UP ON HIGH: TREETOP ADVENTURE
Cool mornings make for good hikes. But why not leave the traditional trail behind and head to the treetops? Bird watchers, backpackers and day hikers come to Myakka River State Park for the 39 miles of nature trails that wind through the pine forests and prairies. But while most hikes keep you on terra firma, this wilderness playground in Sarasota has one that will take you through the treetops. The Myakka Canopy Walkway, an 85-foot-long boardwalk suspended 25 feet above the ground, is the highlight of any trip to this state park. Make sure you climb the tower at the end of the suspension bridge. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the top, but it is well worth the effort. Standing 80 feet above the forest floor, you will see everything from red-shouldered hawks to wild hogs rooting through the swamplands. floridastateparks.org/park/Myakka-River.
LET IT SOAR: TIME FOR EAGLES
In Florida, most bald eagles begin gathering the materials for nests in early October. These birds will lay eggs through April. Most bald eagle nests in Florida are built within a couple of miles of water because these birds of prey feed mostly on fish. Eagles often have more than one nest so they can move around and look for food. Eagles and osprey often fish the same waters, and it is not uncommon for the larger bald eagle to harass an osprey in flight to make it drop its catch. The untrained eye may sometimes confuse the two. One way to tell the difference is size. Bald eagles are larger and have a dark chest and white tail. Eagle nests are also larger than those of the osprey, and made with larger woody material. They nest in the largest tree in the area, or sometimes a man-made structure such as a cell tower. Ospreys are smaller than eagles and have a white chest. Their nests are smaller and lined with grasses, vines and other material. These birds of prey like to nest platforms, the tops of sign posts, even channel markers.
IT'S TIME: STONE CRAB SEASON
Among the creatures of the sea, the stone crab has the unenviable distinction of possessing large claws filled with meat so delicate, so tender, that many Floridians consider them the finest seafood the Gulf of Mexico has to offer. On the bright side, the stone crab is also the only commercially harvested marine animal in the nation that doesn't have to die to provide food for humans. When a scuba diver grabs the tasty claw, the animal simply lets it go. Most local stone crabbers dive for the crustaceans around bridges and causeways. Not certified? Take a class this winter and you'll can still catch your share this season, which opens Thursday and runs through May 15, and also be ready for lobster season come July. If you do go crabbing remember the bag limit is 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per vessel, whichever is less. The harvest of egg-bearing females (check the crab's underside) is prohibited. The claw must measure 2 ¾ inches. For more details on the regulations and measuring a claw, go to MyFWC.com.
ON THE GO: CUP OF JOE
Whenever I hit the trail or the water during the cooler months, I make sure I always pack a lightweight camp stove. Nothing beats a hot cup of Joe or bowl of soup after a long morning in the great outdoors. One of my favorites is the Jetboil Flash Java Kit ($109, jetboil.com). You can brew two cups of perfect coffee in just two minutes with this device that packs down to the size of a water bottle. Stick it in the hull of your kayak, tackle box, or keep one in your top desk drawer and head out on your coffee break and brew a batch in the parking lot. This is a must for every caffeine-addicted outdoors person.