A mid-December day in Florida means perfect weather for a hike through the University of North Florida’s 382-acre nature preserve surrounding the college campus.
On Thursday, kids from Bayview Elementary visited the Sawmill Slough Preserve to learn about the animals and habitats that make the trails their home.
Ranger Jake FitzRoy led the kids on a hike. He works at the school’s Eco Adventure office, which maintains the preserve and does educational outreach. But first he read them the book "A Home For Ozzie" featuring UNF’s avian mascot, Ozzie the Osprey. He also just happens to be a co-author.
“It basically starts out with him leaving the parents' nest and coming into the sanctuary to find a home,” Fitzroy says, describing Ozzie’s journey in the book.
Page by page, the kids learn about different animals’ homes. Six animals and six habitats jump from the page in bright watercolor illustrations.
“He meets Becky the bobcat, and she’s like, ‘I wouldn’t live out here in the open like this. There’s creatures like me out hunting,’” FitzRoy says. “So that teaches kids about predators and things like that. So then she tells him to go meet Gus the gopher tortoise. His burrow is a home for many animals. So that’s actually true, and that’s another reason that’s my favorite part is there’s been over 200 different species living with gopher tortoises.”
After he read the book, the students took a hike to see all the habitats in the book while trying to spot the animals that live there.
During the journey, students were able to see raccoon tracks, a tortoise home, a snake slithering away and a turtle sunbathing.
Fitzroy says for some of these kids, it’s their first time out in nature.
“I think the more you know about something, the more you care about it, so we wanted to have kind of a starting point for young children to begin to have a lifetime of caring about and going into the outdoors” he says.
Eco Adventure gives field trips to about 5,000 kids a year. "A Home for Ozzie" can be purchased at UNF or through its website. The proceeds go toward trail maintenance and Eco Adventure programs.