Mitlenatch Island appears to float in the middle distance at the top end of the Salish Seas, but step ashore at this marine park and you’re in a mini-paradise of bird calls and wildflowers. The best way to see this sanctuary is with longtime naturalist and raconteur Mike Moore aboard the motor/sailing vessel Misty Isles. The Cortes Island Museum offers two trips to Mitlenatch this season, a two-day cruise with an overnight stay at Twin Island Lodge May 13 and 14, and a day tour on June 10.
Over a thousand pairs of gulls nest on this small island in early summer, as do two kinds of cormorants, oyster catchers and eagles. Juvenile Steller and California sea lions wait out the spring on the island’s rocky south shore, near cliffs splashed in white guano from cormorant’s precarious nests. Every one of these creatures has a fascinating story of survival and adaptation, which Moore brings to life on a leisurely circumnavigation, followed by a hike through a wildflower meadow.
“This is the largest bird sanctuary in the Salish Sea,” says Moore, “a haven that’s protected from most—but not all—of these bird’s predators.” Part of the island’s allure is its micro-climate, adds Moore. “It’s in a rain shadow, so it gets about half the annual rainfall of Campbell River.” The mountains of the mainland and Vancouver Island draw the rain, leaving Mitlenatch to grow prickly pear cactuses that sport yellow blooms in late summer.
The wildflowers will be at their peak for the museum’s two-day trip in mid-May and the birds will be displaying territorial and courtship behaviours. A day on the island will be capped off by a stay at the historic Twin Island Lodge, near Cortes, built as a retreat in the 1930s. This is an exclusive feature of Misty Isles/Cortes Museum tours. “Participants will be wined, dined and accommodated in a style fit for royalty,” says Moore, “because one of the later owners was a German nobleman who had Queen Elizabeth II as a guest for several visits.”
The second of the Cortes Island Museum’s tours to Mitlenatch is a one-day cruise aboard the Misty Isles on June 10. The gulls and cormorants will be nesting and the Steller and California sea lions will be poised to leave. Participants will cruise the shore and walk the island’s trails for a close-up look at a nesting area, bordered by wild rose thickets and early summer blooms in the meadow.
The guide and skipper for these trips, Mike Moore, has decades of experience as a naturalist and mariner. He’s a lifelong student of marine biology, with a passion for human history too.
The departure point for both Mitlenatch trips is Cortes Island, with shuttles available to and from the island’s ferry. For more information call Cortes Island Museum at 250-935-6430 or check the Cortes Museum or Misty Isles Adventures websites.
The cost of the two-day trip, which includes meals and overnight accommodation is $400 (tax included) per person based on double occupancy or $430 per person with single occupancy. The day trip fee is $130 (tax included) per person.