Spent another four hours at the new site, mostly probing the rocks and getting a feel for which layers will be the most gainful. There are some rocks that are just so filled with large brachiopods at the expense of anything else (except maybe a few Pseudodechenella sp. pygidia), and others that are almost all rostroconchs.
This image and the closeup gives some indication of the typical beds that come out, sheet after sheet, of almost exclusively brachiopods of mostly decent size.
Some of these rostroconchs attained to a fairly robust size. All but the specimen on the right popped out of the matrix. I neglected to take a photo of a few layers where they were so numerous that they were stacking on top of each other. What the size and abundance of these confirms for me is that the deposition environment was shallow, turbulent, and open marine. Some rostroconchs could attain a length of 15 cm.
This I bucketed earlier in the day, and were not the biggest I encountered.
Gastropod steinkerns. Some could be fairly substantial in size, but extracting them from the host rock when they are of any decent size is a major difficulty.
These brachiopods are quite large and plump. The photo does not convey their rotund aspect very well, but picture crabapples or large kiwis.
Not as big on the bugs this trip (discounting the zillions of small Pseudodechenella tails!). Two fragments of Odontocephalus sp. The one on the right is an impression, but shows the eye and a bit of cheek. This genus is particularly hardy, and was able to persist in some less than hospitable environments that other bugs could not tolerate.
Anchiops anchiopsis tails. The piece with the double initially appeared as four on the same undulating plane adjacent to a plane that was very jointed. Sadly, the other two were in pretty poor shape and not worth bringing home.
I'm not done yet. I hope to get out again very soon and so a solid day's work on this stuff.
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.
DAY 1: Penn Dixie
Returned Monday evening from four fabulous days swinging hammers, slabbing and splitting in the field. We managed to hit two sites, with plans for a third site falling through due to weather and site conditions.
We left home on the Friday morning to arrive at Penn Dixie, in Hamburg/Blasdell NY (south of Buffalo) by noon time. It was not a public collecting day at the site, but members of the Hamburg Natural History Society are permitted to enter the site.
A group of us digging through some fresh material
Of particular note was just how much PD had changed since last season, and that is due almost entirely to some well-directed excavations at some key spots to reveal more of the Smokes Creek trilobite layer, but also opening up other on-site locations such as the Bayview brach layer and the North Evans limestone. We had the excavator on site for the second day, with the previous day ripping up a new spot in preparation for the annual Dig with the Experts event. We did not touch those piles, and focused on other spots.
I found this piece of Devonian wood, and it is a fairly healthy size for this location.
One of the excavated spots we spent the most time working on was fairly thin on trilobites, which suggests that they appear in deposition pulses on the seabed. There's no way knowing in advance if there will be a lot of trilobites, and so you hope to hit paydirt by attacking the Smokes Creek layer.
A fairly large Goniatite, sadly all busted up.
Later in the day, we migrated to a new gully area where some of our other collectors on the Sunday previous had found a few examples of the rare Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi trilobite. Sadly, that lead dried up and no Bellas were found. For the most part, trilobites were mostly appearing as disarticulated bits and moults, with not much in the way of assemblages or complete prones and rollers.
Full prone, but containing shell on both sides of the rock. This will need to be glued together and prepared.
I did have some luck despite the parsimonious nature of the slabs we were splitting. However, the "trilo-bonanza" was still eluding us all. A little before sunset we decided to leave and check in to our motel, grab some pub food, and rest up for day 2 of our trip.
DAY 2: Deep Springs Road
At around 6 am the next morning, our friend Jay picked us up at the motel to begin our first ever trip to Deep Springs Road in Central NY (Madison Cty). DSR, as it is known, has a shale outcrop that rests at the farthest edge of the Windom Formation, but the fauna is quite different than what is found at Penn Dixie. For example, instead of bountiful Eldredgeops rana, they are much rarer here, and in their place are more Greenops sp. and Dipleura dekayi. Also, the real stunner is the enormous diversity of bivalves and brachiopods. It is also quite abundant in Devonian plant pieces, larger cephalopods, phyllocarids, and other goodies.
Our crew gearing up to work.
