple Trail this rainy season – summer 2021

What is your hiking personality type? Do you have one? Never thought about it? Some would say that where you spend most of your time looking while on the trail says a lot about your interests, like one of those repetitive questionnaires that asks the same question several different ways to find a pattern. For instance, is your head up in the clouds with the birds or are you flipping through your wildflower book while you crouch near the flora? Does every little insect catch your eye, or are you more the type to roll over a downed tree to see what’s hiding underneath? Whatever your type, when you’re out hiking the CREW trails you’ll find a rich assortment of interesting distractions to catch your eye, hold your attention, and spark your imagination.  

If you’re the kind of person that tends to look down while you’re hiking you can fit into several categories. For one, perhaps you’re simply clumsy and/or cautious about wildlife crossing your path – in which case I suggest finding a good hiking stick. However, you might be the type to look to the ground with intention, scanning the earth for a sign of life, whether that be a wandering turtle or a seasonal wildflower. 

CREW Cypress Dome Trails

If you have a practical preoccupation with the ground in front of you – often you’re a quick trail runner or speed hiker who doesn’t slow down for anything, except perhaps a faster runner. You’re on the right track as long as you’re moving fast enough to blur your vision of the verdant landscape surrounding you. You prefer the smells of the trees over the blast of exhaust fumes and therefore opt to test your endurance in the company of wildlife, even if you’re moving too quickly to witness them. That’s alright, because you yourself are a wild thing, gracefully caressing the ground with your quick footsteps under the canopy of trees and sky. You are a trail runner.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) at CREW with CREW Trust intern Angel Kelley

Then again, maybe you’re one of the many who take their time looking at each leaf and petal, searching through the many layers of green to identify something unique in the abundant chaos. You have the ability to see hidden gems, glowing silently in the leaf litter, distinct in their ecosystem. You admire how they grow, for no one in particular, but simply because we have set aside spaces like CREW for them to do so. They blossom with their seasons, adorning the landscape with pops of improbable colors. They complete their life cycle unaided and unattended, capturing your attention if you’re one of those who seeks out their inherent beauty. You are a wildflower seeker. 

Julie Motkowicz, CREW Trust Education Coordinator, often discovers and teaches about the bugs of CREW – here she’s observing a Malachite butterfly

Then there are the unique people who find themselves seeking out the most diverse group of organisms on the planet, insects. Given that insects represent approximately 80 percent of the world’s species, it’s a fair bet that you’ll find a good collection to observe on each hike. In fact, at any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive. Bug nerds like you probably already know that, which is why you’re out with your macro camera lens, focusing in closely on that mother green lynx spider protecting the next generation in her silken web. You are a bug person.

Photo from past CREW Trust Strolling Science Seminar, Herping the CREW Lands (tickets on sale now)

The last predominant subcategory of those that ‘tend to look down while hiking’ includes the herpetologists. These patient seekers know where to look and also that it’s unlikely to find anything. Not to worry though; when you’re as patient and observant as those in this category tend to be, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a cool snake or mud-soaked turtle when you least expect it. That’s when you impress your friends with your reptile spotting skills and knowledge of their behavior, calming your friends’ nerves with helpful advice about how best to interact with our reptile neighbors (give them lots of space and respect). You are a herper. 

Photographer and CREW Trust volunteer Bill Zaino out shooting on the Red Trail of CREW Flint Pen Strand

Let’s not forget about those who look up to the sky for the birds. You know you’re a birder when you prefer trails with level ground or bring along a friend specifically to walk in front – so you don’t trip. Bird nerds, as you’re often called by your nearest and dearest friends, will sometimes  politely hush hiking friends not so immersed in the sport to allow you to parse out the chorus of warblers, distinguishing their unique calls. You’re an eagle-eyed scout who can often tell a species by their wing shape or flight patterns, counting the number of birds flocking with a best estimate. With all the migratory birds finding their way to or through Florida this season, you’re sure to find your way to the CREW trails soon and often. You are a birder.

Next time you’re out hiking CREW trails, take note of where you tend to look. And then try looking elsewhere to discover new interests. There are many other wonderful things to observe out hiking around the CREW Trails this winter. What do you look for on the trails? Will you try something new?

