Recently returned from the biannual quarry trip in Bowmanville, Ontario. Overall, I didn’t do too badly, but I also didn’t come away with the great spoils one dreams of finding either. Traditionally, the trips take place in May and October, but a change in management shifted the spring visit schedule, and so early June was our date. The new quarry manager is fantastic and shows a keen interest in what we get up to. Just as long as everyone abides by safety protocols, we will continue to benefit from this incredible arrangement.
Here is our wrecking crew:
Someone in our crew made one of the most significant finds at this quarry. Sadly, that someone wasn’t me! But do have a look at this phenomenal mass mortality slab of 20+ Ceraurus — zoom in and count them. This is going to look amazing once it is fully prepared.
Another of our crew found this massive, eye-watering nautiloid:
My own finds were fairly modest. As the quarry was operating, we had some restrictions on where we could go, and so much of the day was spent on level 4. There are six levels in this vast quarry. The rock in the bottom five is Cobourg/Lindsay and Verulam Formations, and pretty hard. Isotelus bits dominate, while full specimens are a bit harder to find. There are over 20 species of trilobite in the Hillier Member, but most of them are rare. The more common trilobites are Isotelus “mafritzae”, Flexicalymene croneisi, Ceraurus sp.
My trip-maker was this Flexicalymene croneisi. As they more commonly come out as rollers, finding a prone example is certainly good luck. This was in a block the size of a small car. I chiseled out the layer, but the rock was still a good 150 pounds and I am grateful to one of our collectors for taking the time to saw it down for me.
Isotelus pieces could sometimes be quite large. Here is a busted pygidium with my one inch chisel end to indicate scale. A complete specimen of one of these would be a museum piece, for sure.
Other partials of note. I keep these for trades:
Isotelus juveniles. The one may or may not be complete in the rock, and the other is nicely inflated although missing some shell from blast or weathering damage. The latter was found just sitting in a bit of mud.
Plenty of gastropod steinkerns to be found, too:
Didn't come away with any complete Ceraurus, but I held on to these partials:
Not quite sure about this one yet. It might be a Bumastus, but it will need to get some treatment in my lab to be sure.
Even if I had gone away without finding anything, I still would not have left empty-handed. A trade with a good collecting friend of mine means I’ll have some fun preps in my future. First up is a pair of Flexicalymene senaria prones from Brechin, Ontario:
A buried Ceraurus from Brechin. The right pygidial spine may or may not be there:
A complete and enrolled Calyptaulax, also from Brechin.
Two prone Gravicalymene from the Montreal area. A new species for me.
No prep required on this one -- positive and negative impression of Aulacopleura konincki from the Czech Republic.
Overall, not my greatest outing, but also not a skunked one either. It is a lot about luck here, and dividing the time trying to cover a lot of ground searching the blast piles and splitting. Scrambling over those piles is not easy as you want to ensure good footing — not always easy on very irregular surfaces, some of which can be a bit treacherous. It’s not the easiest material to work with, but rarely is anything good easy — it is likely the first rule of advanced fossil collecting and preparation!
I'm chomping at the bit to get to preparation of some of these finds, but it will have to wait until I'm done my current task on a large placoderm bone/trunk shield.
Before my teaching duties resume tomorrow, I was able to squeeze a few more preps in the last couple of days. Nothing significant, but certainly learning moments for me as I better refine my nascent skills.
Already, I can count a few preparation bouts that turned out fairly well: an Illaenus sinuatus, Asaphus lepidurus, Flexicalymene croneisi, and the Flexicalymene senaria / Fusispira nobilis association. So far, so good, and it seems the normal state of things is to be covered in a fine coating of dolomite!
I probed other finds as well to see if there were other things there, and even popped out a headless Thaleops sp. from Bowmanville. Working with sometimes less than ideal equipment can be its own challenge, but I manage. There are still inefficiencies in my preparation "style" whereby it will take me twice or three times as long to complete a specimen than it would a more seasoned professional preparator with a wider array of tools.
