Connecticut Audbon Society

Congratulations to the 2020 Dave Engelman Volunteer Benchmark Award Winners

October 16, 2020 — At Connecticut Audubon’s 2020 Annual Meeting on October 15, the Board of Directors presented these four outstanding volunteers with our annual Dave Engelman Volunteer Benchmark Award.

We asked members and staff who know them well to write a short appreciation of each, below. For more about the award and previous winners, click here.

Eleanor Perkins Robinson

by Claudia Weicker

Eleanor Perkins RobinsonEleanor Perkins Robinson is my colleague and, most importantly, my friend. We met when she was a near neighbor; but, from the first glimpse of her warm smile and her enthusiastic greeting, I knew she was someone special whom I would let into my life.  We had recently moved full time to Old Lyme and I was ready to make commitments to a community and longed for another purpose in life … at least that’s what Eleanor told me I wanted.

It was January 2015 and the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center was in its infancy as Connecticut Audubon’s newest center. Eleanor, a child of the local Audubon center where she grew up on the north shore of Long Island, expounded on the need to establish an environmental center focused on the Connecticut River Estuary: “the crown jewel of Connecticut” … “one of the last great places in the western hemisphere” … “the Amazon of the north,” etc., etc., etc..  Her enthusiasm was infectious:

“Think of the mission as a stool with three legs: Education, Research and Advocacy” she said.  “It will provide science-based education for children as young as eight, continuing education and engagement programs for families and adults. It will facilitate scientific research and advocate for environmental issues.”

How could I refuse?

Eleanor’s love of nature is insatiable, her creativity boundless, and her experiences include the exotic: bird banding in Peru and Costa Rica, working in the Amazon, tending a mission with husband, Mark, in Uganda, and birding in wild places in Africa. She moved to Old Lyme with a mission to establish a nature center and name it after one of Old Lyme’s most famous residents … writer, artist, conservationist, teacher and photographer, Roger Tory Peterson. Add ‘musician” to his accomplishments and you have Eleanor.

In celebrating Eleanor, we also celebrate the fifth anniversary of the RTPEC. In 2015 we launched an education program in Essex with 35 third graders.

For two years we operated on a shoestring with no home base, using the trunk of Eleanor’s Mini Cooper as storage for teaching materials.  Because of her leadership and optimism, and “can do”  attitude, the education program this year reached 3,500 children throughout the southeast region. 

If Connecticut Audubon is our mother ship, Eleanor Perkins Robinson is our birth mother.

Claudia Weicker is co-founder of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center and the chairwoman of its regional board.

Michael Aurelia

by Milan Bull

Michael AureliaConnecticut Audubon’s board and staff have welcomed Mike’s friendship, energy, sage advice, and hard work over the years. He’s been a Connecticut Audubon volunteer for more than three decades, culminating in his tenure as a member of the Board of Directors until he stepped down a year ago.

His relationship with Connecticut Audubon goes back even farther. A Stratford native, Mike remembers his grandmother taking him to visit Frank Novak, the Birdcraft caretaker and taxidermist, in the 1960’s.

The organization has been the lucky beneficiary of his long involvement—as have the state’s birds.

Almost from the start after we moved a few dozen Purple Martin gourds from Phil Donahue’s old house to the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Mike was there week after week.

We’d prepare the gourds at the start of the season. Each week we’d inspect each nest — 30, 40, each with 4 or 5 nestlings. After the nesting season Mike would roll up his sleeves and, with his wife Denise and other volunteers, take down, clean and wash out all the gourds and store them at his expense in storage tubs at the Coastal Center.

Purple Martins need that kind of hands-on care. The colony at the Coastal Center is thriving, and Mike deserves as much of the credit as anyone.

Mike has also been an active volunteer with the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, monitoring nesting populations of Piping Plovers, Least Terns and American Oystercatchers along the Stratford coastline.

Mike spent much of his career as a wetland scientist with the Greenwich Conservation Department. He was also president of the Connecticut Conservation Association which successfully battled the development plans of the former Stratford Land and Improvement Corporation to develop what is now the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge in Stratford as a deep water port.

