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.
So began my three day, three quarry adventure. On the first leg of the trip was a visit to my usual haunt, Arkona, but this time it would involve some great visiting friends and fossil comrades (Malcolm, Dave from Philadelphia, and Joe K.). Dave was more keen on plumping up his brachiopod supply, and was eager to get collecting in the south pit. Dave is no slouch on the trilobite front, though... He has gorgeous specimens that I would certainly like to have in my collection.
Malcolm made the long drive to my place and arrived around 7:30 am, and off we went to Arkona to meet up with Dave. But before we left, Malcolm showed me a Moroccan trilobite he had prepared for Dave:
Definitely big props to Malcolm's prep skills. This one has spines coming out in 3D, including a crazy trident protruding from the glabella. Just wow.
This picture was taken halfway through the day. While Dave was off in the south pit, Malcolm and I didn't really budge from our bench in the Widder. Malcolm was heading west, and I was heading east. We moved a heck of a lot of shale. I do not look forward to what will have to happen next once we run out of the left and right areas as that will mean cutting into the cliff, and that will mean chopping out a lot of overburden. I was already having to approach the Greenops-rich layer from the top, cutting out 4-6 feet of shale that only contains bits and brachs.
But the search was a success in many ways. I came away with three Greenops, and Malcolm with two. That's pretty stellar results when finding one full specimen is a trip-maker.
This one is a bit of a bummer given that some parts have flaked off. Still, not a bad piece that I can gift or trade.
I have a habit of picking up nautiloids from the Widder given how nicely they can pyritize. I did find a Tornoceras uniangulare, as can be found in this layer, but it is so pitted and in such bad shape that I'm not going to bother posting a picture of it here.
But the real trip-maker for me was a plate with two Greenops. It also had impressions of other full ones. This must have been quite the death assemblage, and it is a little disappointing that only two survived. But here is how I found it:
Nervous as I was in attempting to prep what would be a $1,000 plate, I just need to make the attempt.
After about an hour using the Dremel to carefully remove some bulk matrix, and a sewing needle to work carefully around the specimen to reveal more of it.
And this after another hour using more sewing needle and the Paasche air eraser using baking soda at 25-30 PSI. Not perfect as this pair has a few problems, but not a bad first try on a very tricky piece! I might do some fine touches on it later.
In all, a good first leg of the trip, and great to meet up again with Malcolm, and meet both Dave and Joe for the first time after only knowing them via the Fossil Forum.
My fossil forum friend, Jason, had sent me a great assortment of fossils which arrived on the first day of my three-day fossil trip. Have a look: these are mostly from Calvert Cliffs, and includes some great Miocene shells and plenty of teeth, plates, and... on the far right is the Cambrian exception: the tiny trilobite Perenopsis (actually: Itagnostus interstricta).
A fossil friend of mine on the Fossil Forum, Jason Rice, recently sent me a package of goodies in trade for some spare material I had on hand from Arkona.
The top row has some mouth plates and shells, while the bottom four rows are all fossil shark teeth. These are quite special for me as they represent the first shark teeth in my expanding collection. These are from the Miocene period, 6-20 million years ago.
The teeth are definitely worthy of a close up image.
This large fossil scallop is Chesapectens nefrens - a fairly popularly sought out one.
The trilobite Elrathia kingii from the Wheeler Formation in Utah. Middle Cambrian (~550 million years ago).
Another Asaphiscus wheeleri, with impression. It is fairly common that one finds these without their cheeks as they moulted their old carapaces and exited through their cephalons.
The most iconic of the Utah trilobites, and the one you see most commonly sold in rock shops, here we have Elrathia kingii with a tiny friend - a "mini-me" version, if you will.
All very exciting stuff! Not only does this boost my trilobite species count for the year, but particularly Cambrian trilobites (see my post on the ones I acquired from Marcus here). As there are no Cambrian exposures anywhere near me, these are a real treat.
Day 1 of 3: Craigleith Area
Deb was on vacation time, and so apart from a few beach days and staycation relaxation, we spent three days on the road. Our first stop was Craigleith near Collingwood, and we took the stunningly scenic route through Grey Highlands.