We arrived just after 10 am, having gone through the scenic rolling hills and farmlands of Central NY. We were greeted at the site by so many of our Fossil Forum friends, some of whom I got to meet in person for the first time. There was no shortage of fun-loving personalities here, and the amount of camaraderie, sharing, and helpfulness was exceptional.
Jay and me ready to start wrecking it all up to do some serious landscaping.
Within five minutes, I was ready to get to it. In the picture above, that wall behind me would be the first to be ripped out to generate a lot of slabs for splitting. By the end of the day, I would have cleared an area 2 m x 2m x 1.25 m.
This slab simply has to go, 150-200kg or not.
Unlocking fresh stuff requires some slabbing, something I tend to enjoy doing. After some overburden was cleared, it was time to maneuver this one off the ledge. As can be seen above,. the rock is heavier than me as I sit on the pinch-point bar which was bending. Eventually, I was able to work from the left wall, wrestling it out, and driving it with my boots down the hill for others to split.
Group shot. From left to right: Dave, Jay, me, Mike, Tim, Dave 2, Jeffrey, and Leila (who fed us scrumptious homemade cookies).
The weather had been promising to make this trip a real bust, but fortunately we only had some intermittent drizzle, with the rest of the time being clear and not too hot. Everyone came away with lots of interesting finds, and friendships were formed or strengthened in breaking rock together.
Bivalves and gastropods. I'm not really up on the taxa, but these are fairly typical finds for this site.
More neatly ridged bivalves.
Large spiriferid brachiopods are fairly abundant at DSR.
On the left is a nice association piece: a spirifer, a Greenops pygidium, and a Devonochonetes sp. . On the right is a high-spired Glyptotomaria.
A well-preserved Cimitaria recurva.
Deb found this wee Greenops that might be complete once I can remove some matrix. This one is barely a few millimetres long.
As Eldredgeops rana are not common here, I bucketed this roller.
Large cephalons from Dipleura dekayi. Finding them full as opposed to moults and disarticulated bits is an event. I think only one of us found a complete prone that day, while someone else found a complete one with the head disarticulated.
More Dipleura dekayi. I'll need to probe this piece a bit more to see if they might be complete (but I somehow doubt it).
A nautiloid and an ammonoid fragment.
With the collecting day over, it was time for us to get back to the Buffalo area. As is natural for us fossil collectors, we never miss an opportunity if we're collecting together to share some gifts. A massive amount of gift exchanges ensued! I was sure to hand out plenty of goodies from Arkona, as well as whatever Ordovician extras I had lying around. Pictured up here is a lovely Herkimer diamond from Dave. These quartz crystals are quite spectacular, and regularly have inclusions of anthraconite.
Another of Dave's wonderful gifts: an assortment of mostly brachs, bivalves, and gastropods from Cole Hill Road.
The other Dave put out a box for all of us to take whatever we fancied. This is a fern from the St Clair site, a site that is no longer open to public collecting.
Of course, little did I know that Tim remembered that Deb really liked those St Clair ferns, and so she received some pieces as well!
Tim gifted me a plethora of trilobites. Two new species on my list: Crotalochephalina gibbus (the Devonian phacopid from Morocco at the very top), Changaspis elongata (a wee corynexochid from the Cambrian, China), a full Greenops sp. from DSR in case I had no luck, and three nodular Eldredgeia venustus from Bolivia.
And the second bunch from Tim. A large Elrathia kingii with cheeks intact + impression, and the rest are Eldredgeops rana.
And Jay gave me a copy of the reprinted classic, Geology and Palaeontology of Eighteen Mile Creek by Grabau. The taxa listed in this one is pretty much the same as what is found at Penn Dixie, and some of those taxa are now outdated or reassigned. But it is indeed a classic from a real pioneer and giant of palaeontology.
DAY 3 - Penn Dixie
After two days collecting with Fossil Forum friends, it was now time for Deb and me to hit out on our own. Plans to visit another site on Sunday were nixed on account of weather... Yes, it was snowing in the Buffalo area! Deb went shopping in the morning, but by the afternoon the sun was out, so we figured we may as well play at Penn Dixie again. Although it was 10 C, the winds were bitterly cold.