So my task queue has been shortening, but by no means at the point where the lab will be going idle for the rest of winter. My next task was to "fill in a gap" in my "prepertoire": restoration. My first attempt was a mixed result on an Isotelus "mafritzae" back in November that has since been finished but I have been remiss in posting said result. This second attempt would be making use of Milliput again, but on a smaller and more expendable trilobite, the commonly found Eldredgeops rana from Penn Dixie. I've got loads of these in just about every orientation.
This bug was never going to make the cover of Trilobite Vogue. It is twisted with tons of crush damage to the glabella and the right side. For added "character," it is also missing a lot of shell. For preparators, this would be the kind of example one would find in a box of rejects to be harvested for parts.
At this point, a bit of scribing around and blasting followed by applying a good glob of Milliput. Some carving and let to cure for a day.
And the last two stages of the process. If you're wondering, the genal area of the cephalon is largely tucked underneath at an angle (super fun to prep - not!). As far as a clean restoration attempt, it is a pretty obvious attempt (but in certain lighting conditions it is a bit tougher to tell). In my weak defense, I don't have tiny tools or tiny fingers to do this kind of detail work. What this needs is a a pin-sized sander to grind and smooth down the transition between the restored area and the original shell. The pygidium itself is a real mess. But, hey, this was already consigned to the chuck-it bucket anyway, so may as well take the opportunity to practice on a piece that I could royally botch.
An incomplete Leviceraurus mammilloides that Deb found in October in Bowmanville. I may have screwed up in an earlier scribing attempt, not figuring that the tail spines would be sitting on top of the bug's plane, so all but the stubs vanished. It was already missing the left genal and part of the right genal, as well as the right eye that I could not save from the impression side, sadly. But it looks a lot crisper now that I've taken the matrix down on all sides and cleared up some of the inter-pleural gunk on this "zipper bug."
While I had the compressor running, why not do a quick blast of this long-tipped Mucrospirifer thedforensis? They clean up fairly easily, but are usually just a waste of dolomite and time.
And these are teed up for their time at the bench: four enrolled Greenops widderensis (one almost completely pyritized) that will be no picnic to prep. The goal with these will be to expose the other side and have them appear as if "draped" over the rock. These are incredibly delicate and flaky, so having at least four on hand to get it right is a good thing as I anticipate at least a few catastrophes with these ones!
Unless by dint of some miracle the snows melt away, I think I'll have to call the season. This year has had its highlights and its challenges, and so I would class it as mixed in terms of collecting success compared to 2017. There were some notable challenges this year:
* Late spring and early winter definitely truncated the season.
* An overly hot July and rainy August + scheduling conflicts meant less trips
* My backyard honey hole is pretty much tapped out
* A premium Ordovician collecting site was shuttered to collectors this year
Trilobite collecting diversity was a bit low. Whereas last year I had managed to collect 14 new species, this year's total was only 4. The surge in species acquisitions was mostly supplied through purchases and trades.
Of the trips made this year, a roundup:
* 10 trips to the backyard honey hole with one exceptional find
* A combined 6 days at Penn Dixie (late April, early October)
* My first trip to Deep Springs Road (late April)
* 2 trips to Bowmanville (May and October)
* A combined 15 or so days in the Arkona area
Due to a lack of more local viable sites this year, it meant many of us had to fall back on focusing our efforts on the Widder beds near Arkona, and we managed to excavate extensively this year. The finds were quite good (numerous full Greenops widderensis, placoderm plates, pyritized cephalopods), but somewhat repetitive.
Serious collectors up here in Canada are a little like squirrels. We try to collect as much material as possible for preparation over the winter. Pictured below is 4 of about 5 or so beer flats of material for preparation.
There is more than what is pictured here, but it isn't preparation riches.
Two new areas of focus certainly mark the year. The first has been in the gradual improvement to both my preparation tools/area and skills.
