Saturday, December 28, 2019

Coast Reporter Article - Birders on Trans-Canada hike hang up their boots for winter

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Birders on Trans-Canada hike hang up their boots for winter

A pair of hikers with Sunshine Coast connections have completed the first leg of their walk across Canada to inspire people to protect birds and their habitats.

Sonya Richmond and her partner, Sean Morton, had hoped to make it to Toronto but after walking 3,000 kilometres across five provinces, starting at the easternmost point of Newfoundland last June, their journey froze in Rivière-du-Loup, Que.
By the second week of November, winter had arrived, bringing with it several inches of snow and plunging temperatures – a challenge for the pair, who slept in a tent most nights. “It was absolutely beautiful, but we did not have winter gear, so we decided to stop,” said Richmond, who spoke with Coast Reporter near her parents’ home in Davis Bay.

Now they must wait until the snow melts before resuming their hike, with the resolution of making it to Manitoba before the end of 2020.

Richmond said they fell short of their distance goal because of another important one: “A lot of the reason we were slower than we thought was because [of] our outreach.”

An ornithologist and GIS analyst with the charity Birds Canada, she and Morton sold their house in Ontario to make the cross-Canada trek along the 24,000-kilometre Great Trail, relying on donations and sponsorships. They are the first people to attempt the hike for a cause.

As they walked with the seasons, they traced the epic journeys so many migratory birds take through the Maritimes. Newfoundland’s boreal forests teamed with brightly coloured migratory warblers in late spring. They observed shorebirds feasting on tidal shrimps exposed on vast mudflats by some of the largest tides in the world as they passed through the Bay of Fundy in early summer. By the time they reached the shores of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, ducks, geese and other waterfowl were stopping to feed as they flew south. “Even though we’ve been to most of the Maritime provinces driving through, it just looks totally different when you walk,” said Richmond, who said as autumn set in, they were trekking 40 kilometres each day, walking into the evenings as daylight dwindled.

As they walked, they spread their message of the power of citizen science, and how simple actions, such as installing backyard feeders, can protect birds – messages that hit home for the people they met along the way, who spoke of troubling observations in their own backyards. “We heard the same story over and over. People would hear what we were doing and they would ask us, where have all the birds gone?”

“Our bird populations are just crashing,” said Richmond, citing a study published in Science in 2019 that described a “staggering” net loss of approximately three billion birds, or 30 per cent compared to 1970 populations.

“I’ve been surrounded by scientists and ecologists. We live and breathe this stuff every day, but people all across the Maritimes at least, are seeing it in real life and they’re willing to do something to help.”

Since June, Richmond and Morton have shared their message directly with at least 300 people, have given 15 talks at parks, universities and even at the popular outdoor retail chain Mountain Equipment Co-op. They stopped once a week to upload photos of the more than 154 species of birds they have identified, and they posted updates on social media. “It was completely worth it,” said Richmond, of the slower-than-expected pace and outreach efforts.

“Our hope is that once you start taking small steps you’re encouraged and inspired to keep doing more to help. You look at what’s there, it’s all fantastic, it’s beautiful, it’s completely worth saving, but you have to see it first.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Happy Holidays!!

Happy Holidays!

We would like to say thank you to everyone who supported our #hike4birds along The Great Trail in 2019 by following our journey, sharing our story, or providing encouragement or advice. Together we can inspire the next generation of nature lovers, birders, and hikers!

A special thank you to all the generous people who made a donation or purchased a t-shirt on our webpage, hosted us along the way, or made an in-kind contribution of food or gear. Without your kindness and generosity we wouldn't have made it as far or reached out to as many people as we did.

Thank you all for being part of our journey across the Maritimes! We look forward to seeing you on the trail in 2020!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Birds Canada Article: Reviewing the first year of the #hike4birds on The Great Trail!

Our First Five Months of Hiking for Birds Across Canada
By Dr. Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton

Sonya Richmond Photo: Sean Morton
Northern Shoveler/Sonya leading a bird walk Photos: Sean Morton
In June 2019, we sold our house, quit our jobs, and began walking 24,000 km across Canada along The Great Trail. Fewer people have completed this undertaking on foot than have gone to the moon. We will be the first to do so for a cause – and ours is to inspire people to help protect Canada’s birds and their habitats from coast to coast to coast.

