Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hiking for a cause, and what that means

We plan to spend the next three years hiking across Canada on the world's longest trail, The Great Trail.  We're doing it to promote bird conservation. Yes, we're hiking for a cause, but that might not mean what you think it does.  We aren't trying to tell anyone what to do.  Actually, we're mostly hoping to listen to other people's stories.  We want to find out why you all like to hike, how you relate to nature, and how you feel connected to birds.  There are lots of simple, fun ways to help birds and other wildlife, like becoming a citizen scientist.  Best of all, there are huge benefits to being involved, both on trail and off.  We'd like to share a few.

Why #Hike4Birds?

Everything is connected - land, water, weather, wildlife, birds ... and us.   We all need to find a way to live in the world sustainably.  That's hard.  We will not protect what we do not love, and we will not love what we do not understand.  So where do we begin?  Knowing your birds is a fantastic place to start, because they're everywhere, and they're super cool!  From kinky sex, to dance moves that'll have you laughing out loud, to an ultra-light physiology that'll make any thru-hiker jealous - birds have got it all.  They give us a fascinating window into the world of nature, they help us understand our connection to it, and they need our help.  That's why we're hiking for a cause, and why we
It's not for everyone, and that's totally cool

Hiking for a cause, Hike4Birds
In my experience, individual hikers tend to exist somewhere along a continuum.  On one end are competitive, athletic folks who enjoy physical challenges.  These intrepid individuals derive personal satisfaction from making their miles in the fastest, most efficient way possible.  On the other end are hikers with a slower, more relaxed pace.  These trekkers make frequent stops to socialize, enjoy the view, and watch wildlife.  If you're a speed demon this probably isn't for you, and that's okay.  But if you're like me, and keep your phone handy in case you spot a photogenic flower, waterfall, or critter on the trail, then hiking for nature can be a simple, fun, and rewarding experience that can bring your hike to the next level.

But if it is, here's what you can do

Making a difference to conservation while on trail can be as simple as posting to Facebook. All you need to do is download a free app for your phone and submit your observations of nature online.  If you love birds, flowers, or insects but don't know what most of them are called, that's okay!  With the iNaturalist App you can upload your photos and have an expert ID them for you.  There are also many free field guide Apps to help you learn about the nature you see.  One example is Merlin which helps beginners learn to ID birds.  If you're into birds, you can also join people from around the world who've entered millions of bird records through eBird. It's free, it's easy, and it doesn't weigh an ounce!
Hiking for a cause, Hike4Birds
A deeper connection to the trail

If you choose to hike for birds or nature, you'll pay more attention to what's around you.  Then you'll start to get curious.  Why are there so many bears in this section of trail?  Is that a frog, if so, is there water over there? Do animals use trails the same way we do?  If you're hiking the AT or PCT, you're under a flyway.  This means you might see large flocks of birds flying overhead in spring and fall.  In spring, some of those birds will be making their own NOBO migration to breed in the Boreal forest of Canada.  In fall some of those same birds will be returning SOBO to overwinter in the southern US or South America.  Being curious will help you read the landscape, understand how everything is related, and experience a deeper connection to the trail.

A way to bring that thru-hike home and survive the post-hike depression

Many of us get depressed after completing a long-distance hike.  This can make it really challenging to find ways to bring the energy, focus, and good intentions we found on trail back into our busy working lives.  Observing a species you saw on trail in your own backyard can help keep the trail experience alive.  Bird watching near home is a great way to share a tiny piece of your thru-hike with family and friends.  Or, you can join a local naturalist group and participate in group hikes to stay connected with other like-minded people while off trail.

It really does make a difference

By submitting your observations of birds and nature online you're helping scientists monitor wildlife populations across North America.  These observations help management agencies recognize population declines and identify areas where conservation efforts will be most effective.  Each year hundreds of millions of observations are submitted through Citizen Science projects by volunteers, amateur naturalists, and interested individuals.  Without these contributions our understanding of natural systems, wildlife populations, and the factors that affect them and us would be a fraction of what they are today.  These are some of the reasons we're hiking for a cause.

Hiking for birds and nature is a great way to get more out of your hike, but hiking for a cause greatly increases the necessary prep.  We are inviting people to 'Come Walk With Us' in the hopes we can connect people to nature through birding as we hike.   Our next entry will describe what we're doing to prepare for this.

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