More recently Mike has been a Connecticut Audubon Board member, donor and volunteer who, among many other activities, was instrumental in developing our Purple Martin colony at Milford Point and organizing the gourd adoption program which has been a great success.

Now that he and Denise have moved to Old Lyme, our Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is enjoying the benefits of his extraordinary volunteerism.

Milan Bull is Connecticut Audubon’s senior director of science and conservation.


Frank Mantlik

by Tina Green

Frank MantlikFortunate is the person who happens to cross paths with Frank Mantlik while out in the field bird watching. I was that person about 12 years ago at Grace Salmon Memorial Park in Westport while searching for a Ruff, a rare shorebird from Eurasia that Frank had discovered the day before.

Being that I was a new and a relatively inexperienced birder at the time, Frank helped me in finding and identifying the Ruff and also pointed out important field marks. That was the first of many great memories I have birding with Frank. I consider him one of my birding mentors and I am sure there are countless others who feel the same.

An avid birder, photographer, and naturalist, Frank is an enthusiastic and patient leader of bird walks and tours locally and worldwide for many organizations besides Connecticut Audubon Society, including the Connecticut Ornithological Association, New Haven Bird Club, and Sunrise Birding.

If you are lucky enough to accompany him on a trip here or abroad, you will be in excellent hands bird-wise and can depend upon him to calmly and quickly resolve any problem that could arise—a most important asset for any tour leader.

Frank is one of the longest active members of Connecticut Audubon, having joined in 1972. He serves on the Milford Point Coastal Center regional board. He helps with fundraising (we both just participated in the Big Sit!) and leads the team that monitors and maintains the Purple Martin colony.

Frank’s is a long-time member of the COA’s Avian Records Committee of Connecticut which maintains the official Connecticut State list of bird species “acceptably documented as occurring, or having occurred, in Connecticut.” (And his own state list reached 400 species earlier this year.) He was a past president and  vice-president of the COA as well as serving for many years on its Board of Directors.

The Connecticut birding community is fortunate to have Frank Mantlik, mentor, volunteer, conservationist, and friend. But most importantly, he is a caring and wonderful person.

Congratulations Frank on being this year’s recipient of the Dave Engelman Volunteer Benchmark Award for all the great work you have done for birds and for conservation.

Tina Green is a Westport resident and former president of the Connecticut Ornithological Society.

Tricia Gregory

by Cathy Hagadorn and Deirdra Wallin

Tricia GregoryTricia has traveled the world in pursuit of studying and appreciating nature. She’s been to Antarctica, Alaska and Iceland (if you see a theme, her favorite bird is the Atlantic Puffin). But it is the Connecticut Audubon Society sanctuary near where she lives where she returns to again and again.

It was through a 2017 newspaper article that Tricia learned of Deer Pond Farm sanctuary in Sherman. We met her when she joined the group on a guided program, and before long was co-leading hikes.

In just three years, Tricia has logged over 250 hours of service and taken on a variety of volunteer roles such as trail monitoring, pollinator garden work and assisting with habitat enhancement projects. She’s also the head volunteer monitor of the new Purple Martin nest gourd system at Deer Pond Farm.

“I love nature,” she told us. “It’s always changing and there is always something new to learn.”

She uses volunteer opportunities to increase her understanding of nature, and then often reads up on subjects on her own and shares what she has discovered with staff and other volunteers.

Tricia holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology.

Retired now, Tricia told us that “finding the Connecticut Audubon Society through the opening of Deer Pond Farm, I found a way to reconnect with my academic background and beginning career. I missed it. I really enjoy volunteering here and it makes me happy.”

Her indefatigable cheerfulness is an extra bonus, no matter the circumstances of the task or project at hand. Tricia represents a sterling example of how our volunteers help in truly significant ways to further our conservation work.

Tricia is an exemplary volunteer who has grown and evolved with the organization.  

We’ve worked alongside Tricia and are inspired by her keen intellect, thoughtfulness, and curiosity about the natural environment.

Cathy Hagadorn is director of Deer Pond Farm; Deirdra Wallin is program manager.












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