Get off the paved paths
Now is a great time to head out into the woods. And that's why the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, is encouraging adventurous souls to explore more than 850 miles of hiking trails on district lands during February, which has been declared Florida Hiking Trails Month. If you don't know how or where to get started, Swiftmud is hosting guided hikes through its Green Swamp West Tract near Dade City on Feb. 12 and through the Oak Ridge Equestrian Area near Thonotosassa on Feb. 19. Hikers are encouraged to preregister with the district by calling toll-free 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4756. Any spaces still open on the day of the hike will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The district's 152-page recreation guide highlights more than 50 parks and preserves in a 16-county region. To learn more, go to WaterMatters.org/recreation.
On the fly
Are you tired of fishing with live bait or artificial lures? Why not try fly-fishing? The Florida Fly Fishing Club meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park. At this month's meeting you can learn to tie your own flies with Chris Dakin and Jeff Janecek, who will then use their creations on a three-day club outing down the St. Johns River fishing for shad. For information, call (727) 576-4169.
For the birds
If you are walking on the beach or paddling the barrier islands today and notice an army of pith-helmeted bird watchers, do not be alarmed.
This isn't a sequel to director Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds. It is just local Audubon staff and volunteers out looking for piping plovers and other shorebirds wintering in critical habitats.
Biologists estimate that there are only about 8,000 of these rare plovers left. But thanks to recent conservation efforts, these residents of the Great Lakes that winter in Florida are making a comeback.
You can see these tiny, sandy-colored birds, with yellow legs at Anclote Key State Preserve, Three Rooker Island State Preserve, Honeymoon Island State Park, Caladesi Island State Park, Shell Key County Preserve, Fort De Soto County Park and Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge/State Park.
But do not to disturb these winter visitors.
A few tips from Audubon of Florida:
• Walk around the birds: Like people, shorebirds need to feed and rest in peace. Every time birds are caused to fly from beach walkers and their dogs, they expend energy essential for winter survival and their migration back to their northern nesting grounds.
• Keep dogs away: Birds see dogs as efficient predators and will be flushed by dogs from a farther distance than by people.
• Avoid flying kites or kite surfing: Birds view kites as gigantic aerial predators.
For more information, visit Audubon.org or Audubon ofFlorida.org.
Lure of the month
MirrOlure's 17MR is the perfect plug to use in February. This suspending twitchbait runs about a foot below the surface and emits a sonic "fishing-calling" noise that trout, redfish and snook cannot resist. Check it out at your local bait and tackle shop. Average cost: $7.99.
Local sailors shine
Clearwater's sister and brother sailing team of Paige and Zach Railey have been named the Olympic SportsWoman and SportsMan of the Year by U.S. Sailing. Paige, who sails the Laser Radial, and Zach, 2008 silver medalist in the Finn, both hope to represent the United States in England in 2012. Paige, at left, started 2010 with a gold medal in the Olympic singlehanded Laser Radial at the Rolex Miami Olympic Class Regatta. She is currently ranked No. 2 in the world. Zach won the 2010 U.S. Finn National Championship and finished fourth among 87 boats at the Finn Gold Cup, that class' world championship held in San Francisco. He is ranked No. 4 in the world.
That other Super Bowl
Three Florida anglers will be representing their home state later this month when the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society holds its Bassmaster Classic out of New Orleans on the Louisiana delta. Gainesville's Shaw Grigsby, Lakeland's Bobby Lane and San Mateo's Terry Scroggins qualified for the Feb. 18-20 event, known as the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing. This is Grigsby's 13th trip to the Classic, where his best finishes are second (1993) and third (2000). The eight-time BASS event winner has career earnings totaling more than $1.7 million, as he has finished in the money in 153 of 268 career entries. Lane, the 2008 Bassmaster rookie of the year, will be making his fourth trip to the Classic (top finish of fourth in 2008). He has won more than $470,000 and received payouts in 34 of 45 career events. This will be Scroggins' eighth Classic (finished fourth in 2006). He is a five-time BASS event winner with career earnings of more than $1.2 million.