With the support of Birds Canada and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund, we have connected with more people than anyone anticipated. After five months on the trail, we’ve trekked almost 3000 km across five provinces and shared our message with local, national, and international audiences through radio interviews and written articles. We’ve given talks hosted by nature groups, Parks Canada, universities, and MEC. We’ve spoken to hundreds of people on the trail and reached out online, publishing more blog entries, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts than we expected to. Thanks to all of you who have followed our journey so far and lent your support!

Our goal has been to reach out to communities across the country to help families and youth reconnect to nature through birding. We have suggested ways to turn online time into green time and encouraged people to become Citizen Scientists. We have shared strategies for engaging youth in nature organizations, raised awareness about the importance of protecting migratory birds, and gotten people back outdoors.

We’ve also been listening to other people’s stories along the way. What we’ve learned is that there are many “closet birders” out there. These people don’t identify as birders, but they have extensive knowledge of local birds, trends in these species’ numbers in their area, and a deep interest in nature. The most common question we’ve heard is: “Where have all the birds gone?” People are noticing what science has confirmed – that birds, from backyards in southern Canada to Canada’s Boreal Region and beyond, are disappearing at an alarming rate and need our continued protection. There is a huge willingness to help birds by adopting some of the simple, fun steps we’ve been advocating.

Having seen over 150 species of birds on our journey, it is challenging to pick a favorite. Some of the most memorable birds we’ve seen include Atlantic Puffins in Newfoundland, Piping Plovers in Cape Breton, a Great Horned Owl in Nova Scotia, a Northern Shoveler in Prince Edward Island, and Peregrine Falcons in New Brunswick.

Some of our favourite birding locations include Witless Bay, Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, and the Codroy Valley in Newfoundland. In Nova Scotia we enjoyed the Bras D’Or lake area, the tidal flats around Truro, and the salt marshes around Cole Harbour. The Harvey Moore Wildlife Management Area and the Borden-Carleton Important Bird Area were among our favorites for Prince Edward Island. In New Brunswick we enjoyed visiting the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, the Sackville Waterfowl Park, and the Irving Nature Park.

Our first season on the trail has been a success, and it hasn’t only been about birds. We’ve woken up amid a herd of Caribou, found Black Bears outside our tent, been followed by curious Moose, and encountered a rare Pine Marten on the trail. We scaled cliffs, wandered beaches, waded into the Atlantic Ocean, and explored tidal rivers around the Bay of Fundy.
In May 2020, we will continue our adventure, starting in Québec. We will hike back into the Boreal Forest, North America’s bird nursery. More exciting stories and species await us over the next three years and we hope you will follow along. See you on the trail!

Friday, November 22, 2019

ExplorersWeb Article: Trans-Canada Trail Duo Packs It in For Winter

Trans-Canada Trail Duo Packs It in For Winter











































































Photo: Sonya Richmond
Although Sonya Richmond and her partner Sean Morton no longer have a home to go home to — they sold their house to finance their three-year, 24,000km trek along the new Trans-Canada Trail — the 40-something couple has decided to find a warm hearth somewhere and resume hiking again in the spring.

In just over five months, Richmond, 42 and Morton, 45, covered almost 3,000km from Cape Spear, Newfoundland to Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. They have eked by on 20 dollars a day, thanks to a basic diet of oatmeal, peanut butter and rice and beans. But now, as winter sets in to eastern Canada, the budget-conscious hikers have found that their equipment is not up to the increasingly harsh conditions. Instead, they will hunker down, try to find paying work and resume their quest for sponsors.

Winter bush in Quebec. Photo: Sonya Richmond

“The challenges of keeping our food and water unfrozen, being unable to stop for breaks during the day without immediately freezing, making camp and cleaning up in the snow and subzero temperatures, and both beginning and ending each day in darkness are too much,” Richmond wrote in their blog.

They have still managed to average approximately 40km a day, despite just seven hours of ever-diminishing daylight, compounded with blizzards and high winds. 

For most of their trip, they tried to avoid busy highways in favour of trails and back roads. But winter conditions have caused authorities to close some of those paths to cyclists and hikers. The rural cafes and depanneurs (French for convenience stores) on which they depend for resupplies are also closed or close early in the winter months.

Their projected route. Photo: Sonya Richmond

They resume their adventure in spring, 2020. Next year, they hope to walk from Rivière-du-Loup all the way west to milder British Columbia, which they might be able to endure in late fall, and so finish the east-west portion of their trip. Then in summer 2021, they will cover the final, northern section of the Trans-Canada Trail.