The Craigleith area is filled with Whitby Formation shale overlying the Lindsay Formation limestone. You cannot legally collect from the provincial park, but there are a few very tiny spots left outside of the park where one can split a few shales to find a lot of Pseudogygites moults.
At the park itself, there is a display area of fossils. Pictured above is a fairly large orthocone nautiloid - they got pretty big in the Ordovician.
A complete Pseudogygites latimarginatus. Full ones are exceptionally hard to find as it is more common to encounter enormous hash plates filled with moults.
A fairly representative hash plate of Pseudogygites latimarginatus trilobites and brachiopods. Pieces from over a dozen in this shot alone.
Another representative species of trilobite in the Whitby Formation is Triarthrus. I might be able to free up some of the overlying matrix on this one. It is partially pyritized, although it is tough to make out in this photo.
The pleura of an Isotelus sp. in the Lindsay Formation.
These small, feathery creatures are also common in this shale. These are graptolites.
This is indeed a complete Pseudogygites latimarginatus. A bit crushed and torn, but all the pieces seem to be there. Nice!
Day 2 of 3: Oro-Medonte to Gamebridge and beaverton
After staying in Oro-Medonte / horseshoe valley, we made our way to our B&B in preparation for the big quarry dig on the following day. Although not a fossil collecting day as much as simply a touring of small town Ontario, there were a few rocks around. Deb took lots of pictures of some living creatures like sand pipers, geese, monarch butterflies (so many!), and a cormorant. In Beaverton, we took a stroll along the pier where the sides were shored up by Verulam Formation riprap.
The Beaverton riprap: weathered gastropod hash.
Crinoid hash plate as part of the landscaping toward the old mill park in Beaverton.
We took a walk to Gamebridge's locks system, and then upriver where there were pockets of Verulam limestone. Pictured here as an appetizer to the main event for the next day in the quarry is a brachiopod hash with a piece of Prasopora on the right.
By the same river, a crinoid stalk terminating with half a calyx showing, plus the impression of arms flowing from it. A neat piece!
Last river piece: a hash of mostly brachiopods and bryozoans
Day 3 of 3 (The Main Event)
I was so excited to get into the quarry that I was up at 4 am and left the B&B at around 5:15 during nautical twilight to make the five minute walk to the quarry. I deposited the legal waiver forms, suited up with the hardhat and reflective vests, and poked around to look at the rocks the best I could until the sky lightened up a bit more.
Those who have read my previous post on Brechin's JD Quarry (here) already know the place is incredibly vast and overwhelming. Top left: a large cephalon and genal spine of an Isotelus (fragments abound here, while full ones are very hard to come by). Top right: more Isotelus bits with a Flexicalymene senaria cranidium in the centre. Bottom: typical busy hash plate of assorted crinoids, trilo-pieces, bryozoans, and brachs.
First blood is a prize find: a semi-prone Flexicalymene senaria in the scree at the top level of the quarry. I found it in two pieces and had to stabilize it with crazy glue. Unfortunately, the pin that functioned as the stopper for the nozzle had snapped off, so my glue bottle would be one use only. This piece is still, however, lovely and quite robust.
Eventually, I was joined by Malcolm, Kevin B., and Jabali. We split some new blast piles, and also worked on the new area hauling out tons of rock where Malcolm had found some exceptionally rare cystoids. Sadly, it looked like what he had found the weekend before was an isolated death pool, but it felt good to move enormous slabs of Bobcaygeon Formation limestone. Just to give you a sense of how serious we can be, one piece we moved had to weigh over 700 lbs, and I ended up snapping a steel pry bar. Groar!
I spent the rest of the day trying to cover ground, going through weathered piles of scree along the upper ledges and wandering the immensely mountainous crush piles.
We don't screw around. Jabali snapped Malcolm and me trying to pry this big rock into the pond. We needed to remove from the top down by a good six feet to see if the cystoid layer was going to continue.
Bottom of the quarry, new blast pile. Crinoid stalks can run forever here.
Close up of crinoid stalks.
