For the Love of Birds
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On Devil's Slide Rock in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, Schubel set up decoys and a sound system that helped to re-establish a colony of murres that had been wiped out by a 1983 oil spill. In Washington state's Columbia River, she helped to relocate 10,000 Caspian terns who were eating millions of endangered salmon. Using her sound boxes, Schubel attracted the birds to a new island 20 miles up river. There, the terns had more fish species to feed on and a safe place to breed--and the salmon were no longer threatened. Schubel has also been to the Galapagos Islands to help with the re-establishment of a rare petrel that nests inside volcanoes. And in Bermuda, her boxes are being used to help save the Bermuda petrel, the national bird. Threatened by the rising ocean level, only 65 pairs remain. Schubel's sound boxes are helping to lure them to higher nesting grounds.

Some of her most important work, though, is going on close to home. At Hog Island, where Schubel and her husband, Anthony Liss, are the year-round caretakers, Schubel can often be found mucking about in the mudflats, net in hand, children gathered round to see what she's pulled from the ocean waters. She also leads boat tours, dazzling listeners with her detailed knowledge and causing whole boatloads of passengers, binoculars raised, to swivel in unison as she calls out bird sightings from her perch in the bow.

In recent years, as Project Puffin's outreach coordinator, Schubel has made countless visits to Maine classrooms. Next to petrel grubbing, it's one of the things she loves most--getting kids excited about the natural world and their place in it. "She's quite a hero for our kids along the coast," says Kress, who uses the word "renaissance" in an effort to capture Schubel's talents. At the Puffin Visitor center in Rockland, Maine, where she does educational programs for summer visitors, Schubel's creative touches can be seen everywhere, from the beautiful seascapes she has painted on the walls, to the puffin burrows, tucked beneath "rocks" she's made from wood, epoxy and fiberglass.

One day last spring, about midafternoon, Seabird Sue could be found lobbing small puffins across a classroom in Portland, Maine. Each of the 10 birds, crafted by Schubel out of felt and yarn, flew straight into the hands of a fifth-grader attending her workshop on "The Dangerous and Interesting Life of Seabirds." Students stood in two rows facing one another while Schubel laid out some blue construction paper "water" between them and started tossing things in: pieces of fishing net, plastic six-pack rings, bits of styrofoam, black paper "oil slicks"--all sorts of pollution a puffin at sea might encounter. She also added some paper fish.

"Fledge, little puffin, fledge!" shouts Schubel. And each student in turn, tosses a puffin into the sea, trying to "fly" them directly onto a bit of fish, the only safe spot in the middle of the dangerous ocean Schubel has created. When they are done, the students do a tally of the survival rate. Some birds were lost in an oil spill. Others starved to death. Some got tangled in fishing gear or were eaten by predators. After a few more rounds, Schubel calls a town meeting, and the students become townspeople and fishermen, as well as biologists, trying to work out solutions to the challenges facing the ocean they all depend on. "Puffins are a way in," says Schubel, who tries to help students understand the fragile ecosystem they themselves are part of.

Sue Schubel '84 and her daughter, Ayla, examine a laughing gull egg found on Eastern Egg Rock, an 11-acre island in Muscongus Bay off the coast of Maine that is managed by the National Audubon Society. Opposite, adult Atlantic puffins.

When she is finished with her day in Portland, Seabird Sue will load her puffin paraphernalia into her car and drive north, heading for home. She will return to her house at the top of the hill overlooking Hog Island and Muscongus Bay, where the last light will be fading from the sky, sweeping low across the shore and turning the water to pounded pewter. From here she can survey the world she loves--the island she helps care for and the waters beyond where the puffins and other seabirds she has worked so hard to help are nesting again. It is this place that she carries with her whenever she steps into a classroom. "It's hard to translate it for someone else," Schubel acknowledges, "but if you can give them a little glimpse of even one bird, if they can catch the sense of fascination and amazement, they start to get the idea that they can care about these birds and do something to help, wherever they are." And that is why Schubel tosses fluffy handmade seabirds around with schoolchildren and tells them her stories--of puffin chicks running from their burrows into the sea and of petrels singing their night music on a darkening island.~

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