2018 saw the inclusion of that handy trolley, the manifold block for the air tools, a blast chamber my fossil comrade Malcolm made for me, a shop vac, and a new sturdy stool (previously, it was a too-low kitchen chair where the seat was propped up by boxes of rocks with a cushion atop it -- hardly comfortable or convenient). Other stuff include the usual tools of the trade (not all pictured): scrapers, blast media, glues, blades, brushes of all sizes, portable cases, etc. I also now have a nice display cabinet for the trilobites in the living room.
The second area of focus has been extensive reading and research. As I make the transition from "weekend warrior" style fossil hobbyist to something more substantive, I have been consuming a large volume of academic literature on trilobites -- everything from studies on Isoteline hypostome function, biostratigraphy, ecdysis patterns, pathologies and predation, provincial faunalism, eye-blindness trends in evolutionary morphology, microsculpture variation, etc. I also managed to read through the entirety of the trilo-bible, "Treatise O" (the revised Kaesler volume of 1997, sadly not yet including the much-needed two other volumes to round out the rest of the taxonomic Orders). Courtesy of a trilobite worker's kind textual gifts and raiding my own university library, I am effectively training myself to be a subject matter expert on all things trilobite.
IN FOcus: Arkona
Before and after: excavation area #1 (January - October). End of season image does not do much justice to the work done as a lot of debris is already burying the work.
I have been tardy in photographing all the more recent finds from Arkona since my last post about it back in July or August, but there were a few more trips made where I made mostly similar finds as in previous trips this year. Excavation work was extensive this season (and, as I'm the human backhoe, my bar for what I consider extensive is fairly high!). Last season's work became entirely buried by several metres of overburden and debris after the usual processes of winter and the fall of the erosion-resistant widow-makers higher up in the Widder.
Effectively, we had to start from scratch. Pictured above was our first major multi-day foray to get a bite into the cliff from which we could clear out debris and extend benches. It took some doing to locate the productive trilobite layer given that the overburden was obscuring the visible facies, meaning we were flying a bit blind. At the point pictured above, we're still a bit high in the formation by about 1-1.5 metres. Not a bad guess, though, and we were able to work it down and across throughout the season, managing the usual issues of cross-bedding and complicated interlocking of the Widder.
The difference a month makes. In May, Malcolm unlocking new areas. In June from the same vantage point, during Roger's annual visit to Canada, the aftermath of much more removal. We finally hit pay dirt as some remarkable finds were being made at this point after about 7 combined days of clearing and slab hauling.
By the end of spring and into early summer, excavation site #1 is well over 2 metres high, 1-1.5 metres deep, and 10+ metres wide.
Many of us contributed time and muscle to dig this out, with most (solo) visits done by me given that I live the closest to the area and have more ready access. About 12 of us hammered away at this, with a dedicated core of about half of us making repeat visits. By summer, our first excavation was pretty much tapped out unless we wanted to repeat the long clearing process to dig in deeper, which would have meant having to work from the top. We then struck a new claim nearby to the east of the same exposure.
Excavation area #2 was a bit thinner on trilobite pulses. You can see the first area to the far left of Greg.
The slope below the excavation is littered with splits from previous visits. I was able to unlock everything to the right of Greg.
The extent of excavation area #2 just won't fit in a single photo. On this final day, I was able to clear out over 15+ metres to the east. Below the excavation, you can see the massive blocks of the encrinal Hungry Hollow Member. The Widder begins just atop of that and extends to the root of the trees above. The Widder is a strange (and sometimes frustrating) formation where certain faunal intervals repeat, including very dense brachiopod limestone, mushy shale, fossil-poor nodular calcareous shales, and stuff that just weathers to chips and nothingness with poor preservation due to underground water runoff.
In all, it was a substantive amount of focused work to get the site productive again, although I fully expect it to be completely buried by next spring, when the process will have to be started from scratch yet again.
A mostly pyritized and enrolled Greenops widderensis found on my very last trip to Arkona. I have a few rollers to prepare this winter, and such configuration does not lend itself to just basic preparation skills.
FINDS OF THE YEAR
As stated, collecting opportunities were not as plentiful this year due to site closures, weather, and scheduling conflicts. And, of course, the occasional injuries I would sustain from various physical activities. This year, rather than post my best according to taxonomy, some highlights of what made the year special. I am only including here the stuff that was collected, not purchased or acquired as gifts and trades.