Barred owls nuzzle at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail – a resident hidden in the trees

Stop and Smell the Wildflowers at CREW!

by Nan Mattingly, CREW Trust Volunteer

Here in southwest Florida we have the luxury of enjoying wildflowers year-round. October is a good time to bask in the colors and elegant shapes of all kinds of wildflowers. Look at this stunning October standout:

photos of pine lily

You’re likely to see this two-foot slender stalk topped by a single bloom in pine woods and savannas. It grows from a bulb that can lie dormant for years and suddenly appear after a fire. Its vivid color will draw your eye to it as you walk many of the CREW trails. Last year was a particularly good year for pine lilies – we had a wealth of them at the CREW Marsh Trails. Please don’t be tempted to take one home – leave it for others to enjoy.

photos of Chapman’s blazing star

Another striking flower that will catch your eye with its light-lavender colored blooms is one of the many varieties of liatris, a member of the aster family found in North America. In southwest Florida, there are a few varieties of liatris, but you’re mostly likely to find “Chapman’s blazing star” at CREW, a plant that typically features five or six spiky blooms on one plant. It’s another flower that blooms well after a fire, and it makes a great pollinator food source, attracting a profusion of butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. 

photos of Florida paintbrush

photos of green lynx spider

This showy violet-colored flower resembles an artist’s paintbrush. Its large flat-topped blooms are incredibly attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. If you’re lucky, you might spot amongst its fluffy clusters a green lynx spider, who prey on the insects attracted to the bloom.

photos of lopsided indiangrass in bloom

photos of a skipper butterfly

When you visit one of the four CREW trails, don’t overlook the grasses. Lopsided Indiangrass is not very distinguished in summer but in fall it produces tall, dramatic flower spikes that last a few weeks. It’s called “lopsided” because the tufts grow on only one side of the stem. Look for this grass in sandy soil and dry flatwoods. Its soft yellow appearance attracts several species of skipper butterflies.    

photos of sugarcane plumegrass

photo of clouded skipper butterfly

Another tall grass that blooms in fall, sugarcane plumegrass is topped by golden plumes. It can reach 30 feet in the open but it’s more typically no more than eight feet tall on any of the CREW trails. Sugarcane plumegrass likes our trails that border the sawgrass marsh habitats. It’s also a favorite host for the clouded skipper butterfly.     

In October, Brenda Thomas, director of the University Colloquium at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), will share her knowledge of and love for wildflowers on a special tour at the CREW Marsh Trails. Unfortunately, that tour is already sold out, but you can visit any of the CREW trail systems in October to experience your own wildflower walk. Take photos of your favorites and share them with us on Facebook and Instagram! 

Wildflower photos taken throughout CREW this Fall

Botanical Scrapbook

Before naturalists could easily hold a professional-grade camera in the palm of their hands, they would often preserve flowers and leaves in botanical scrapbooks. This practice requires patience, planning and sweat equity and serves a variety of interests, both scientific and sentimental. 

Whatever their purpose, the practice is less common these days, as we opt for a digital photograph and leave the flowers for the next nature seeker to enjoy.

On the off chance that you do not have a bookshelf full of botanical scrapbooks to peruse, I hope you enjoy reflecting on this fascinating hobby by flipping through a recently uncovered scrapbook found at our office.

These pages evoke hours spent walking through the pine flatwoods and marshy trails, gathering specimens to press and add to the collection, presumably in the comfort of home. The pages tell the story of the naturalist, finding joy achieving another seemingly small, but wholly significant goal, that of ticking-off another flower from their bucket list. Viewers may now admire the carefully clipped and photographed plants documented in this native and invasive plant collection. 

Although, rules and regulations today prohibit the collection of any plants within CREW, we do wish to honor the past. In fact, some botanical researchers still utilize this method for scholarly pursuits and I know that on occasion my son will secretly pick a flower as a gift. However, I am quick to use this as a teaching moment, letting him know that those plants are there for a reason. The bears eat the berries and the bees drink the flower’s nectar. More often than not these days, he asks for my phone to snap a picture, which I can then keep forever. 

Academics and toddlers aside, please do not pick the flowers on the CREW trails, take a picture and leave the plants for the pollinators! Although, if you’re really keen to start a scrapbook collection of your own, try growing some of the native plants you see at CREW in your own backyard, then pick and press away! 

We hope that you have enjoyed these pages digitized in honor of the plant’s beauty and also the collector’s personal investment, from what I am calling, the Blue Botanical Scrapbook. Enjoy this walk down memory lane and if you ever want to take a look through these archives in person, let me know, I’d be happy to un-shelf them for you!

One more thing. In case you’re wondering, we haven’t been able to track down who made these scrapbooks, so if you have any clues to the mystery, let us know! 

Further research

Excellent article written on this subject from the Florida Museum Herbarium and link to the preserved plant collection at University of Florida and University of South Florida.




