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!