First Year on the Great Trail in Review

For us, 2019 began in an ordinary enough way, but as spring approached we gave up our house, donated most of our possessions, left the desk job behind, and embarked on a 4-year hike across Canada on the Great Trail. We started our adventures with a 650 km “warm up” hike across Portugal, which helped us train both mentally and physically for our trek across Canada. To read more about that adventure, and some of the birds we saw along the way, please click here.

Black-winged Stilt
White Stork

Since leaving Cape Spear, Newfoundland on 1 June 2019 we hiked just over 3,000 km on the Great Trail, reaching Riviere-du-Loup, QC on 10 November, two days after the first snow of winter fell.

In between we were screeched in and kissed a cod, stood on the spot where two continents collided, watched a tidal bore and experienced the highest tides in the world, survived two tropical storms and a category 1 hurricane, walked on the ocean floor with goats, touched some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet, participated in an historical re-enactment, and I became a member of the Explorer’s Club.

All this we did in an effort to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds, and especially youth, to get outside, be curious, explore, and re-connect with nature through birding. We did our best to spread a message of hope - sharing six simple steps we can all take that will help not only the birds in our own backyards, but those who breed in the Boreal and overwinter in the south as well. We encouraged people to join the vibrant and vital community of Citizen Scientists who contribute their observations of nature to monitoring programs that help us protect our birds and other wildlife.

Overall, we shared our message with more than 300 people we met in communities we visited along the trail, gave fifteen presentations and four bird walks hosted by naturalist groups, Parks Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and three universities. Our story was shared by the CBC in 12 radio interviews, and by local, national, and international media outlets in 54 written articles. We took 139,000 photos and shared our experiences in 414 Instagram posts and 138 blog entries.

And what an experience it was. Seeing caribou, black bears, moose, beaver, rabbits and Arctic hares, a rare pine martin, and over 150 species of birds was a real treat. To see the 'complete' list of bird species from our #hike4birds along sections of the Great Trail in the Maritime provinces, Ontario, and British Columbia please watch the short video below (for the full 'Big Year' experience, turn your volume on!).
Experiencing the wild, rugged coast of the Atlantic, the open bogs and fens, and the mossy beauty of the Boreal forest in Newfoundland, the pastoral landscapes and rolling hills of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the expansive Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world, the rich red soils and beaches of Prince Edward Island, and the forested hills and lakes of Quebec was a real privilege. The wild beauty of Canada’s natural landscapes and its wildlife are stunning, and we hope we’ve inspired a few more people to fall in love with them, and to join the tireless efforts of volunteers, conservation groups, NGOs, and governments to help protect them.

What have we learned from our first year on the trail? First and foremost, that people are incredibly kind, generous, and caring. We were frequently left humbled by and enormously grateful for the help and random acts of kindness we received from people we’d never met before. We were also amazed by the stories and experiences people freely shared with us along the way, and we were grateful for the opportunity to listen. People across the Maritimes have been noticing imbalances in nature, and they’ve been seeing fewer birds and fewer species at their bird feeders than they did 40 years ago. They are deeply concerned about this and what it means, and eager to learn how they can help. This attitude of caring and generosity in the non-scientific community gives us hope for the future. Science is telling us that 3 billion birds have gone missing from North America since the 1960’s, but I think that more than the facts, it is our own observations of this decline that will spur us to take the steps necessary to bring back our birds.

As Canadians we are blessed with wilderness, natural resources, and open space, and we have an opportunity to make a huge difference to the whole planet if we choose to protect and use them wisely. We ended our first year on the Great Trail hopeful that we can rise to this enormous challenge.

We would like to thank everyone who joined us on our journey across the Maritimes last year, and invite you all to 'Come Walk With Us' again in 2020. As soon as we can do so in a socially responsible, safe, and legal manner we will begin our hike across Quebec and Ontario. We look forward to another season of exploration, discovery, learning, and sharing.
See you on the trail!

Remember to follow our entire adventure here :