Their progress can be found at

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Words of Wisdom and Advice from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick

Words of Wisdom and Advice from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick

Though a little late, we are nonetheless continuing our tradition of passing on the great advice and thought provoking words of wisdom made by people we met along The Great Trail which resonated with us  in the provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

1. All you need are the basic - food, water, shelter, family, friends, and faith - the rest is just for show

2. Life is simpler than you think, life is harder than you think

3. Trees are wonderful - they give you shade in the summer and break the wind in the winter

4. Trust and believe in those things that you have experienced yourself, seen yourself and done yourself

5. There are always rumours and they are rarely true 

6. Follow your dreams, no matter how large, how hard, or what others say

7. Learn to live with uncertainty, you can't control everything...

8. The bigger the goal and the better you do, the more people are going to disagree.  It isn’t a reason to quit, it’s a reason to keep going!

9. Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow, deal with today and figure out things as they come your way. 

10. In the face of challenges it is ok to cry, same as it is fine to be happy when you succeed 

  11. Never be afraid to fail, it is one of the most important ways you'll learn

12. You are stronger than you think, smarter than you know, and more capable than you ever realized


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Great Trail in New Brunswick

We crossed the Confederation Bridge from PEI to New Brunswick in a shuttle on Sept 22nd, wearing t-shirts and shorts.  After hiking 980 km of roads, rail-trails, and footpaths, we walked across the Quebec border on Nov 4th, just one day before the first snow fell and the temperatures hit -20c.  In between, we had quite an adventure!

If the system of pathways that make up the Great Trail in New Brunswick could be summarized in one word, it would be 'diverse'.  The trail took us through freshwater marshes, around the Bay of Fundy with its world famous 16 m tides, through pristine coastal wilderness, along large river systems, and over rolling, forested hills.  In sections it was a gravel rail-trail, in others a boardwalk manoeuvring through a waterfowl park, for a several strenuous days it became a coastal pathway, and eventually it led us to follow alongside the Saint John River northward.   In this truly bilingual province we also visited two large cities, many Acadian villages, several Aboriginal communities and reserves, and countless smaller towns.

We began our trek across New Brunswick, when the shuttle from PEI which took us over the iconic Confederation Bridge dropped us off at the Cape Jouriman Wildlife Center, where we stopped to explore.  This is a great place to go birding, learn about the natural and cultural history of the area, visit the lighthouse, walk the nature trails, explore the beach, and enjoy a fantastic view of the Confederation Bridge from atop the lookout tower.

From the border to the small but lively university town of Sackville, we walked the Marshes tail.  This rail trail took us through a largely undeveloped landscape featuring forested areas, wetlands, many picturesque rivers and bridges, and a few small communities. Deer, moose, and coyote prints were abundant along the trail bed, and although there were still quite a few downed trees across the trail from hurricane Dorian, it was an enjoyable hike.  It ended with a gorgeous section of boardwalk through the Sackville Waterfowl Park, which is also a fantastic spot to go birding.

The walk from Sackville to Moncton was along roads, some of which were very busy.  As we made our way through the rolling hills, the fields of blueberries were beginning to turn a bright red, and the fall colours were really starting to set the landscape aglow.

The trail brought us back to the Bay of Fundy in the community of Dorchester, which is home to Shep, the world's largest Semipalmated Plover!  There we also spent a night in a cell of a haunted jail that was built in 1875, and which is now a B&B.  We spent the evening relaxing and walking on the ocean floor with the owner's three lovely goats giving us memorable highlight.


As we continued west we walked past the modern and fully functional Dorchester Penitentiary, and then followed the road along the Bay of Fundy.  Mostly we walked through a pastoral landscape, with fields, small farms, barns, and houses dotting the rolling landscape.  We passed through several Acadian villages, and we could detect evidence of early Acadian occupation in the old dykes that were still visible in the farmed floodplains.  The green fields, red waters and mudflats of the bay, and steep, dark, forested hills in the background made for a beautiful walk along the Sentier de l'Etoile.

We had hoped to camp between Dorchester and Moncton, but as we approached the outskirts of Dieppe the road became very busy, and we found ourselves walking through private property where it was frequently declared ‘that there was no room for hikers or tents’ and then more densely populated neighborhoods.  In the end we walked into Dieppe, a distance of more than 50 km on the Trans Canada Trail, in one very, very long day.

