DESTINATION: ANCLOTE KEY
As you head south along Florida's Gulf Coast, the lighthouse at Anclote Key serves as a beacon for mariners entering the Intracoastal Waterway. Every day thousands of people from all over the country in everything from fishing skiffs to million-dollar yachts travel this "highway for boaters" that stretches more than 150 miles to Fort Myers. Anclote Key State Park with its great fishing and bird-watching gets its share of visitors. Most people approach the island from the north because the deeper water there is a better place to anchor big boats. The state has built pavilions in the middle of the island on the gulf side and one at the north end at the designated primitive campground. The picnic areas have composting toilet facilities and tables and grills are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no electricity or running water and visitors must dispose of their own garbage.
SAY THIS THREE TIMES FAST: PADDLE THE CHASSAHOWITZKA
Citrus County's Chassahowitzka River is a great paddle for beginners or families with small children. The current is gentle and boat traffic, though common, is not a problem. Locals tend to respect the canoeists and kayakers and usually slow down when passing. Most of the river lies within the boundaries of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, a 31,000-acre wilderness that is home to more than 250 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 25 species of mammals, including the West Indian manatee and the state's largest land mammal, the Florida black bear. The river is Site 51 on the Great Florida Birding Trail so be sure to bring your bird book. You will see a variety of waterbirds, raptors and if you are lucky, perhaps even a swallow-tailed kite. To learn more, go to floridabirdingtrail.com. One last tip: Check the tide before leaving the boat ramp and plan accordingly. If you have the tide with you, plan on a longer, harder paddle on your return trip.
SNOWBIRDS: AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN
Ready for a white Christmas? Here in Tampa Bay, we don't get snow, but we do get white pelicans during the winter months. With a wingspan of nearly 9 ½ feet, it is one of North America's largest birds. You might see large flocks soaring over the bay in a tight V formation. Unlike the brown pelican, which is found here year-round, white pelicans are strictly winter visitors to the state. These birds summer in western Canada and the northwestern United States. White pelicans and brown pelicans also have different feeding habits. White pelicans don't dive for food. Instead, they float on the surface and scoop up their food. White pelicans were hunted heavily during the height of the plume trade and later their numbers were threatened by wide-spread use of dangerous pesticides. While populations have increased, these birds still die after becoming tangled in discarded fishing line. So make sure you recycle your spent line. You might just save a bird's life.
GREAT GIFT: COOK SET
Lightweight and durable, the Snow Peak cook set is ideal for soup, coffee or tea on the trail. Carry one in your day pack or the hatch of your kayak. It weighs next to nothing and is virtually indestructible. Snow Peak has a line of lightweight cook gear, including a double-walled coffee mug so you won't burn your hands on a cold winter's day. Check it out at snowpeak.com.