The sweet smell of pawpaws

One of our favorite spring wildflowers is blooming! We spotted – and smelled – the first pawpaws blooming last week along the edges of the flatwoods in the Cypress Dome Trails and the CREW Marsh Trails.

For visitors lucky enough to attend one of the remaining free guided walks at the Marsh Trails with Janet Bunch, you’ll learn all about the pawpaws and likely get nose-close and personal with their sweet scent.

Pawpaws are important for several reasons beyond their beauty and smell. First, they are a host plant for zebra swallowtail butterflies. Second, the fruit they produce is a delicious foodsource for many animals including gopher tortoises.

Want to learn more about CREW wildflowers?

Additional resources to help you find and ID southwest Florida native wildflowers include:

Click HERE for a partial list of wildflowers found at CREW.

Register today for our weekly guided walks at the Marsh Trails

It’s the almost November, which means cooler temperatures, blooming wildflowers and time to register for our weekly guided walks!

Volunteer naturalist and spider enthusiast Janet Bunch returns for her second season leading our Marsh Trail interpretive hikes. Her walk takes guests through pine flatwoods and oak hammocks to the observation tower overlooking the 5,000-acre sawgrass marsh before traversing the short boardwalk and heading back to the trailhead.

Guests will learn about the plants and animals that call the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed their home and engage in lively, scholarly conversations with Janet and other CREW Trust Volunteers.

The walks are free but registration is required. Please visit our eventbrite page to register. Guided walks are held each Tuesday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. November-March, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Check out what you can see today at the CREW Marsh Trails!

Trail Tech

Ready to hit the trails this season, but looking for a few fun new tools? Check out these apps for your smartphone  that can help take your trek to the next tech level.

You can use your phone for more than selfies, Mr. Bear.

IveGot1: This app from FWC is for reporting sightings of non-native invasive animals, like pythons, which have been spotted within the CREW Project. Get as much information as you can, including photos of tracks. Just remember when taking a photo to place something, like a coin or a pen or a tube of chapstick next to the track to help with noting the size. (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/reporting-hotline/)

WeatherBug: This app has a program within the app called Spark which will show how close lightning is to your location. When should you find shelter and get far away from lightning? We say follow the pool rule – if lightning is within ten miles, get to shelter. Florida is the lightning captial of the United States and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

PlantNet: Can’t remember the name of that pretty purple flower? You can jog your memory with the use of this app and maybe correctly identify the plant. This is part of a global project so, if your plant isn’t in the app, you can help by adding it! Check out this shot of a flower I took by our office, then searched for, and quickly identified!

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab: This app lets you load bird packs (birds in your area) so you can tailor the app to where you are, or where you are travelling to.

Peterson Bird Identifier & Field Guide: They had me at field guide. This includes over 800 species of North American Birds and looks enough like your hardcover field guide that you’ll feel right at home.

Audubon Bird Guide: Reviews say it is the best free bird field guide available and it lists nearby observations. You can log your sightings and connect to a social community of birders. And, if you love owls, check out the Audubon Owl Guide app.

AllTrails: This app is one we are starting to use ourselves to get our trails out to the world! This app lets you explore trails and check out reviews. It’s also helpful if you are looking to explore more trails in the area (and more of our trails) or heading out of town on vacation and want to scope out the local landscape.


There’s more to see than alligators, bears and panthers

One of the most common questions I hear, either on the phone or on the trails, is “What will we see?” or “Which trail is best to see wildlife?”

Red-shouldered hawks at CREW Marsh Trails

The answers: Sadly, we can’t predict what you will see and, all three trails are different.

Bird Rookery Swamp is our most visited trail system, and for good reason. You can walk less than a mile and see alligators, wading birds and the occasional otter or bobcat. Sightings of alligators are almost guaranteed.

This means that, when choosing a trail system to visit, people often overlook Cypress Dome Trails or CREW Marsh Trails.

A large alligator at Cypress Dome Trails

There are alligators at the Cypress Dome Trails, but you’ve got a pretty long hike if you want to see them. At the CREW Marsh Trails, people seem to think that bears, boars, bobcats and panthers will be out there all day, just strolling by. And, if they don’t see large animals, there is disappointment, a feeling that is sometimes vocalized as “We didn’t see anything.”


For me, the marsh trails are my favorite. It’s the first trail system I visited, and the first trail system I worked as a volunteer. It’s the first trail system Brenda took myself and my three kids to during their Spring Break a few years ago. It’s the trail system that my youngest daughter loves to hike and my oldest loves to go trail running.

What do we see there?


Butterflies, dragonflies, red shouldered hawks, palm warblers, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, a giant beehive, lubber grasshoppers, wildflowers and, right now, swallow-tailed kites. And that is only a small fraction of the flora and fauna that is there.