Deb standing in the newly excavated zone we were all working on the Friday.
We decided to make a go of trying to find the elusive trilobite layer. This involved a great deal of hauling out slabs. Again, we treated the piles for the Experts event as off-limits.
The Smokes Creek layer is usually at or below the water table. This is what one of the gully areas looked like before I came in to rip out about 2 m wide of slabs. Sadly, the rock was far too dense, and shattered rather than split. Much of what was coming out was just bits and pieces anyway.
This trio of images shows the process required to access fresh material. As these slabs at the contact layer tend to interlock, it is important to kind the keystone slab to unlock them. In this instance, I've used the chisel to exploit and widen a crack running vertically. This one is tucked under another rock, so I had to use the pry bar to wiggle and jiggle it out. After that, I flip the rock over and scrutinize the underside; if there are trilobites or impressions thereof, I then carefully inspect the mini-domes at the site of extraction. As the water is muddy, this is largely done by touch. After that, it is time to remove another slab or split the ones I have.
Probably my best find of the day. The split runs right through the trilobite, but some crazy glue and prep will make this fairly large one turn out just fine.
This one came with a small price to pay. As I was tossing down a slab, it hit the pick end of my rock hammer, which then came at my face like a bullet. It struck and split my cheek, not far from my eye! It could have used a stitch or two, but I simply clamped it together with a bandaid.
Day 4 - Penn Dixie (Again)
After three days of slabbing, splitting, pounding with sledges, wrestling with pry bars, shovelling tons of overburden, my body just about had it! It was also our departure day, which meant we needed to get back on the road by 2 pm at the latest. So we agreed to inspect the newly excavated Bayview brachiopod area where, last October, we were pulling out buckets of brachs.
This stuff splits fairly easily - sometimes just with your hands. Trilobites like Greenops are much more common here, but the shale is so thin and fragile, and the trilobites usually only come out as disarticulated bits.
Brachiopods come out easily from the shale, if they haven't already weathered out and make for some easy picking. These are from about a minute of searching. Inasmuch as we agreed that we'd just do some light surface collecting, after 20 minutes we were getting bored with the brachs (we still have several hundred of them from October's visit),.so we went exploring back to the trilobite beds in search of a plentiful area.
Going through my splits, Deb finds this beauty.
A spot-check on some nearby rocks indicated that this particular area on the site might prove productive. Pictured here, after I removed the covering slab, is a very large dome. Domes at PD can either be full of trilobites or full of nothing.
Paydirt! We finally found the productive part of the layer. Although none of these are complete, it is strongly indicative of the presence of more assemblages in the depositional environment. Of course, it was almost time for us to leave just when we found the sweet spot. But we did manage to pull out a few rollers and near-completes that I haven't had a chance to photograph yet, but I think I've got the real highlights here in this post anyway.
And so it was back to Canada after a four day adventure. I was beyond sore, of course, but overall it was great to collect with friends old and new, enjoy the outdoors, and come away with treasures found and gifted.
Upcoming digs will likely be in the Arkona/Thedford area, and a trip to Bowmanville at the end of this month. Until then, time to manage some new backlog on the prep bench!
We just got back from ten lovely days in Montego Bay, and although the trip was not about fossils as much as it was about indulging in a lot of sun, sand, and recovering from a hectic semester, there were a few accidental fossil moments.
Much of the rock in Montego Bay is limestone dating from between the Mesozoic to Cenozoic, and is dominated by corals - just as coral reefs dominate there today. After I went snorkelling in a living coral reef, our boat docked at Margaritaville where, just outside the club, there was a large shelf of limestone filled with fossilized coral colonies as pictured here.
The corallites on this one are very finely detailed. So I did manage, with the aid of a hand-sized rock, to hammer out a few specimens as souvenirs.
Due to the abundance of the local limestone, it is commonly used as a building material.
A gastropod fossil.
An oyster shell fossil.
UPDATE: Upon my return home, there was a package waiting for me from the UK. My Forum friend John sent me a lovely little gift with a card, some whiskey, and this Silurian trilobite piece from Wren's Nest in Dudley.