Perhaps among my most scientifically significant finds would be this fragmentary cephalic fringe from Odontocephalus sp. found in the imported low-mid Devonian fill (Amherstberg - Bois Blanc - Dundee formations) of my backyard spot. Only a handful of fragments have been reported in the literature in terms of Ontario of a species that is more common in New York deposits. The last significant find of said fragments may be Stauffer's in 1915.
Not just one, but two examples of a new species for me from Bowmanville: Levicerarurus mammilloides. Specimen on the left was prepared by Kevin B., and I have the on the right in my preparation queue (the right eye is in the impression). This is an uncommon cheirurid initially identified by Bill Hessin in 1988, and is restricted to Bowmanville (Hiller Member of the Cobourg Formation). The first one was find in the May trip, and the second in the October trip.
Just a few samples of some placoderm pieces, some of which may be new to science (I still need to deposit them to the ROM along with previous years' finds). The middle one is certainly not new, but a typical placoderm armour plate from Protitanichthys.
This was more a bucket-list item for me. It took three trips to Bowmanville, but I finally found a full Isotelus mafritzae. This one is morph type 'A' due to the presence of the genal spine. I'm still in the process of preparing it, and will be restoring some missing shell. It is only slightly above average size for the species at almost perfectly 100 mm (sag.). I've not seen any specimens that also present such distinct muscle attachment scars on the axis.
Initially just a Greenops widderensis threesome, my friend Kevin's prep skills on my early summer Arkona find produced the surprise of a fourth one. All are enrolled in this gregarious assemblage. As these are body fossils rather than moults, it is likely they enrolled in response to a sudden catastrophic mudslide that effectively buried and smothered them.
Of the four new trilobite species found this year, this would be a short list:
* Odontocephalus sp. (?selenurus) - My thanks to both Scott M. and Dave Rudkin for confirming the ID.
* Leviceraurus mammilloides
* Thaleops sp.
* Flexicalymene croneisi
I was fortunate this year to make new field friends courtesy of their visits to my collecting localities, or to theirs. I was able to meet several new people from The Fossil Forum in person, and many others who are not on the Forum. I made new friends, and cultivated existing ones. In a niche passion such as ours, camaraderie is quickly established (and it helps that we can talk shop without our interlocutors becoming glaze-eyed!).
In the year since I took on a more serious approach to fossil preparation with specialized equipment, I've seen marked improvement in my skills, and I've had an embarrassment of riches in terms of getting guidance from veteran preparators. Some highlights of this year from my "lab":
Although the season has now dictated that I must down collecting tools, it means picking up the preparation tools while dreaming of what new and exciting opportunities for collecting may be in the offing for 2019.
I am reminded of one of Charles Southworth's statements about February, when we stop reminiscing about the collecting season that we've just had and start thinking about the season to come.
Looking ahead to 2019, there are already some new potential opportunities in central New York, in Ontario, and possibly even some digging when I visit Germany next summer. I am also hopeful that some of the sites that have been removed from our list this year will be available next year.
This blog will also not be taking a hiatus just because snow blankets the sites; I will be updating periodically as I acquire new specimens via purchase, and tackle my preparation piles. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
Had a pretty good time at the biannual collecting event in Bowmanville (east of Toronto). Although the first half was a complete and frustrating bust, the second half was when our luck turned. I've some prep work to do, but some field fresh finds should do for now.
Here's our crew. It seems that ever more people are coming out to this event. The quarry is so vast (six levels), that even with this many collectors poring over the blast piles there is plenty of space and opportunity to make some lovely finds. It's also nice to talk shop with other fossil-hounds. The main attraction are trilobites, and particularly large Isotelus.
Finding a complete Isotelus pretty much necessitates scanning and splitting through a lot of rock that are filled with moulted partials, some of which can be quite large. Pictured above is a few of the larger partials I took home, and one can imagine how big they might have been complete. And this is nowhere near as big as these can get.
