Dr. Jenny Rechel, U.S. Forest Service geographer, is the next speaker for the Idyllwild Nature Center’s “Nature of Nature” spring speaker series. For 20 years, Rechel has tracked, mapped and documented the effects of climate change, fire and drought on resident and migratory birds.
She will talk about her research conducted on the San Jacinto Ranger District in her presentation, “Fire, Drought and the Birds of the San Jacintos.”
Rechel chose the San Jacinto district because it is a mountain “island,” not part of a range, with habitat that presents unique issues for bird populations, especially in stopover habitats for migrants. Also, the district has the fewest relative number of visitors and recreational opportunities, and, consequentially, less disturbance of natural conditions compared to other nearby districts.
When she began her research, Rechel wanted to know how fires in major vegetation types — conifer, oak and chaparral — change habitat associations or communities for birds over time. After she began her surveys, a major drought from 2002 through 2004 produced massive tree mortality and subsequent fuel remediation of dead trees. That also affected bird habitat and migratory patterns by removing hospitable habitat. Increasingly, climate change — or, as Rechel calls it, climate chaos — has become an increasingly influential factor affecting avian species in the San Jacintos.
Rechel surveys resident, migrant and partial-migrant birds. Resident birds account for the highest population percentage in the San Jacintos. Climate changes and shifting forest ecology more dramatically affect migratory birds, as habitat and food availability evolves.
In conducting her surveys, Rechel establishes dedicated plots or bird-counting stations to create reliable reference points, to which she can return season after season. Questions driving her research include: Does proliferation of species increase with the age of plots, especially after a fire? Does species diversity increase with age of the plot? Which group of birds takes advantage of disturbances such as sires? And, is there a noticeable change in species communities after disturbances?
One of the conundrums Rechel discussed in interview is that downed dead trees create more bird-friendly habitat and food sources, but heighten fire risk. “The more dead trees, the more birds,” said Rechel. “The dead trees attract insects, a good food source for birds.”
Rechel knows her birds. So any inveterate or aspiring birder and anyone seeking bird identification information will find Rechel’s encyclopedic knowledge of her field stimulating. If your questions run to long-term prognoses for certain species to remain on the mountain and how the rapidly changing mountain ecology is affecting our resident and migrant bird population, her talk is a must-attend event. “Migrants are not faring as well with the drought,” said Rechel. “I saw the most decline in habitat, population and diversity of migrant birds. Resident birds are doing OK.”
Rechel begins her presentation at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, at the Nature Center on Highway 243. Admission is free to Friends of the San Jacinto Mountain County Parks. For others, tickets cost $4 for adults and $3 for children.
For more information, visit www.rivcoparks.org/education/idyllwild-nature-center/idyllwild-nature-center/.