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CROW Speaker Series kicks off in January

December 20, 2017
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

To coincide with the breeding season of ospreys, and the public's interest of the birds, the CROW Speaker Series will kick off with "The Story of Ospreys," next month.

"The very first time (Mark) Bird (Westall) and I did the presentation here, we had no idea. We were standing in here waiting for people to come in. I had no idea where they were. I find out there is a traffic jam on SanCap Road. People are now parking on the sides on the road, which is strictly forbidden. The police call and said 'What is going on.' 'Oh, we are doing an osprey presentation," International Osprey Foundation Volunteer Claudia Burns said smiling.

CROW Development & Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt said this year marks the fourth annual CROW speaker series.

Article Photos

The 2018 CROW Speaker Series will kick off with “The Story of Ospreys” Jan. 2, at 4:15 p.m.


"Originally it started because we wanted to have a way to drive guests to our education center during the seasonal months when our visitation is at its peak," she said. "Because we offer so many programs during the day we wanted to introduce an experience that tailored more towards the end of the day."

Rainbolt said the afternoon series offered an opportunity for individuals to listen to some dynamic speakers from across Southwest Florida instead of sitting in seasonal traffic. She said the speakers discuss their respected areas of expertise that highlight different projects and groups actively engaging in conservation throughout the area.

"Each year we try to bring back speakers that tend to be a little bit more popular. We also solicit ideas from the public and from our partners throughout the year on what they think might be a nice new addition. We try to do a balance in keeping the regulars, while also offering the opportunity for new fresh faces," Rainbolt said.

The first year the CROW Speaker Series was offered, 10 lectures were held, compared to the upcoming season of 17.

"It will be a weekly endeavor here at CROW. All the lectures, except for one of them, will be held on Tuesday afternoons," Rainbolt said.

The lectures will be held from Jan. 2, through April 17. They run from 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., with the opportunity for questions and answers.

The 2018 CROW Lecture Series:

"Reservations are not required, but they are recommended because of our seating capacity for the lectures is 75," Rainbolt said. "Now this is expanded from previous years where our seating capacity was 60. A few of our lectures ended up selling out and became popular that we solicited support to increase the capacity to 75 this year, which we are very excited about."

Admission is $10 per adult, $5 per teen and children 12 and younger are free.

"We are trying to make it affordable for families to come with their visiting relatives and children and enjoy this opportunity," Rainbolt said.

The Speaker Series calendar is located on CROW's Facebook page, and website,

"Anyone who is interested, you may register anytime from today on," Rainbolt said.

Burns will present the first program of the season, The Story of Ospreys, the first Tuesday of January.

"I think the reason it's so popular is because these birds are so conspicuous," she said. "They are absolutely in your face."

Their nests, Burns said, are out in the open, giving ospreys a 360 degree view, and humans an opportunity to watch.

"We get to see everything they do. I find them to be very entertaining," Burns said.

When she began visiting the island before becoming a permanent resident, Burns saw an osprey for the first time. With the hope of photographing ospreys, Burns stumbled upon the International Osprey Foundation in the 1990s. That initial find resulted in volunteering for the foundation for the past 25 to 30 years.

"I found out that they had this nest watching program where volunteers go and monitor the nests and see what they are doing and make reports back to command central," Burns said. "I thought, 'I'll find out where the nests are.'"

From there she became fascinated with osprey - why they did certain things.

"There are a number of different things that they say. There are different squawks for different occasions," Burns said. "I became a nest watch volunteer and went out with seasoned people and learned about what this behavior means, what it indicates and what stage they are in the breeding process."

She had the opportunity to work with Westall, who arrived on the island in the 1980s with a mission to help restore the osprey population.

"Those days a lot of the hawk type of birds were endangered because of the use of DDT. It would get in the water. It would get in the fish that the birds would eat. Then when they laid eggs their shells would be very brittle. So, when the female sat on them to incubate, they would break. The population declined worldwide," Burns said. "Between the '80s and now they have definitely made a comeback. Most of that was due to the outlawing of the use of DDT in the United States."

Westall and Burns began doing osprey presentations together at CROW, which included his osprey calls.

"He was amazing. He was very charitable with his time. Once I got him to agree to do this (the speaker series), I was the play by play and he was the color," she said.

As they went through the slideshow presentation, after Burns provided information about the osprey, she would look to him and ask him what the osprey would be saying, followed by Westall providing the exact osprey call.

"He would omit this spine shrilling osprey call," Burns said.

This year, Burns will be doing four presentations about the ospreys, which entails a program that will waken the audience's emotions. The osprey calls are still apart of the presentation, thanks to Cornell Lab of Ornithology providing the clips.

"I choose photos and explanations that will get people emotionally involved with this particular animal that I am talking about," she said.

Burns said she really loves doing the presentations because she really "loves those birds."

"What I really love about them, I call them the gentle hawks. The only thing they want to eat is fish," she said. "I appreciate that."

To learn more about the osprey, join Burns during one of her presentations at CROW's Visitor Education Center, 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.



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