From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn, Day 12
January 31, 2012; Isla Gordon, Bahía Romanche, 54º57’S, 69º30’W
The engines started at 7 a.m. as we headed toward our morning collecting site, Ventisquero Alemania (ventisquero is an archaic Spanish term for “glacier,” and this one is located at approximately 54º53’S, 69º25’W). The weather seemed to want to remind us that we were in the sub-Arctic; it was cold and rainy. When we arrived, the weather caused some hesitation amongst our group about heading out, but in the end we all suited up and were soon on our way.
I had planned to collect at a site featuring large, moss-covered boulders and an open Nothofagus woodland that I had previously seen a photograph of, but I made a logistical error. When the Zodiac left me on the shore, I soon realized that I was not in the site I had seen in pictures, but that, rather, I was trapped on a steep, densely vegetated hill. Laura had gotten off the Zodiac with me and neither of us wanted to stay where we were. We returned to the beach and tried signaling for an early pick-up.
But sadly we could see that neither of the two Zodiacs had returned to the ship yet. So we waited on the gravel beach, and waited some more; the rain turned to snow and sleet. We hunkered down to wait. Finally one of the Zodiacs came by, picked us up, and took us to another forest. This forest was very different. It was dominated by Drimys winteri (canelo or winter’s bark) and was very open. The most exciting difference was that the forest floor was carpeted mostly with mosses, not slippery, slimy hepatics (say hallelujah!).
Although we found little of real interest, all the usual characters were present. After so many visits to the region, I find it easy to become jaded when I don’t find any really interesting species; I must fight against boredom. I can tell when I’m getting bored because the percentage of hepatics and lichens in my collection increases, and it certainly doesn’t help when the rain essentially makes my eye glasses and hand lens useless!
For the afternoon we returned to Bahía Romanche, this time as an intentional collecting site as opposed to as a source of water or place of shelter. We went to the very bottom of the bay, as far into Isla Gordon as the bay goes. Once again, the near continuous wind and rain forced us to hesitate before heading into the field.
I chose a flat area (leaving the steep hillsides to the youngsters) at the junction of a wetland and a southern beech forest, with a few small waterfalls cascading their way through the habitat. A small, relatively recent landslide offered an additional microhabitat. As soon as I hit the beach I realized this was a special spot and instantly, I started finding interesting mosses. I wondered if the hour and a half I had given myself (in order to be the first back to the ship, and thus the first to use the limited hot water to bathe) would be enough time.
I scrambled amid fallen tree trunks around the stream. Next I explored the small landslide with its large expanse of bare soil–an attractive habitat to early successional bryophytes. I soon realized this site was more treacherous than it seemed–unstable rocks underfoot kept sliding down the slope, trying to take me with them. However, with persistence and care, I made it to the top of the landslide, crossed over, and worked down the other side. I was rewarded with numerous interesting mosses. I did find, though, when I got back to the ship that I had lost a collection of what appeared to be a very interesting liverwort. Is there a message here for me to keep focused on mosses?
And not only did I find an interesting, inspiring collection site today, I was also still the first back to the ship, allowing me first access to a hot shower. At times there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good shower, especially in such a remote spot.
Tomorrow we’re scheduled to head to the Pía Fiord and glacier. Can fieldwork get any better?!
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: