Given the heavy grading work at the backend of this year, and the dodgy weather, I am having to call it on the collecting season. November has been a fairly poor month for collecting: if it wasn't raining (or snowing), the nicer days frustratingly coincided with days I had to be on campus.
But as I lay down my trusted tools in my move from labour to refreshment, I can look back on this year having been my absolute best. And, perhaps, much credit is due those reliable tools that have served me so well in breaking through hundreds of tons of rock. Of course, credit is mostly due my lovely partner Deb who not only added thousands of clicks to the car, but for being such an enthusiastic co-collector.
This year's trips included:
* 2 to Penn Dixie (Devonian)
* 2 to Brechin (Ordovician)
* 1 to Bowmanville (Ordovician)
* 1 to Collingwood area (Ordovician)
* 12+ to Arkona (Devonian)
* 30+ to my nearby honey hole (Devonian)
Many of those trips have reports posted here in the blog. It has also meant meeting plenty of new collecting friends with whom to break rock with. If that were not in itself fantastic, I also got into preparation courtesy of having purchased an air eraser and air scribe. I've upped my game considerably, turning a casual hobby into a true passion. It was not that long ago that I may have made a few short visits to Arkona and in my backyard with little more than a nail hammer and a wood chisel. Now, with the right tools, I carved out hundreds of feet of benches and cracked hundreds of tons of rock. The collection has grown by an order of magnitude.
I also purchased or was gifted several delightful pieces this year. Another aspect that has made this a banner year would be a surge of trilobites where 2017 added no fewer than 29 new species, a few of them very rare and not reliably reported in the literature.
Above is a snapshot of many of the new species in my display.
So, last year I made a "best of" post for each category. This year is going to be immensely difficult to make those choices as so many of them are deserving of the honour. But try I must.
Best trilobite of the year
Despite all the lovely ones I've purchased, received, and found - particularly from the Ordovician - I'm giving the nod to this lovely plate of three full Greenops widderensis. Certainly this species is not new to the collection, but the rarity of finding so many clustered together like this in a difficult matrix makes it worthy. My runners-up would be Mannopyge halli, and Isotelus, Ceraurus, and, well, all the other ones I found!
Honourable mention goes to this beauty, expertly prepped by Malcolm Thornley.
Best cephalopod of the year
It's a three-way tie. It could have been four if I included the the big nautiloid whoppers I found at Brechin. Clockwise from top left: a lovely Goniatite from Arkona, some lovely Jurassic ammonites from Roger, and an exquisitely pyritized nautiloid from the Widder shale.
Best PISCES of the year
Amidst some cool placoderm pieces, and some really neat Diplurus pieces from Tim, the prize this year goes to Deb and her huge chunk of placoderm armour belonging to Protitanichthys.
Best gastropod of the year
Plenty of contenders this year, including some nicely preserved Platyceras, and some rarer spired gastros from the Verulam Formation, but I'm settling on this long one from the Verulam for its size alone.
BEst bryozoan of the year
I always pick up interesting looking bryozoans, and this year saw quite a few. However, hands down, this Constellaria from the Verulam Fm will take the prize if only on account of its exceptional rarity in that formation.
Best ichnofossil of the year
I don't really get jazzed about ichnofossils, but this broom-headed one was so worth picking up that even Deb found one on our second trip to Brechin. This one is Phycodes ottawensis, and these are formed by worms burrowing from the same spot repeatedly taking different pathways in the muck.
best phyllocarid of the year
Another fantastic find by Deb at Arkona, a thick phyllocarid jaw. This would be our first.
best brachiopod of the year
No point making a decision. I've pulled quite a few nice brachs this year, but this smorgasbord of about 1,000 intact ones spanning 6 species from Penn Dixie will have to be the winner this year.
I'm begging off the best coral of the year, and a few other categories. I can say the fossil I collected that came from the farthest distance from home would be the Cretaceous oysters and sundry bits from Magoita Beach in Portugal.
But this year would not have been anywhere near as spectacular if it weren't for the people whose time, company, and generousity truly made it shine. Apart from Deb, I can certainly add to the roster of great fossil companions, Tim J., Malcolm T., Roger F., Jay W., Kevin B., Kevin K., Jason R., Ralph J., Marc H., Ron B., and others I may have neglected to mention.
Best year ever! And thanks to the visitors to this blog for reading. Perhaps more posts will be in the offing as winter time means being holed up indoors and engaging in some prep.
UPDATE: Malcolm just showed me a few bugs of mine and Deb's that he prepped. A true master. The left one is Ceraurus and the right one is a Greenops.
Today's special surprise was the arrival of some lower Devonian trilobites from Bolivia. Many of these are preserved in nodules, and so it is neat to keep the impression as well. Looking outside to see the new blanket of snow was a bit depressing, but there's nothing like a few trilobites to brighten the day.
