SPOTLIGHT: Withlacoochee State Forest
The sprawling forest of 155,000 acres north of Brooksville is Florida's second largest state forest, one that the World Wildlife Fund declared one of the "top 10 coolest places you've never been in North America." It contains the Withlacoochee State Trail, one of the longest paved rail-trails in Florida that's great for cycling and walking.
For a more primordial hike, the Hog Island Nature Trail along the Withlacoochee River is a short jaunt from Nobleton in Hernando County. It is a nature trail that showcases some of the biggest cypresses around. The trail is in the shade and prone to flooding when the river is high, so expect to get your feet wet.
The Withlacoochee River, left, which starts in the Green Swamp and flows for 70 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, is ideal for paddling a canoe. The only river in Florida besides the St. Johns that flows north, a paddle on the Withlacoochee will take you past hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, pine flatwoods, palmetto scrub, freshwater wetlands and salt marsh. You can take a two- to four-hour canoe and kayak trip out of Hog Island, Iron Bridge and Silver Lake. For reservations call (352) 796-7176 or see nobletonoutpost.com for the Nobleton Canoe Outpost, which has kayak and canoe rentals, as well as camping, at 29295 Lake Lindsey Road, Nobleton.
SITTING PRETTY: Finding butterflies
Few other forms of wildlife can be as easily observed as butterflies, and thanks to our warm weather you can find them nearly year-round here. Keep an eye out for the stunning atala butterfly, dark black with brilliant red and turquoise markings. They are plentiful in July because they feed on coontie, a palm-like shrub that thrives during humid summers.
On Saturday, Brooker Creek Preserve is holding a Bugs and Butterflies class so families can explore the world of insects that inhabit the preserve. It's free, but registration is required; Go to brookercreekpreserve.eventbrite.com or call (727) 453-6800. The class is 10:30 a.m.-noon Saturday at 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs.
If you want to attract butterflies to your yard, the Aging Well Center 1501 N Belcher Road in Clearwater, hosts a free Gardening: Monarch Butterflies class 1-2:30 p.m. Friday. You will examine milkweed seeds, a variety of caterpillars and butterflies, and learn how to improve conditions to attract monarchs. (727) 724-3070.
CLAWS OUT: Lobster mini-season
Florida's two-day lobster mini-season starts Wednesday and divers and snorkelers will be heading to the Keys. The limit is 12 lobsters per day and night-diving is permitted, so the Keys are expected to have more than 10 times the typical boat density. To avoid the crowds, Jupiter, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami are also known for decent lobstering grounds. The quaint Broward County town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is holding a Bugfest by the Sea Monday through July 30 with seminars, underwater photo and video contests, a lobster cook-off and chef competition. Find out more at lbtsevents.com/bugfest-by-the-sea. The regular eight-month lobster season is Aug. 6 through March 31. Check the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's site at myfwc.com for regulations.