In situ photograph of a full prone trilobite, Flexicalymene sp. Sadly, as I didn't have any glue left, I wasn't able to stabilize it. The tail piece of this one is now missing.
What survived transport. I might be able to very delicately tease out the left side.
The pustular glabella is poking out at a vertical angle on this piece. Not sure yet what species this is, but will update when I find out. Update: it is looking like I have myself a Calyptaulax callicephalus.
Trilo-pieces. Top right: impression of a pygidium with a margin (to be identified). Centre: Possible Flexicalymene cranidium (to be confirmed - actually no: see picture below). Bottom left: pygidium and some pleurae of an Isotelus.
Well, what do you know? I get to add another species to my collection. Thanks to Don C. from the Forum in planting the bug in my ear that this might be an Achatella achates, an uncommon phacopid trilobite. I just picked off some of the matrix here to reveal the telltale diagnostic features of this species.
Both plates contain partial Ceraurus.
Assortment of trilobite pieces: Flexicalymene, Isotelus.
The big Flexicalymene found at the beginning of the dig is joined by a Flexi roller I found in the afternoon.
This one in need of identification. I have some ideas, but it's just guesswork at the moment.
Some big honkin' pieces of orthocone nautiloid. The one on the lower right I make have to photograph independently as it is the very end of the taper, and with a brachiopod association. The middle one may be Geisonoceras.
A hash plate with a gastropod on the left, and some trilobite pieces throughout.
A close up of this hash. The cranidium belongs to Calyptaulax callicephalus.
Deb found this tiny pygidium. Species needs identification!
I love these high-spired gastropods! The majority of these are Fusispira sp., (and others like Hormotoma and possibly the thin one being Subulites) and the cluster on the lower right with the pinched spires is likely Lophospira sp.
I can't help but to pick up crinoid pieces.
Low-spired gastropods that weather out of the matrix. The one exception is the corkscrew-shaped high-spired gastropod I missed when I took the initial "family photo" of high-spired gastros earlier.
A collection of brachiopods. The bottom two levels are a very typical heart-shaped species - various types of Rhynchotrema.
Odds and sods: top two rows are sponges and bryozoans. Bottom two rows are trilo-pieces.
Before Malcolm left for the day, he gifted Deb and me some fossils. The trilobites I had found and given to him for prep, and I now get to see them in all their expertly prepared glory - my thanks, Malcolm!
This is one of the many pieces Malcolm gave us: segments from a eurypterid (a sea scorpion from the Silurian). The are likely from the quarry in Fort Erie, and so are very hard to come by these days.
Readers of the blog will already be familiar with this Greenops widderensis.
Some Eldredgeops rana I found at Penn Dixie, after Malcolm's masterly touch. The next three images are closeups to show the exquisite detail.
Stay tuned: on Monday I am receiving a gift of fossils from fellow fossil collector Jason Rice, from Utah!
One of my fossil forum chums, Ron from Montana, shipped to me a big bug in a box. This thing makes all my other trilobites look puny!
He also threw in a sweet little ammonite with some opalescent lustre:
And here are some pictures of the big trilobite. It is from Morocco, and it looks like a Drotops megalomanicus. As there is a thriving cottage industry in Morocco in producing fakes, I've inspected this carefully. No resin bubbles, and these trilobites have some black calcite. It doesn't look like an restoration work was done on this one, and some of the prep was a bit rough. It is mostly covered with pustular little nodules, some of which seem to have been abraded off by a bit of sloppy preparation. Still, a very large trilobite at about 5 1/2 inches (12.5 cm).
Nothing too remarkable about the finds from two trips to Hungry Hollow, the first with Roger, and the second with my Deb. But I may as well post some finds.
On the Tuesday trip with Roger, we did scour the north pit, hacked out some slabs from the north river exposure, and ended by doing some surface collecting in the south pit. On the Sunday trip with Deb, we focused on the south pit since the north is filled with deer flies in the dense bush.
I looked in vain for the other half. This was worked out of the coral layer of the Hungry Hollow member.
Deb splits a coral to get a look at the structure inside.
A typical hash plate from the Hungry Hollow member, the layers without as many corals. You can see some trilobite cephalons in there.
