From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn 2013, Day 12
The day breaks overcast and drizzly which is a sort of relief; at least now I know that some alien climate has not taken residence in Patagonia! Today is the first day we have to fix our own breakfast, which leads to a late start and only an hour and a half to collect at our first site, which, according to last night’s plan will be on the north shore highway. We now have to hope that tomorrow will prove better for ascending Pico de la Bandera.
It is raining only lightly when we head out, but soon the skies open and we drive through a steady rain all morning. Our first site is Vuelta de Perro, about 18 kilometers east of town. It is a very wet site with lots of downed logs. I had been here about 10 years ago and thought it would be a good place to take the group. Since I have been here before and collected extensively, I focus only on the small things, finding lichenicolous fungi and even a couple of fungi over bryophytes, all the while keeping an eye out for interesting mosses. The site proves a little disappointing when compared to our previous pristine sites. It has been heavily disturbed by tree cutting and grazing cattle. Plus, it’s our first day out in the rain.
Our next stop is a small roadside waterfall. This is another site where I have collected before and I chose to survey the moss mat right next to the beach. Almost all of us are quite happy at this site and wish we could have more time to collect here, but lunch is waiting for us back on the ship, and thus our time is short. Laura finds a hepatic (Lethocolea) that makes her so excited she and Blanka are already plotting how to return to this site again at another time.
I find the beach rich in Bryum species, the specialty of John. I think John is upset by the weather, despite how nice it has been compared to other years. I realize he lives in a desert, but I tell everyone in advance what to bring and what to expect. I suggest reading the blog from previous seasons to get an idea of the field conditions. However, after last year when I lost patience with a different member of our crew, I am doing my best to remain patient and civil. We’ll see how successful such efforts are! How, though, can I say nothing when Niels, Blanka and I find four species of Bryum between the planks of the dock while we are waiting around after lunch?
At lunch a different problem arises. The military has informed us that they do not allow tourists on Pictón, Nueva, and Lennox islands, places we are planning to visit in the upcoming week. So Ernesto tries to explain that we are investigators, not tourists. After visiting with them Ernesto sends a follow-up email. Now, the navy says they want a hard-copy letter, so Ernesto and Juan set to work on that. We have been told that we will get a decision tomorrow morning. Part of the issue is that some areas of these islands still contain landmines left over from the Beagle Channel conflict between Chile and Argentina. Needless to say, we are not interested in losing limbs, but we would like access to the mine-free portions of the islands. Time will tell.
After lunch a smaller group of us head west from Puerto Williams to a waterfall that Ernesto knows about. Almost as soon as we leave Puerto Williams the cloud cover breaks up and the afternoon turns beautiful. We make numerous stops for Blanka, Niels, and Paddy to jump out of the car to take pictures. Most are of views across the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia, and nothing seems too insignificant to capture–cows, horses, cow-coppiced shrubs, you name it. It is a lovely outing, the collecting is good and it really is a nice, scenic drive.
Ernesto had run into the cook of the restaurant where we are having dinner this evening while he was out last night. He mentioned to the chef how much Laura and I had enjoyed the food when we ate there the year before. As a treat for our group, he has decided to surprise us with a special dinner of crepes filled with spinach and walnuts, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce. What a treat! They even prepare for us a special dessert of walnut brownies with lemon sorbet and raspberry sauce.
Tomorrow we are scheduled to go up Pico de la Bandera, weather be damned. Fortunately, the forecast is good but we will surely be getting a late start in the morning. Blanka and Laura are going to run out to this morning’s waterfall at 8 a.m. to look for more great specimens and Ernesto has an appointment with the navy at 8:30. We will also need to pick up lunches at a local store which means it will surely be 11 a.m. before we can set off. Because of all the fieldwork yesterday, I process my specimens after dinner and it is midnight before I fall into my bunk.
Ed. note: NYBG scientist and Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck has just returned from his annual expedition to the islands off Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America, to study mosses and lichens. For the past two years he was able to file stories from the field, but this year’s locations proved so remote he was forced to wait until his return. We will be publishing them over the course of several days. Follow his journeys on Plant Talk.
Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field: