Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mitlenatch Island

After hitting the Reifel Bird Sanctuary last weekend, I was reminded of a place I visited last summer.

I had never even heard of Mitlenatch Island until the day before I left to visit it. I was told by a local boater that it was like the Galapagos of the North. I’m not sure why but pictures of penguins and sea turtles came into mind – two things you don’t find in waters 30 minutes off the coast of Campbell River.

Mitlenatch means ‘calm water all around’ in the Coast Salish language. But the island was anything but calm. The noise from the birdlife was like a chaotic musical symphony. Gulls squawked, cormorants cawed, and there were hee-ha and whee sounds coming up from guillemots, oystercatchers, auklets, and other species of birds too numerous to count. We did count seven bald eagles, including three hatchlings. It was early summer and the tiny island was filled with newly born baby birds.

As we toured to the other side of the rock, the relentless roar and barking of the migrating sea lions joined in the chorus. I had never seen this many large lions on such a small space before. Needless to say, they were all jockeying for position, with many getting pushed back into the crashing waves.

Once on shore (just a little beyond the basking seals), we climbed over sun-bleached driftwood and were met by the park keepers. B.C. Parks has a program where volunteers can stay on the island for a week in exchange for maintaining trails and ensuring visitors don’t encroach on protected areas.

The island is very small but we were able to climb up to the peak to peer down to study the roosting birds from behind a lean-to. Then we meandered through a meadow filled with vibrant wildflowers with intriguing names like seablush, chocolate lilies, death camas, gumweed and prickly pear cactus. While keeping an eye out for resident snakes and mice I half expected Darwin himself to pop out from behind one of the few arbutus trees.

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