The Misty Isles will set sail for Mitlenatch Island May 26.

Spring is hatching on unique Mitlenatch Island

Skipper/naturalist Mike Moore and his wife Samantha will share a wealth of information and stories about this wildlife sanctuary

Hundreds of nesting seabirds, eagles, spring wildflowers and prickly pear cactus are some of the attractions for Cortes Island Museum’s first cruise of the season to Mitlenatch Island on Saturday, May 26, aboard the 43-foot gaff-rigged Misty Isles.

Massive Steller sea lions and smaller California sea lions make themselves heard during a brief stay on Mitlenatch Island in their spring migrations to northern breeding grounds.

Skipper/naturalist Mike Moore and his wife Samantha will share a wealth of information and stories about this wildlife sanctuary in the Salish Sea.  Walk meadows ablaze with death camas, Columbia and chocolate lilies plus sea blush, monkey flowers and field chickweed. Search rocky outcrops for prickly pear cactus growing in the warm, dry environment of Mitlenatch Island. Search for owl pellets as you hike island trails and beaches.  Watch territorial and nesting activities of many gulls, cormorants, pigeon guillemots and oyster catchers (black birds with pink gumboots and carrot beaks).

Slowly cruise in a zodiac around the shores of Mitlenatch to experience noisy seabird cliff rookeries, impressive Steller and California sea lions. “The young male sea lions congregate on the island at this time of year,” says Moore, “because they’re not welcome on the breeding grounds yet.”  Keep a lookout for eagles, river otters, dolphins and orcas.

Early Cortes settlers Mike and John Manson once owned and used this gem in the gulf to raise sheep and some cows free from wolf and cougar predation. Back then they rowed sheep back and forth, but for the calves they rowed out, it was a one way trip – they had to be butchered before removal from the island. Many early homestead families on both Cortes and Quadra Islands used Mitlenatch for group picnics that lasted all day long. Mitlenatch Island was designated as a provincial park in 1961 to protect the hundreds of wildfowl that nest there. The park, which is the largest bird sanctuary in the Strait of Georgia (now also known as the Salish Sea), is favoured for nesting because it’s protected from most predators. Another attraction is the dry, warm climate. Mitlenatch lies in the “rain shadow” of Vancouver Island mountains that make rain clouds drop more than half their moisture on Vancouver Island. As a result, Mitlenatch has an annual rainfall of only 75 cm (30 inches), compared to 153 cm in Campbell River.

Cruise participants will travel on the 8:30 a.m. ferry from Campbell River to Quadra Island to link with the 9:05 a.m. ferry from Heriot Bay to Cortes Island in time for a 10:30 a.m. departure from Cortes Bay.  On Cortes, free shuttle service is available between the ferry and Cortes Bay so leave your car in Heriot Bay. The fee for this day trip is $115 (tax included).  Bring a lunch, binoculars and spare shoes. Dress for the weather, including a hat, sunscreen and a windbreaker jacket. For more information on this and other Cortes Museum tours call Lynne Jordan at 250-935-6472 or e-mail: or leave a message at the Cortes Museum 250-935-6340.

Other Cortes Museum sponsored trips coming up include:  a Solstice dinner cruise to Okeover Inlet June 20; a low tide reef exploration off Hernando Island (new trip this year!) July 4; two-day visits to the waterfalls of Toba Inlet July 7-8 and July 28-29; Von Donop Inlet Mothership Kayaking trip (no experience necessary) July 12; Cassel Lake waterfall in Teakerne Arm July 19; around Maurelle Island Aug. 4; and Desolation Sound daytrips Aug. 10 and 22. Check our website for more details of summer cruises and coming events.