From top to bottom, we have Malvinella buddeae, Eldredgeia eocryphaeus, and Eldredgeia venustus. The first one is rare, and the other two are fairly common - but not excessively so. These are found in the Belen Formation, way up in the La Paz region at an altitude of about 4000 ft. The seller I purchased these from seems to specialize in this region's fossils, and the prices were very reasonable. The E. venustus does have its tail tucked in behind, and from a side view looks like a slipper. I've added more detailed pictures in the trilobite gallery.
Pictured here is the very inviting forest path that leads to my little honey hole out behind my home. I have to say that this spot has treated me very well this year. Just as I think I've picked it clean and there are no new things to be seen, I get a surprise. No surprises this time, though.
Having spent four years coming back to this place, each year has presented something new. But it is perhaps in this last year that my finds from there have really been great. Back in 2013, I was shocked to find some Eldredgeops rana, but this year I've been able to be more systematic in identifying some of the imported fill by rock type, and direct my efforts accordingly. No fewer than three new trilobite specimens (all partials, sadly, but still interesting) have been logged into my collection: Anchiopsis anchiops, Mannopyge halli, and Trypaulites erinus.
(Pictured above: an apparent large, albeit incomplete, gastropod steinkern)
I must have picked over these rocks in the pit, hill, and surrounding area about 30-40 times this year - if only because it is conveniently just beyond my backyard. Rocks from the Dundee, Amherstburg, and Bois Blanc formations abound. Of course, there are hardly any larger rocks left to split so perhaps a good winter will weather out some promising rock for next season. I do secretly wish that more rock gets imported, but it has been a few years now.
(Pictured above: a few brachs, including some lovely vermillion-coloured Leptaena - a brachiopod that is fairly abundant in this area).
I have a soft spot for this location ever since I found some coral and a spirifer back in 2013. I had been walking the trails back there since 2010 or so every autumn, but finding those fossils rekindled a childhood passion of mine, and at a time when things were particularly very challenging in my life.
(Pictured above: more Leptaena)
How far I've come since, and as I've changed and grown, so too has the site itself. Every year it takes on a radically new appearance, with new exposures, new lines of undergrowth. When I started picking things over here, all I had was a rusty old nail hammer and a wood chisel. Today I have my arsenal of precision rock hammers, sledges, and cold chisels. With better tools, better knowledge, and a better eye, better specimens have been the happy result.
(Pictured above: trilobite pieces (cephalon fragment, pygidium fragments, thoracic fragment).
I've collected at locations that have far more diversity, fossil abundance, and more interesting specimens, but this collecting location is special to me. It is the place where it all began (or at least picked up where I left off in childhood). It is the place that provided me with respite during very bad times. A place of solace and surprise, situated where I am the happiest: in nature, among the rocks and trees.
This site has been exceedingly kind to me this year, and even if next year's finds may be minimal, it has been generous enough already. And although I may only come back with something of interest to me once out of every 4 or even 10 visits, it is still a place where I never feel the time spent was time wasted. And just when I least expect it, that there is really nothing to be found on a visit, it just takes one rock split to transform a casual visit into a trip to remember.
Recently, Ralph J., a Fossil Forum friend, had made a trip to Georgia to collect some fossils from the Conasauga Formation, which is Cambrian in age. After he had posted his finds from the trip, I expressed delight at the seeming abundance of trilobites in the mudstone-shale, and he very kindly offered to send me some of the trilobites and some matrix to split. I was absolutely floored with his generousity - and this was only exceeded by the size of the box. There will be enough for Deb and me to split for a while.
And none too soon, either! The forecast is calling for flurries this Friday, which hopefully does not prematurely bring closure to such a memorable 2017 collecting season. I am dimly holding out hope that there will be at least one day left where Malcolm and I can get out to Arkona... just one last kick at the can before the snows fly.
At the moment, I am completely buried under a lot of grading and other work, so this gift arriving in the mail was certainly a great respite. I have not yet had an opportunity to get at the matrix, but here is a four panel picture of the newly added species to my burgeoning collection, Aphelaspis brachyphasis.
The matrix itself has a kind of slick, smooth, almost velvety texture. It splits fairly easily, and has a nice olive and tan colour to it, some with a deep orange staining, sometimes yellow (a very colourful matrix!). This layer has virtually nothing else visible to the eye except for this species of trilobite, and more uncommonly small fragments of a very tiny agnostid trilobite that perhaps only a magnifying lens will be able to spot.
These guys can be pretty small. The biggest ones are about under an inch, with plenty of others barely a millimetre or so long. The preservation is new to me. The trilobites are replaced entirely by minerals and in-filled with a kind of mud, and so you may find more detail in the impression than in the positive.
I've made the attempt above to put one of the very tiny ones (~1.5 mm) under the digital microscope to show some of the diagnostic details. Not the best picture, but you get the idea. Once I find the time to go through the matrix, I may have some better examples to show - and even if not, these are welcome new specimens to the collection.
Stay tuned as I am expecting three species of trilobite from Bolivia, and eventually my air scribe to work on some of my previous finds in the hopes of discovering some surprises.