By Alexandra Radovic
When Rick Borchelt was 6 years old, he received his first pair of binoculars. Little did he know he’d go on to study science professionally, devoting paycheck after paycheck to the perfect pair of Swarovski Optiks.
The College Park resident is the director for communications and public affairs at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. He migrated to College Park from his family home in the Ozarks in the late ’70s to pursue graduate studies at the University of Maryland (UMD).
“I explore nature, particularly in and around our natural areas here, like Artemisia, Patuxent, Governor Bridge,” Borchelt said during a presentation he gave on May 22 as part of the Route 1 Corridor Conversation series.
In fact, he had been birding at Patuxent just two days prior, Swarovskis in hand.
On that breezy spring day, Borchelt tucked his National Geographic guidebook into the pocket of his khaki vest and pointed toward the layered oaks and maples surrounding the wildlife center.
“This is what College Park used to look like,” he noted.
Borchelt explained that development is a key factor leading to habitat loss throughout the region. As developers clear stands of native trees, birds lose their homes and food sources. When construction winds down, developers often replant with non-native shrubs and trees.
Borchelt also noted that homeowners are wary of having large trees near their homes, for fear that they could fall and cause damage.
“If you want birds, you have to take risks,” he said.
During his presentation, Borchelt said that homeowners can take small steps to save the birds. He underscored that pesticides are harmful, as are cats (he recommends keeping them indoors). He encouraged homeowners to plant more bird- and caterpillar-friendly trees, like beeches and tulip trees.
“You want to layer your yard in shrubs and mixed plants, not lawn,” he said. “I’m the one who comes around and scavenges your Christmas trees when you throw them out at the end of the year, before the city comes to steal them and make mulch.”
Residents said they admire Borchelt’s dedication to wildlife and to educating the community about natural habitats that support native animals in our region.
“Rick and I live in the same neighborhood,” said Mary Anne Hakes, who works with Explorations on Aging in College Park. “Someone will frequently post pictures of birds, butterflies, snakes or insects, and Rick can usually identify them all and direct us to websites for further information — he even sends bird call recordings.”
T. Carter Ross, who works with Hyattsville Aging in Place which helped organize Borchelt’s appearance on May 22, also appreciates Borchelt’s work.
“He [does] a fantastic job of highlighting the ecology of our backyards and how important what we plant is for birds and the bugs they feed on.”