Through Dieppe and Moncton the Great Trail follows the Riverfront Trail.  This well-used, wide, flat, crushed stone-dust municipal trail winds through neighborhoods, forest stands, over bridges, and then along a boardwalk on the beautiful shores of the Petitcodiac River.  As it traverses Moncton's waterfront along a tastefully landscaped park, the walkway offers an interesting view of the city skyline, and provides information on the cultural and natural history of the region through interpretive signs and various monuments.  

Heading out of Moncton we walked for about 10 km along a sidewalk beside what felt like a future city bypass.  The wide road was bordered with trees and forests, but there were signs for new housing developments all along the way.  When we reached Riverview we met up with the Dobson pathway.  

The Dobson Trail is a 58 km long footpath of variable conditions that runs from Riverview to the northern edge of Fundy National Park. It took us over rolling hills covered in gorgeous deciduous and mixed forests, along babbling brooks and rivers, and around beautiful marshes and lakes.  There were established wilderness campsites throughout, and we spent three lovely nights on this trail.  

The last part of the Dobson trail led us high up into the hills, where the Kent Wind Farm is located.  After passing among the many wind turbines, we had to divert to a nearby logging road when we lost the trail as a result of downed trees.  On our last day we ran into an active logging operation which rerouted the trail route, as well as a heavily hunted area filled with ATVers.  As a result, unable to access the northern portion of the Fundy National Park we ended up following a logging road into Alma past a beautiful covered bridge at Forty-five Creek.

While in the charming seaside town of Alma we visited the wharf and saw the fishing vessels sitting on the bottom of the Harbour during low tide, we walked on the sea floor when the ocean was out, we enjoyed the famous sticky buns from Kelly's Bakehouse, and we spent an evening at a kitchen party, learning about Myrtle 'Molly' Kool,
Canada's first female sea captain.

During this memorable evening of singing, dancing, music, cider, and re-enactments I got to play Molly Kool!


From Alma the Great Trail took us through the beautiful Fundy National Park, to the start of the Fundy Footpath.  We spent a night at the Chignecto Campground giving a presentation with the helps of Parks Canada staff near Alma before moving on to the Point Wolfe Campground.  From there it was a 12 km hike down the well groomed and maintained Goose River trail and a small connector to the zero kilometer marker of the Fundy Footpath.

The Fundy Footpath is a 47 km trail that takes hikers through pristine coastal wilderness.  It is a challenging hike, leading from sea level to elevations of 300 m and back down in a series of extremely steep ascents and descents.  There are several river crossings which need to be done at low tide.  Parts of the trail follow cliff edges high above the Atlantic, and other sections involve climbing and descending steep hills via a series of cable assisted ladders.  There are established wilderness campsites throughout, some of which are on beautiful beaches with fascinating geology. We spent four nights camping on this wild, rugged, and challenging trail.

The Fundy Footpath ends at the Big Salmon River Interpretive Center, which marks the beginning of the Fundy Parkway Trail.  This 10 km long trail is a wide, smooth, multi-use trail that can be hiked or biked. It offers views of the Atlantic, waterfalls, the flowerpot rock and other interesting geological formations, as well as access to beautiful sandy beaches and grassy picnic areas.  There is a road that parallels the trail, so many of the lookouts and points of interest can be reached by car or tour bus as well.

We walked the parkway on a rainy day, so there weren't many people out enjoying it.  When we reached the end we had another 10 km walk down the road to reach the seaside village of St. Martin's.  This beautiful little town boasts two covered bridges, as well as the picturesque sea caves which we were fortunate to take the time to enjoy and photograph.   Here we were fortunate to be able to rest for a couple of days at the cozy Not Your Average Hostel and were given a welcoming tour of the region and local Art Studio by our hosts!