Midway through the day, our luck started to turn. Pictured here is a Leviceraurus mammiloides of some significant size. Although the left genal spine is missing, the right eye is in the impression side, and I can prep out the pygidium to expose the long spines.
A not so great Ceraurus. As an added thrill, they can also be quite flaky. I can use this one for prep practice. The cephalon and thorax should be relatively complete.
Poorly lit photo, but I'll retake it once I give this one a quick blast with the air eraser. A fully intact, perfectly round and enrolled Flexicalymene croneisi -- a new species in my collection. You just have to love the duck-faced look of these.
Possibly a Thaleops on the left, and a Flexi on the right. Both obviously require some prep.
What I really came for: Isotelus! This being my third trip to Bowmanville, I had never found a complete one. This one has its head tucked into the matrix, so there is a chance the eyes are intact. In most cases (when the bug is exposed), the eyes are sheared off from blast damage or weathering. On the right was a small consolation specimen I picked up in case I didn't find a full one.
But wait, there's more! Well, not so much more in terms of trilobites (I have a few others I haven't added here yet). This big nautiloid chunk was worth taking home.
It's always good to break rock with good folks. It is always a great pleasure to meet up with Kevin B. with whom I've had collecting adventures. A professional preparator by trade and trilobitologist, I had entrusted him with a very delicate and challenging preparation job of three notoriously thin-skinned, enrolled Greenops widderensis from Arkona. The genal spines and lappets were flying. In the process of prep, Kevin found a fourth one on the plate. This is incredible and painstaking work. Here are a few other closeup images:
So, in all, a great time in the Lindsay Formation. And now the prep season begins...
And this is where this fantastic, whirlwind, whistle-stop tour comes to an end: at the St Marys Cement quarry in Bowmanville. This quarry is massive, and it only opens up to collectors once or twice a year - and in that case, only to collectors who are part of a recognized club (and so Deb and I are new members of the Scarborough gem and mineral club). Safety is paramount at any quarry, and this one is no exception. Full safety gear is just the minimum, for there are plenty of other safety policies we are obliged to follow. We all assiduously follow all the rules as we want to maintain goodwill with the quarry owner. Violating safety is not only dumb and dangerous, but it risks collectors being entirely shut out from there forever.
And so we began gathering in the parking lot around 8 am. The quarry is known for producing a lot of Isotelus and Pseudogygites trilobites. The workers see some of these big creatures going up the conveyor to be crushed to make cement and call them "turtles." And these trilobites can get pretty massive.
This is how my day started. We had planned on just driving up to a hotel in Bowmanville, but they were all booked up. The one time I didn't book in advance since I figured, heck, it's Bowmanville... How hard could it be to find a place for the night? Famous last words! Fortunately, the kind staff at the local hotel called around and we got a place just 14 km up the road in Oshawa. The picture above is a brand new day as we are leaving the hotel to join our collecting comrades at the quarry.
This is our crew eagerly awaiting entry. Our trip leader, Kevin, said that this must have been the biggest turnout for a day at Bowmanville. Weather may also have something to do with it: usually without fail the trip occurs when it is cold, rainy, or both. On this day, it was warm and sunny.
This is a serious quarry. That truck on the right has tires taller than me!
Once we signed our forms and had the safety talk from the quarry foreman, we formed a convoy of cars and entered the quarry. This quarry is so large that you actually do have to drive from one blast pile to the next. Many of us started at level 3. Those piles aren't tiny, and you are scrambling up piles of rock that can in some cases be the size of small apartment buildings.
Yours truly giving closer inspection at a low-lying pile. Scale is tough to make out in this picture, but that wall in the background is probably about 300 or so metres away. The "trick" at this quarry is not to stay in one place to split rock, but to cover a lot of ground. About three of our crew have rock saws, and so what you do when you find a great specimen in some car-sized slab of rock is to mark it with tape so that at the end of the day the guys with saws can cut it out for you.