Two of our volunteers, Jane and Laurel, recently spent a day cataloging all of the plants, birds, dragonflies and butterflies they saw at CREW Marsh Trails. It’s a great example of how much is there on the trails, so much more than bears or boars or panthers or alligators.


Feb. 2 CREW Marsh Trails Observations from Jane Wallace and Laurel Rhodes

Butterflies                                                            Birds

White Peacock, 30+                                          Cardinal

Pearl Crescent, 30+                                        White eyed Vireo

Carolina Wren

Phaon Crescent, 30+                                       Cat bird

Black Swallowtail, 3                                         Common Yellow Throat

Ceraunus Blue, 1                                            Red Shouldered Hawk

Monarch, 1                                                       Great Egret

Barred Yellow, 2                                              Dragonflies

Great Southern White, 3                                Pond hawk, female

Gulf Fritillary, 3

Zebra longwings at CREW Marsh Trails

Flowering plant lists:


Caesar weed, Urena lobata

Chocolateweed, Melochia corchorifolia

Red Tasselflower, Emilia fosbergii

White headed broom, Spermacoce verticillata


Native plants

American bluehearts, Buchnera americana

Blackroot, Pterocaulon pycnostachyum

Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum

Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium sp.

Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia caroliniensis

Carolina wild petunia at CREW Marsh Trails

Carolina willow, Salix caroliniana

Chapman’s goldenrod, Solidago odora var. chapmanii

Climbing aster, Symphyotrichum carolinianum

Coastalplain hawkweed, Hieracium megacephalon

Cow pea, Vigna luteola

False pimpernel, Lindernia sp.

Fewflower milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata

Fog fruit, Phyla nodiflora

Fourpetal St.j Jhn’s-wort, Hypericum tetrapetalum

Leavenworth’s tickseed, Coreopsis leavenworthii

Netted pawpaw, Asimina reticulata

Pennyroyal, Piloblephis rigida

Pine Hyacinth,  Clematis baldwinii

Pine hyacinth at CREW Marsh Trails

Rabbitbells, Crotalaria rotundifolia

Rice button aster, Symphyotrichum dumosum

Roserush, Lygodesmia aphylla

Rosy camphorweed, Pluchea baccharis

Roundpod St. John’s-wort, Hypericum cistifolium 

Rusty lyonia, Lyonia fruticosa

Saltmarch fleabane, Pluchea odorata

Showy milkwort, Asemeia violacea [formerly Polygala grandiflora]

Snow squarestem, Melanthera nivea

Sowthistle, Sonchus oleraceus

Spanish needles, Bidens alba

Twinflower, Dyschoriste sp.

Walter’s viburnum, Viburnum obovatum

Water cowbane, Tiedemannia filiformis [formerly Oxypolis filiformis]

Wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera

Whitetop starrush , Rhynchospora colorata

Yellow buttons, Polygala rugelii

A View of the Cypress Dome Trails- Wonderful Wildflowers


CYRESS DOME TRAILS (green and yellow trails, most of white trail)
Thursday, January 7 ~ 6:55 am – 11:15 am

“There is still lots of mud and some submerged spots on the white trail (I didn’t even try the wild coffee trail), and a few similar spots at the north end of the yellow trail.  The bird list is a blooms0107little better than normal for the Cypress Dome, but the best part was finding lots of native wildflowers in bloom. The four in the photo are Butterflyweed, Sabatia, Black-eyed Susan, and Glades Lobelia.
The large number of Turkey Vultures came in a steady stream that lasted almost 10 minutes before all had passed overhead.
A quick stop in the Imperial Marsh parking lot on the way back netted a huge flock of White Pelicans plus over two dozen storks and some miscellaneous herons and egrets”.

Great Blue Heron – 3
Great Egret – 2
Little Blue Heron – 1
Green Heron – 2
White Ibis – 7
Black Vulture – 7
Turkey Vulture – 324
Red-shouldered Hawk – 8
Cooper’s Hawk – 2
Sand Hill Crane – 2
Mourning Dove – 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 17
Downy Woodpecker – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 8
Blue Jay – 5
American Crow – 1
House Wren – 5
American Robin – 21
Gray Catbird – 9
Northern Mockingbird – 1
Palm Warbler – 18
Pine Warbler – 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler – 17
Common Yellowthroat – 2
Northern Cardinal – 1

White Peacock – 2
Barred Yellow – 2
Gulf Fritillary – 1

Florida Cricket Frog (calling) – 8
Gray Squirrel – 3

%d bloggers like this: