Feature: Volunteer Cited For Work With Bluebirds At Bald Eagle State Park
When Robert Zelinski eased out of the world of New Jersey-based chemical manufacturing and into the retirement world, he bucked the trend among many fellow Garden State retirees. Turning his back on the salt life, the coastal towns and all they have to afford, he headed inland—far inland—to the hardwoods of Pennsylvania’s Centre County.
There he was in awe of the sprawling splendor of natural resources that is Bald Eagle State Park, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Bald Eagle was one of the reasons I moved here,” Zelinski said. “Living close to the shore I was used to the water and all the activities it offers. When I saw the park and its large lake, I fell in love with it and quickly found a house nearby.”
That was about 15 years ago and, rapidly, Jersey’s loss became Bald Eagle State Park’s gain. To say the Howard resident quickly immersed himself in park volunteerism is an understatement. Just ask DCNR Environmental Education Specialist Matt Truesdale, whose teaching and outreach efforts revolve heavily around the no less than 100 bird species known to frequent Bald Eagle’s lake, fields and forests.
“Bob is definitely a valued member of our bald eagle team, and I can rely on him to help out with so many other bird-related activities,” Truesdale said.
And, at a park where most visitors come sporting binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras, it’s no surprise public outreach caters to the birds and those who thrill to see them. “Golden Eagle Voyage, March 6-8,” “Bald Eagle Birding Day, May 9.” “Owl Prowls” and “Woodcock Walks.”
Upcoming events and dates are ticked off by Truesdale, who notes the public always can find details and dates on the park’s web and Facebook pages, but they hold one familiar question for when they get there:
“The people always ask about Bob, they all ask about him, and it is a respect he has earned. You can tell he definitely cares about what he does; he always takes time to do his best.”
And the best is exactly what is honored each year when the DNCR Bureau of State Parks presents its Cavity Nesting Monitor of Year Award. Zelinski was chosen for 2014 honors from more than 120 volunteers statewide and honored for his “long-term dedication and enthusiasm” displayed while monitoring and helping protect and propagate eastern bluebirds and other cavity nesting bird species as part of the bureau’s monitoring program.
“For the past 14 years, Bob has devoted countless hours and efforts assisting with environmental programming and monitoring the cavity nesting boxes, as well as the resident bald eagles at Bald Eagle State Park,” Truesdale said, in nominating the award-winner. “As captain of the park’s cavity nesting team, he has recruited members to assist, and actively monitors the 72 cavity nesting boxes within the park.
“He also takes time to fix, rebuild, replace and paint any boxes that are in disrepair during the winter months in anticipation for the upcoming nesting season. We thank Bob for his time, energy and dedication to the cavity-nesting trail program.”
A flash of russet breast, ever-flitting from perch to ground on a body of cobalt blue. A cheery, non-stop tune piped from atop a flowering dogwood. Nothing treats our senses to spring like that popular harbinger of the season—the eastern bluebird.
Appreciate the bluebird and you have to appreciate the work of hundreds of volunteers across the state who have guided the beloved songbird onto the rebound trail. If you enjoy seeing them around Bald Eagle State Park, you can thank Zelinski, who has helped expand the park’s bluebird trails from 46 houses to 72.
All the while, he says, he’s looking for ways to bump up the park population and fuel more public interest, especially among the young.
The effort never lacks rewards. Nor occasional amusement:
“All our houses are equipped with predator guards to keep out unwanted visitors, but field mice sometimes are nesting in them in the spring. We had a young college girl working with us one year and she was told how to approach the house from the side; tap on the side; and slowly lift up the top. She reached in to clean it and a mouse jumped out; ran up her arm; and jumped off.
“You could hear her scream a mile. Man, was she surprised!”
So, too, was the 76-year-old widower when he was honored October 11, 2014, in ceremonies at Raccoon Creek State Park, Hollidaysburg:
“The award was something that I never would have expected. It caught me off guard,” Zelinski said. “As I listened to the description of the recipient I realized they were talking about me, and I do what I do because it is what I love to do. I had tears in my eyes and for the first time, I was at a loss for words.”
Thanks to the efforts of Zelinski and other volunteers as well as park staff across the state, the bureau’s cavity nesting program successfully fledged 6,260 birds last year, according to bureau Natural Resource Program Specialist Carly Hitzfeld.
“Fifty state parks fledged 2,429 eastern bluebirds and 3,831 other cavity-nesting species during 2014,” Hitzfeld said. “Despite colder than normal temperatures early in spring and above normal precipitation late in the season, there was a slight increase in fledgling numbers compared to 2013.”
Since the program’s beginning in 1980, volunteers have helped fledge over 61,000 eastern bluebirds and 48,000 other cavity-nesting species.
Commitment in the monitoring program is not rare, Hitzfeld notes. More than 15 of the volunteers have been checking nesting boxes; cleaning and repairing them; jotting notes; and hiking trails for over 20 or more years.
Data gleaned from state park observations is shared with the Game Commission; North American Bluebird Society; the Bluebird Society of PA; and the DCNR Bureau of State Parks’ Resources Management and Planning Division.
For more details on the Cavity-Nesting Trail Program, contact Hitzfeld at 717-783-3344.
(Reprinted from the February 25 edition of the Resource newsletter from DCNR.)
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