My first find of the day: a beat up Flexicalymene. The stratigraphy of the quarry has a lot to offer. At the very bottom is the Verulam Formation (the dominant unit at Brechin), and over top that in levels 2-3 is the Lindsay Formation. At the very top is the Collingwood Member with rich black shales that are easy to split.
The Isotelus trilobites here are huge. Sadly, you mostly encounter fragments. This piece here would have belonged to a critter at least 14 or more inches long.
Massive genal spine, likely from an Isotelus mafritzae.
Someone got to this one before I did! That lucky collector hopefully got this one cut out of the rock. It looks like an intact Isotelus roller. Apart from some blast/quarry damage, it is likely complete.
Another early part of the day find, a partial Isotelus mafritzae. It is sadly a common feature that the eyes get busted off. I don't want to give the impression that the collecting was as simple as stumbling over thousands of this lovely fossils: you could scan quite literally hundreds of tons of rock and find very little beyond occasional fragments. Apart from some occasional brachiopods or crinoid stems, there isn't a lot of diversity in these rocks, so it is pretty much trilobite or bust! It's also rough going... I was having to scramble over enormous building-sized piles of rock with a bucket and heavy backpack on uneven slabs, so not so easy as it looks!
Some of our more seasoned veteran collectors didn't make out so well this time around. One found a few mostly complete Ceraurus, and another collector find a nice plate of full - but somewhat damaged - Pseudogygites, but some of our best collectors made out poorly or were entirely skunked. But at the very least, I think everyone came away with something even if it wasn't a prize and pristine Isotelus. More importantly, it was great to hunt with everyone.
This is just part of the head of an Isotelus. It would have been, full, at least 13 inches long! This was an encouraging find as I was gradually becoming a bit more discouraged in not finding anything complete.
Another sweet, if incomplete, find. The trilobite Pseudogygites latimarginatus also occurs in this tough limestone, but unlike how it appears in the upper member of the Collingwood shale, they come out with a fine exoskeleton texture and fully inflated rather than flattened. This one I carefully extracted from a very large slab. It has some thorax, which is much better than the zillions of just tail moult pieces one usually encounters. Pseudogygites and Isotelus are effectively closely related species.
partial roller missing a lot of parts.
I put the biggest fragments I came across into the collecting bucket as a souvenir of the trip.
Just... wow. A fragment alone almost a foot long!
I pulled this rock out that had a thin line running through it which I suspected to be an Isotelus. When I got home I split it and out came a fragment. A fairly mighty one.
As our time was coming to a close, Deb and I made our way to the uppermost level where there are enormous books of black shale belonging to the Collingwood Member. There are quite literally thousands of Pseudogygites latimarginatus and Triarthrus eatoni moulted bits among the brachiopods. Finding a full one of either is not easy, and so you have to split shale in massive volume. Fortunately, it splits easily and finely, and it is like the pages of a book. If I had a trip-maker, it might be this small but full Pseudogygites above, showing both the positive and negative impression.
So, wow. What a trip it has been! Three days spanning over 400 km and three quarries - Arkona, Brechin, and Bowmanville. I was able to collect with old friends, and make new ones. Although I don't think I found anything scientifically significant, I did manage to collect some very nice specimens (including that pair of Greenops on a single plate!). I was able to add two more species of trilobite I did not have (Amphilichas ottawensis and Isotelus mafritzae).
I'm hoping this will be an annual tradition from this point on. It sure is exhausting, though! But the thrill of the hunt, the camaraderie of being with other collectors, the sharing of knowledge, and all that lovely fresh air and sun does one good.
Reflecting on October, it has been a great month for collecting. I've been to Arkona a few times, to Brechin and Bowmanville, three days at Penn Dixie, and even found a new species of trilobite in my backyard region. And inasmuch as October has been a true surprise, this year has long ago distinguished itself as the absolute very best year for all things fossil. So what's next? Winter is just around the corner, and maybe - just maybe - I might be able to squeeze out one or two more trips before I have to put away the hammers for the season. But with my air eraser, and my air scribe coming, I can at least spend those cold, snowy months preparing all that I have found this year.