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.
The first step is admitting one has a problem!
When Deb and I went to the Home Depot to pick up some foam to seal an area around the pipe, I found myself "wandering" over to the hammer section where I pondered whether to buy a 3' wrecking bar to supplement my smaller pry bar, a new cold chisel with a longer head, and a 4lb blacksmith sledge to go with my regular 4lb sledge. Deb played enabler by telling me I should get them. So I did. But that obliged me to try them out since we are planning to return to Penn Dixie in early October.
So we went to Arkona's Hungry Hollow. And let me tell you that lugging that many pounds of tools and supplies around through a lot of brush and tough terrain ain't always easy!
Unless one wants to be contented with surface collecting of whatever stuff may weather out of the cliff through the process of erosion, the only real and serious way to get at some very nice specimens is to carve slabs out of the wall for splitting. To do that, one has to create a "bench," which is like a long notch in the wall where one can sit and lever out slabs to the left, right, and down.
So we were ready to get started on continuing a bench in the cliff face we found some months back, that we've been steadily extending. I worked a bit on an upper bench that I eventually connected to the lower bench, and created another even lower bench than the one Deb was working on. Having the 3' wrecking bar was making this a lot more efficient (but still back breaking work!). It isn't easy making benches, or even sometimes extending them - there can be a crazy amount of overburden clumped together and slumped over. I've had to go through several feet of the stuff in depth before hitting the actual wall. The other problem can be natural underground springs that leak through the shale, making it wet, muddy, and crumbly. There are plenty of fossils in those, but they just crumble or turn to mud. One has to go deeper into the wall to find dry shale.
Once we were able to cut deep into the cliff face, we found that some of the more trilobite-filled layers were within about a 4 inch area. This picture hardly does any justice to how much rock and overburden was removed. This multi-level bench is aboout 3-4' deep, 7-8' high, and about 15' wide. At a few points I was able to exploit a major crack or fissure to send a few hundred pounds of debris and shale chips tumbling down. There are layers that are just choked with large spirifers. I found a few that had some nautiloids more commonly spread throughout.
Here you can see the bench-build from two different angles. Again, it's difficult to really convey the amount of work we did.
What does five hours of breaking rock get you? Well, for Deb, a full Greenops widderensis. Given the gazillions of moult pieces we keep finding in the Widder Formation, a full specimen is not common. And they are very delicate, so we took several precautions in transport back to the car. But, just to put the spotlight on Deb - this was her fantastic fossil find.
And I'll end his post with just some recent pics as I try to organize some of the recent and past finds. The first is a tray with bays - on the left mostly complete prone and semi-prone Eldredgeops rana; in the centre my accumulation of crinoid stems and sections; on the right a hodge-podge of mostly complete rollers with one Crassiproetus marginatus(?) pygidium since I haven't found a home for it. The final image below is my fully prepped out double roller from Penn Dixie.
As summer draws to a close, I can expect the wasps to be out in full force for about a month until the trees all start turning. If that most precious commodity of time permits, I'll be spending a part of the autumn going on various fossil expeditions. But I thought for today's post it would be nice to look at my burgeoning collection. This is not, by any stretch, the entire collection. I am just slowly populating these new and nifty containers Deb bought me.
This pic shows off a few nice pieces. In the left bay are mostly bryozoans and corals I haven't really sorted yet, and a smaller container of crinoid bits. The middle bay is still a WIP. The bay on the right sports my collection of trilobite rollers and a small container of combined goniatites and tornoceras.
These bays are a few inches deep. Pictured here are my assortment of brachiopods - mostly spirifers with a few other species. And this is not all of them. I probably have close to a thousand of them now.
This is my "to sort" pile. You can see plenty of crinoid stems, the odd pygidium of a trilobite, and a few examples of the "button coral" microcyclus.