On Sunday, I had an opportunity to dig in the south pit for about 6 hours. The going wasn't easy: it was cold, for one. And it was very mucky. My goal was to locate full specimens of the two trilobites Crassiproetus canadensis and Basidechenella arkonensis. I have only found fragments in the past, and they occur in the Hungry Hollow Member of the Widder Formation along with Eldredgeops rana and a zillion corals in the coral biostrome. In some cases, there is more coral than matrix! Finding a full one in that layer is not easy as they usually occur as disarticulated fragments.
Arkona's south pit in the morning. There were patches of ice about.
It's early in the trip because I can actually see my boots. By the end of the day, they will be covered in gloopy mud. By my boot is a medium sized coral "pie." I don't really pick up corals anymore.
This is the bench where I've set up for the day. The goal will be to dig into it rather than widen it. It looks quite nice and clean here, but after about an hour the underground water was seeping out and turning the whole bench into orange-grey-brown sucking mud. There were a few mudslides and a rock slide.
It's hard to tell because of all the mud obscuring this rock, but there is a trilobite fragment in here (the darker brown bit in the upper centre). Whenever I encountered a fragment, I put it in the bucket for closer investigation at home. I also brought a spray bottle so that I can see what was under the mud.
So this is what I was dealing with. The rock at the top eventually gave way. The matrix itself is either concrete hard coral cement, or comes out mushy and flaky, but not a lot in between. It is, however, easy to work with on the prep bench. By this time, I'm covered in mud. My gloves are just floppy mud mitts, and my tools are caked. I had to go to the river and wash them off halfway through the day.
Another early win, of a sorts. This is a piece of Eldredgeops rana cephalon.
Thorax and pygidium of a Basidechenella peeking out of the matrix. Into the bucket it goes in the hopes I can discern if it will be a complete specimen.
The cephalon of another Basidechenella. As before, into the bucket for closer inspection at home.
Sometimes one has to chop through a lot of coral. This one just kept going and going. It was about well over two feet in circumference. Here I am chopping out chunks of it to free up the layer.
A chunk of that tabulate coral. Overall, it was a frustrating, cold, muddy day where I didn't have too much to show for it - this being likely my last trip of the year, and thus not ending on a high note. I collected a lot of the usual Arkona stuff like crinoid ossicles, etc., but even scanning the Arkona mud-shale was not being generous as it was all swollen with moisture.
I always collect these when I find them. This is the gastropod Platyceras conicum, which can be easily distinguished from the more snail-like Platyceras arkonense by virtue of its cone-like shape. This one is of a fairly good size and condition.
The sad news is that none of the trilobites turned out to be complete. The ones on the top and the left are Basidechenella, while the one on the right is Crassiproetus.
Using some tools to expose the trilobite a bit more, a closeup of the most complete Basidechenella I found that day.
A closeup on the other side of one of these rocks reveals the pygidium of a Crassiproetus.
So no big wow specimens pulled out this trip, but as my friend Tim says, "a bad day fossil hunting is better than a good day at work."
Until next time.
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.
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.
Day two saw Deb and I make the 3.5 hour drive to the quarry in Brechin with its diverse Ordovician fauna in the Verulam Formation. We had quite the crew with us, and about four are missing from this picture (actually, five, as Deb is the photographer).
Deb and I were the late arrivals (11:30 am), while just about everyone else had been there probably since sunrise! I actually didn't meet up with everyone until the day was done; they were done at the base of the quarry hacking things out of the blast piles and the underlying Bobcaygeon Fm, while I was busy on the upper ledges doing some surface collecting. I've never had much luck splitting at this quarry.
In about four hours of collecting, I barely made it even a quarter around that one long ledge. I climbed a slightly higher ledge and saw that someone had been there before me hacking some layers out. We use marking tape (or actual markers and piles of stones) to let other people know that these specimens are claimed. It would be considered bad collectors' etiquette to take someone else's claimed finds. We do this when our extraction equipment is parked on the far side of the quarry with an intention to return later. Pictured here is a very long crinoid stem.
Another "off limits" beauty: a damaged but still impressive Endoceras proteiforme, the biggest nautiloid species in this formation.
