Not just for the birds
Local Audubon member finds friendship and purpose in hobby
The Weekly Herald/CHRIS GOODENOW
Pilchuck Audubon Society vice president Susie Schaefer will be one of the many avid bird watchers at Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds. The annual bird-watching event is Sept. 9 to 11 and includes guided tours, land and water-based excursions, exhibits and educational activities, and a tour of certified backyard wildlife habitats.
But for Susie Schaefer, of Edmonds, birding began in a brush with a bird when she was a girl and solidified in her early 30s as a self-defense mechanism.
Always an outdoors woman, Schaefer was introduced to nature at six weeks old. She was carried to her family’s cabin in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in 1934. She continues to spend summers there.
It was at the family cabin that she recalls seeing and identifying her first bird as a young girl.
“It was a western tanager who got tame enough to feed him my breakfast toast,” she said.
In her early 30s, Schaefer tagged along on expeditions with her then-husband, a fly fisherman. She took along a bird book.
“I’m not that fond of fishing,” she said. “And I wanted something to do. Trying to spot birds and match them up with photos in the book became a game for me.”
Moving to Seattle and later Edmonds in the 1970s disconnected her from her California roots. Seeking an outdoor outlet and friends, she joined Pilchuck Audubon in 1980.
“I had no idea that would take over my life,” she said. “I went to a meeting and went on a field trip and discovered it was fun walking with a ranger pointing out birds.”
She found that those leader-led groups had the congeniality she was seeking in her new home.
Now the retired state Department of Social and Health Services worker finds her hobby to be a wonderful way to occasionally travel to spots she wouldn’t have visited otherwise and a great way to meet people.
Schaefer leads birding trips. She finds leading youth outings most rewarding.
“The average age of Audubon is not that young,” she said. “But I have done trips with 10- to 18-year-olds and students from Edmonds Community College. Kids are badly disconnected from the natural environment. There is plenty to do outdoors. Birding is just one.”
Schaefer also joined Earthwatch Worldwide, an international organization than enlists volunteers to assist with projects. She helps on those projects involving counting, banding and observing birds.
She has gone to Columbia, Poland, Vietnam, Israel and Cameroon to assist in monitoring birds and their habitat.
Learn more about birding at the Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds, Sept. 9-11, www.pugetsoundbirdfest.org