From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn, Day 6
We were traveling last night until well after 9 p.m., so I decided to just go to bed (yes! I even got to bed earlier than hoped) and put my collections on the dryer in the morning.
At one point when I awoke in the night, it was like a flashback to last year; it rained almost all night, became cold, and the wind picked up. It now seems my reluctance to mention the weather sooner for possibility of jinxing us has proven true. Of course I fully understand that I have no influence over the weather, but the coincidence is nevertheless curious. Despite the weather (or maybe because of it!), I am anxious to get into the field.
Today we are at Caleta Coloane on the north shore of the Cloue Peninsula on Isla Hoste–approximately 55º06’S, 69º49’W. About five years ago I was at this very same site with John Engel and Bruce Allen, but back then I chose to collect along a steep waterfall while John and Bruce went to a wet boulder field below a glacier. On that trip I would give John any liverworts that I collected and he would turn over to me any mosses he picked up. On one occasion I found a liverwort, Phyllothallia, at Coloane that turned out to be the first recorded instance of the bryophyte south of the central Andes. Although I found it by chance beneath a ground cover of Gunnera magellanica, it allowed us to find it again in similar habitats. On the other hand, John collected for me two very rare and odd species of lantern mosses, Andreaea fuegiana and A. nitida. Both were described from the region, but were known from only a handful of collections, and none recent.
My primary goal in returning to this site was to re-find these two rarities. I tried to remember what John told me about the site where he found them; all I could recollect was that the main feature was rocks with water running over them. Well, when you’re collecting in the rain, like we were today, all the rocks have water running over them! Not to be discouraged, I just kept looking. With the constant rain and wind, I struggled simply to use my hand lens, and was soon forced to abandon the use of my eye glasses. Over an hour passed and I still hadn’t found the rare lantern mosses; I tried to stay optimistic. Finally I found a single small cushion in the splash zone of a small waterfall of what I thought must be one of the two. Thus encouraged, I headed toward a somewhat larger waterfall; here I found what I thought surely must be one of the species. But honestly, because of the water coming over the falls being blown all over me and my hand lens, it was impossible to identify anything definitively.
I headed back to our pick-up point satisfied with the morning’s collections. Blanka and I were the last to arrive. Everyone else had headed out early due to the inclement weather, but both Blanka and I agreed it was warmer, less windy (by far), and the rain was lighter (and hadn’t turned to sleet), and wondered how this group would have fared on last year’s trip. We were both dressed for the weather and were warm and dry inside our multi-layered field outfits.
The real excitement came when we returned to our ship (yes, lunch was great but that’s not what I’m talking about) and I had better light and better magnification. I found I had collected both of the sought-after lantern mosses! In addition I had managed to also collect a number of other interesting mosses, including fertile material of a hair-cap moss, Atrichopsis compressa, with indehiscent capsules. Today–like last year–I had to re-bag all my collections because the paper bags I had placed them in, in the field, were saturated and disintegrating. I was so excited about today’s collections and wanted to number them straight away, so I chose to stay aboard the ship rather than go out collecting in the afternoon (quality over quantity).
In the afternoon while I stayed behind on the ship, most of our group went into the field on Isla Gordon. I took advantage of the relative quiet to take a shower. A couple of days earlier I had been the first to try it out, and had been less than pleasantly surprised to have a cold shower, rather than the advertized hot. After communicating this to our group, most thought a shower could wait. The next day I asked the captain about it, he told me that the system has a hot water tank and I must have tried it while the tank was empty. Today, it was hot for a few minutes and then quickly became cold. It must be a small tank.
Tonight we have a three-hour trip to tomorrow’s site on the west end of Isla Hoste. The days are flying by all too quickly, just when the collecting is beginning to get really good.
Ed. note: NYBG scientist and Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck is currently on expedition to the islands off Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America, to study mosses and lichens. Follow his journeys on Plant Talk.
Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field: