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Virtual Wildlife Programs Aimed at Helping Polk Students


Published on Mar 2, 2021


The morning fog hasn’t quite burned off in the pine flatwoods of the Avon Park Bombing Range as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kristopher Pitcher demonstrates how he and fellow biologist Emily Angell use radio tracking to identify and monitor the Florida bonneted bat, an endangered wildlife resident of Central Florida.

While they have received a number of recordings of these winged rodents, a camera mounted atop a long pole soon reveals none are roosting inside the hollowed trunk of a nearby pine. It’s disappointing, but they know they are there. Pitcher and Angell have made a career out of tracking and documenting wildlife on the bombing range through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Air Force.

And on this cool, foggy morning it’s their careers that have brought them in front of a camera lens to document the work they do for Polk County’s Environmental Lands Program, said Candice Knothe, the county’s Environmental Lands coordinator.

“The virtual field trip videos are an opportunity to reach Polk County students as traditional in-person field trips have been limited,” she said. “We want to continue to provide programs for students that highlight the importance of water resources, explore connections in nature, highlight conservation efforts, and explore careers that work with water, wildlife and other natural resources.”

During this episode of Making Tracks, Pitcher and Angell both take viewers through some of their tasks of searching and recording information about the bats, monitoring the Florida scrub-jay, modifying the landscape for improved scrub habitat and searching for gopher tortoises.

“The virtual field trip videos are open to all Polk County teachers and students whether they are in the classroom, participating in eSchool, Polk Virtual or homeschool,” Knothe said. “Polk County Parks and Natural Resources receives support from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) for implementing water resources education.”

The virtual programs are meant to replace the traditional field study programs the Polk Nature Discovery Center would normally offer students. A grant from SWFWMD also helped in funding some of the natural resource videos that feature the careers of those who work with water, wildlife and land management.

For teachers or parents wanting to access this series of educational videos, go to https://polknature.com/discovery-center/field-study-visits and follow the instructions to email your request.