Brach-encrusted shell pavement from the Arkona Formation. Found with Roger on the north pit part of the trip.
Not entirely sure what this is yet (to be updated). Could it be a Basidechenella trilobite glabella? About an inch long.
A pelecypod from the coral layer.
Lots of stuff going on here. Trilo-bits, a possible fish plate, tons of crinoid bits, a Platyceras conicum (lower left), brachs, etc.
Next up are a few of Roger's pictures and finds after he cleaned them up:
Roger snaps a picture of me up in the bench.
We were finding a few of these pyritized orthocones in the Widder shale. Not in itself a rare thing, but this one is intriguing.
These Tornoceras arkonense really clean up well! You can pick them out of the Arkona shale, but they also come out a bit bigger in the Widder shale. One must just be on the lookout for a bit of metallic glint, suggestive of something pyritized - and it could be one of these.
This one is a bit of a mystery. It is about 7 mm, but has some strange suture patterns. We're not sure which of us found this in the Arkona Fm, but that is immaterial. It is not a Tornoceras, and neither of us can find this ammonoid described in the usual places (such as the Stumm and Wright checklist or on the UMMP database). Could this be a new and undescribed species?
I had a fantastic time yesterday collecting with Roger, who makes an annual visit to Canada from Germany to see his family. We spent the day at Arkona where I showed him my productive spots on the north side. Many neat things were found.
Rather than post the finds in this post, I wanted to dedicate this one to Roger's generousity in gifting me some fabulous ammonites he has collected from Germany, very nicely prepared and coated in beeswax. Enjoy!
The last two on the bottom row are interesting and fully inflated brachiopods.
Apart from the very nice colour and thick-ribbing, I had to show the fascinating and well-detailed keel side.
I just wanted to provide another update on Malcolm's continued and excellent progress on some of the stuff I handed over to his care. You might recall that I found a Ceraurus during my first trip to Brechin. It was pretty submerged in the matrix, but I've read that this is ideal since it hasn't had much exposure to weathering.
So the picture on the left is how I found it. Obviously, it is missing a bit of its tail piece here and is pretty encrusted in matrix.
A few days ago, Malcolm posted some pictures of what he was able to salvage from this one.
Take a look at the results below. Absolutely fantastic. This bug's a bit beat up and missing the tail, but in all a good and nearly complete specimen made all the better by Malcolm's preparation.
Anyhow, a brief post. I'll likely be posting another next week when I hunt Arkona with Roger.
UPDATE (Aug 30, 2017): This specimen is now featured on Mineralienatlas Lexicon)
As a supplement to my recent trip to Brechin, Ontario, Malcolm Thornley offered to prep out a complete Greenops widderensis I found last year. The frustrating thing about these trilobites in Arkona is that they tend to be very fragile and flaky, and most times you find just tail pieces or parts of the cephalon. They only very rarely come out nice and whole like this one. You can go through tons of rock for just one half-decent specimen.
Before this received its masterful prep, I gave it a go using my primitive tools - a Dremel engraver and a sewing needle under a magnifying lens. Here is what I ended up with - as far as I would dare with such a specimen:
Ok, so not bad - but far from museum quality. For that, you need the right tools and the expert touch only a seasoned prep-artist can provide.
Malcolm spent a good amount of time with this one, using a Comco abrasion unit at 7 PSI, with dolomite as the abrasion substance through a 320 mesh screen. He worked out all the scuff marks of my Dremel and removed some of the excess matrix. Using a .015 nozzle, Malcolm prepped this using his Nikon scope at a magnification of 14x. Here are some images he provided of the process:
And finally, below, is the finished masterpiece. He used a .010 nozzle, as small as they may come, to get out the grit between all the nooks and crannies. As Malcolm told me, there were no restorations or use of consolidants. The only imperfection is a bit of damage to the pleura on the mid-right side, but beyond that an exquisitely preserved - and now masterfully prepared museum quality trilobite! I am certainly in awe of his skill.
And, just to compare, the top image beside where this bug was before prep, and halfway through the process, just to show the big difference a good prep can make