A typical hash plate to show a snapshot of the marine floor from 450 million years ago.
Although just the impression of a partial pygidium, any piece of this rare trilobite Amphilichas ottawensis is worth picking up. This is a new species for me.
Probably the biggest Prasopora I've found at this site. They are fairly common, but this one stood out for its size.
The nautiloid fragments here can get quite massive.
Assorted goodies here. At the top is a nautiloid fragment, to the left is a trilobite burrow (rusophycus), and on the lower left is a tiny shell hash.
Top row: mostly Rhynchotrema capax - quite abundant in the formation.
Middle row: some gastros, including Lophospira, Fusispira etc.
Bottom row: two pelecypods (from Bowmanville!), two trilobite fragments, and a bryozoan.
Another assortment. Of note in this piece would be the very nice gastros here, but also the Ceraurus cephalon at the lower left next to a 2/3 complete Isotelus gigas and another nautiloid fragment.
Did someone say Isotelus gigas fragments? Here are a few I picked up. The fork-looking piece in the lower middle is the hypostome (a kind of biting mouthpart that appears on the ventral side below the cephalon).
My prize finds for the day: a finger-long gastropod, a small but 2/3 full Isotelus gigas, and two full Flexicalymene senaria rollers. The one on the left is quite inflated and looks like a fat cartoon duck when looking at it from the side.
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!
With the appearance of yellow in the trees, reminders from the dean to submit the syllabi for the Fall semester, it all points to the end of summer. It also means getting in as much rock-breaking time before school duties resume.
A trip to Arkona - my nth one this year - did not yield up many wow specimens. My goal of finding a full Greenops widderensis has not borne much fruit this year for some odd reason. But I did come close on a few occasions.
This time, I crossed the river to the south bank for the first time (not to be confused with the south pit).
While on the south side of the river, there were some mighty large corals. I left them there since I already have enough coral, and I didn't fancy hauling all that around with me for the rest of the day!
This one is a real heartbreaker. Two nearly complete Greenops (one of which is just an impression), with a third one showing. As readers of my blog already know, the trilobites in the Widder Formation are quite delicate and flaky. Not only does the Widder shale not commonly follow regular bedding planes, breaking anyway they like, but any exposure to rain will cause them to fracture and crumble into little chips. Finding these bad boys intact, and not just endless moults, is rare.
After about two hours on the south bank, there really wasn't much to find. The cliffs were too vertical to risk chopping out benches, and all the fallen slabs had been split and picked over. And so I defaulted to my usual location on the north side of the river, attempting to continue some benches and find some trilobites. While splitting for a few hours, this oddball showed itself. No, not a fossil snowflake, but a hederellid - a kind of branching colonial animal that usually affixes itself to brachiopods and corals (thanks to Don C. on The Fossil Forum for the ID).
Some of the orthocone nautiloids that come out of the Widder can be very impressive as they are usually pyritized. However, they are also very delicate in that unforgiving shale. The pieces below all belong together, but it will be a matter of Humpty Dumpty to put them into their proper shape as some of the pieces crumbled into nothingness when I attempted to clean them. Derp.
The grey shale pieces here all come from a very thin layer I was working where it seemed the Greenops were coming out relatively whole. Following it horizontally, and spot-checking vertically at various parts of the strata, ended up in the trail going cold - just butts, bits, and pieces. Notice the squished one at the top middle...
...So I gave it a quick and careful application of the engraver to pop off some of the matrix. I might risk doing a bit more to see if the cephalon is still there. One has to be very careful in using vibration tools as the trilobite itself is liable to flake off. I might apply some quick crazy glue before trying again.
It was getting close to departure time, so I made my way out of the river and woods back to the north pit, and then scanned the Hungry Hollow Member for little bits. This fairly decently sized Platyceras was only showing a tiny bit of spine from the dirt. Digging it out, here it is in its large glory. Spines on this coprophagous species usually only appear on the juveniles, which can be very tiny (0.5 cm or less!), so it was surprising to see them on such a large one. Here are two other pictures of the same specimen from different angles:
That's about it for this time. Next weekend I hope to be making a trip back in time to the Ordovician - stay tuned!