From St. Martin's to Saint John we had just over 90 km of road walking.  The Great Trail took us up through rolling and mostly forested hills, which were ablaze with fall colours.  In the picturesque and prosperous riverside town of Hampton there were a few kilometers of lovely, forested municipal trail along the river.  
From there we walked along the Kennebecasis River valley, among hills ablaze with fall colours.  We took the quaint little cable ferry from Reeds Point to Quispamsis, and from there walked through urban neighborhoods into Rothesay, a suburb of Saint John.
As we approached the city we walked through Rockwood Park.  This hilly, forested, urban park offers more than 5 km of hiking and biking trails, as well as camping, chances to enjoy a beautiful lake in all seasons, a museum, and Lily's, a waterside restaurant offering delicious local food. At Lily’s we were treated to a wonderful lunch by the hosts, a break which we were delighted to accept and which we deeply enjoyed!
We followed the Great Trail along the waterfront, around the city of Saint John, and on to Grand Bay West, where it turned into a water trail.  After spending a few days relaxing, recharging, and exploring Saint John we took a bus north to Oromocto, around section where the TCT became a paddling route, where we continued on the terrestrial portion of the trail.
After so much road walking, we were delighted to find ourselves on a lovely rail trail that took us from Oromocto to Fredericton.  The forested trail was busy with other hikers, joggers, and bike riders who were also enjoying the beautiful fall sunshine. Within the city limits of the city of Fredericton the Trans Canada Trail took us past historical sites including the Historic Garrison and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, as well as into the beautiful downtown core.  Here we were hosted by a wonderful couple who have dedicated years toward the development of the Great Trail in the province of New Brunswick.  While staying with them we were fortunate to have the opportunity to give a talk at the University of New Brunswick hosted by the Kinesiology department and to explore the surrounding region.  

From Fredericton onward we followed the local waterways and majestic Saint John River northward toward the Quebec border.  Once again despite the general course of our adventure being from East to West, the route of the Great Trail was determined to take us either north or south en route.  Regardless, and steadfast to our chosen trail we continued onward from Fredericton to Woolastook, the Kings Landing and then onto the community of Nackawic, home of both the Big Axe Brewing company and the World’s Largest Axe!

Continuing onward into the frequently driving rains of the late fall we came to one of our largest challenges to date.  In the community of Meductic, road construction had led to the removal of the bridge and therefore the trail across the Eel River.   Unfortunately the nature of the construction, the slope of the landscape and depth of the Eel River meant that it would be impossible for us to simply ford the waterway.  In addition, the signed reroute of the pathway involved a more than 50 km diversion as walking was not allowed on the busy HWY 2.  


Thankfully our guests from Fredericton, TCT volunteers, were only a phone call away and they soon proposed helping us past the gap in the trail.  The result was that we were soon transported the 2 km down HWY 2 to the other side of the Eel River, enjoyed a lunch with our trail angles and got out of the cold rain for a few minutes!  The kindness of Eric and Gabrielle once again aided our trek in New Brunswick, transforming a moment of crisis into one of hope! 


As we progressed on from Meductic to Woodstock we trekked along the side of the local roadway which despite the colours of the trees and beauty of the waterway was empty.  Here in New Brunswick, as has happened across the nation, the expansion of the nearby Trans Canada highway had led to the virtual abandonment of concession and back-country routes in favour of the speed of the main artery through the province.  Yet given the noise of the local highway, and the speed which cars were travelling on it, neither of us was sure that the time saved was a worthwhile trade off for an appreciation of the landscapes and wildlife which one could view along the back-country road at a slower pace.  

This is a tale as old as the nation.  Again and again as we travel, we encounter historical plaques and stories of towns long lost to modernization.  Fishing communities in Newfoundland were relocated for provincial cost savings and efficiency.  Historical towns throughout the Maritime Provinces were abandoned with the development of the Trans National railway, while others similarly empty with the construction of the trans Canada highway a century later. 

From Woodstock to Hartland and onward to Grand Falls the Great Trail would depart the road and instead follow the route of one of the abandoned rail lines alongside the river.   Over the coming week we would travel to and through the communities of Florenceville, Bristol, Bath, Killburn, Perth-Andover, and into Grand Falls.   


Throughout this region, we were amazed by the local beauty, the kindness of the local residents, and the nearness of the state of Maine which we spent days mesmerized by.  During this time our conversations would often turn to comparisons of Canadian and American communities.  Perhaps more amazing than the geographic closeness of our two nations, is the fact that we enjoy (rarely considering) that for so long we have peacefully maintained this border for more than two centuries.  Certainly this is a testament to the security and stability we all enjoy as Canadians. 

As our time in New Brunswick came to an end, we ventured from Grand Falls to St. Leonard to Edmunston following along highway 144.  As the fall colours, now faded and diminished by the lateness of the season we crossed the city of Edmunston picking up the final section of The Great Trail in the province – Le Petit Témis, which we would follow to the Quebec border and then onward to the St. Lawrence River.  

With the seasons again changing and winter threatening we completed our fourth province and with it also finished our trek across Canada’s Maritime region! 

As we struck northward it was now a race to see how far we could get before the harsh winter temperatures of the Gaspe and Charlevoix regions of the province of Quebec settled in!