Monday, January 25, 2016

Desert isle

South of Campbell River, the highway follows the shoreline to Oyster Bay, then veers inland. From here on south, access to the shore is via occasional roads through the forest to resort areas or parks. Keeping to these roads, I'd missed something important.

Saturday afternoon was sunny and warm; the tide was high, but going down. I took a path to the beach from the south end of Oyster Bay Park, and headed south along the shore, past the front walls of a resort, past a wide lawn with notices on the beach for guests of the next resort, heading for a bright spot where sunlight had managed to filter through the trees to a patch of beach.

The wind was up and the waves were choppy. Only two boats were in sight from here, one of them towing a barge laden with bright-labelled boxes.

Boats, barge, and Mitlenatch Island, 5 miles away.

Looking at my photos later, I zoomed in on that island, then searched for it on Google. It's not shown on the maps, but on Google Earth, there it is, in the middle of the Strait, highlighted separately from the water surrounding it. And there's a name: Mitlenatch Island. It's even a Provincial Park.

Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park is home to the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. Glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and black oystercatchers also return to Mitlenatch each spring to breed. All sedentary marine life, including abalones, scallops and sea cucumbers are fully protected within this zone. Some of the largest garter snakes in BC reside here. These snakes are frequently encountered along trails and in beach and tide pool areas, where they feed on small fish such as sculpins and blennies. This park is a favourite haul out for harbour seals, northern and California sea lions. The sea lions are generally present from late autumn to mid-May. River otters, killer whales and harbour porpoises are often sighted offshore. (Wikipedia)

Cormorants! Garter snakes! Sea lions! Rhinocerous auklets! Guillemots and porpoises and whales and sea cucumbers! And more!

Mitlenatch Island is home to the largest seabird nesting colony in the Strait of Georgia ... (BC Parks)

It's a dry island, which is why it shows up against the background of our coastal rain forests. It's in the Vancouver Island rain shadow, and gets about half the rainfall that we do in Campbell River, just a few miles away. It even has cacti!

Visit in May when the island’s meadows of spring wildflowers are in bloom, or in late May to July when the harvest brodia blooms and in the last half of June when the coastal cactus bloom. (BC Parks)

Most of the island is off-limits to visitors, but there are a few trails and a bird blind. Volunteer wardens stay on the island during the summer to ensure that people stay to the trails and don't harass the sea lions. Fishing off-shore is not permitted, nor is any sort of collecting, except for photos. And memories.

And it's accessible only by boat. The only local boat tour I can find starts from Cortes Island; to get there for a day trip this May, I have to take an early-morning ferry to Quadra Island, drive across the island, take a second ferry to Cortes Island, and take a shuttle across Cortes to Manson Bay, a trip that has to be repeated in reverse in the evening. Expensive and exhausting; but I've already pinned it to my calendar. This is a place I must see!


  1. Sounds like paradise! Can't wait to see your photo report of garter snakes hunting sculpins!

  2. I loved visiting Mittlenatch. The bird blind on the east side was a great place to watch the nesting gulls. Unfortunately we no longer have a dinghy for our boat so we can only view it from the water side. - Margy


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!