Saturday, 9 February 2013

Exploring West Falkland (Feb. 9, Frithjof)

I am writing today’s blog on the ferry from Port Howard to New Haven, returning to East Falkland after a day and 2 nights in West Falkland, full of activities and experiences.
After a rich breakfast in the Port Howard Lodge, a historic metal-clad, wooden Falklands building (πιθανώς στοιχώμενο, η Αλεξάνδρα άκουσε παράξενα πράγματα αυτή τη νύχτα), we hit the dusty, bending road to the settlement of Dunnose Head on the west side of Port Philomel – a large natural inlet on the west side of West Falkland, where Skottsberg had found that mysterious Cladochroa around 110 years ago – and nobody had seen it ever since. West Falkland is even more sparsely populated and scenic than East Falkland. Thankfully, small dirt roads now connect all settlements, off-roading is no longer required but taking anything else than a 4WD over here still is not a good idea. The West Island has a very complex topography of mountain ranges, inlets, surrounding offshore islands and river systems. We passed the settlements of Chartres and Little Chartres (the latter is a lonely farm house with a barn and an aerogenerator) and, after around 2 ½ h we reached our much-sought destination. For Aldo, this clearly was a much-awaited moment for many years. He rushed to the intertidal and started searching, accompanied by Alexandra, while I got into my dry suit and started snorkelling in the 1-2 m shallow waters of this inlet. Within minutes, Aldo gave the victory sign – he had picked up something that matched Skottsberg’s historic drawing of Cladochroa. He showed it to Alexandra and myself, and we continued the hunt, picking up similar-looking things on the shore and in the shallow waters. Of course, only closer, microscopic inspection of the material back at SAERI in Stanley would tell us whether we had indeed in our hands what we were after.
The first and major objective of the long and expensive trip to West Falkland was met. We now drove back to the main road, and then to the twin settlements of Fox Bay East and Fox Bay West in the south of the West Island, taking fresh water samples from ponds and small rivers for Pieter’s oomycete isolation work on the way. Every sample was taken in a 15 ml Falcon tube, to which either sterile rice grains or hemp seeds were added as bait. We reached Fox Bay (I was wondering whether the name was a reminder of the now-extinct Warrah or Falkland Fox, hunted to extinction by the first farmers in the 19th century – Charles Darwin had still encountered these almost tame little predators). We did more snorkelling and intertidal collections in both Fox Bay East and Fox Bay West, and then drove back the long way to Port Howard. A huge dinner at the Lodge followed. I then retreated to my tent outside – the temperature was a lot milder than the previous night, but there was a howling storm – I needed ear plugs for being able to sleep! In the early morning hours, the gale subsided, a beautiful sunrise came up – I packed up the tent, loaded the car, we had an early breakfast and then drove onto the ferry. Alexandra and Aldo are catching up on some much-needed sleep while I am writing these lines and I am about to join them…
 One of the lonely roads of W Falkland

 Passage Islands off West Falkland

 Kays tent at Port Howard Lodge

 Alexandra and Aldo at Skottsbergs study site at NW Bay Pt Philomel

 Alexandra preparing oomycete isolates 

 Approaching NW Bay of Pt Philomel

 Fox Bay West 

 The Isthmus Nature Reserve West Falkland 

Fox Bay West

Fox Bay West

 Chartres River

Little Chartres

Uncontrolled peat fire

Pt Howard at dusk 

Alexandra trying out my dry suit 

Breakfast Pt Howard Lodge 

Historic telephone and exchange box Pt Howard Lodge 

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