Well, it has been a while since the last blog post, but a flurry of recent activity has seen me on multiple days out in the field with fossil comrades doing extensive excavation at our hide-y hole in the Devonian strata. Being bogged down with work has meant that things were quiet on the fossil front for much of the month of June, and a surge of fossil activity here at the end of the month has been exceptionally productive.
Of course, the first few days are about site preparation: digging out overburden, hauling out blocks to dry before splitting, and bench extension while searching for the productive horizon. All that hard work certainly paid off well, and I can safely say that I came away with at least twelve or so full Greenops, a few lovely pyritized cephalopods, and even two very significant examples of placoderm armour.
There were rainy days that made it a slog, but between the group of us (five of us in total, but with people pinching in and out), we moved and split a significant amount of rock.
What now remains is a lot of preparation. The images here are all field fresh, and should come out quite stunning.
Definitely a trip-maker. Finding a complete Greenops widderensis makes for a good day, but this lucky split yielded a multi-plate of three. As these were delicate, and it started raining, I had to douse these in cyanoacrylate quickly so that it would survive the trip home. It is right now in the hands of my friend Kevin who will prepare it and possibly poke around to see if there are any others hiding in the rock.
Loads of trilobites. The last image is of one that has its tail stuck under matrix in the negative, so I'll be gluing it together and prepping it down. Finding so many over a few days meant that we were digging at the right spot.
And yet a few more. The one on the top right is very small and tucked in nicely in the jagged fracture of the bedding plane. The one at the bottom was a very tricky one because the rock wanted to break in every which direction. I had to chisel groove around while another of our crew stabilized it with his hand. A slow process to tap gently, stop, and observe where the crack is going. Sadly, it came out a bit broken on one side, but we wicked the glue on the running cracks and collected any bits of shell that came off to be reapplied during prep.
We were coming across Devonian plant material a bit more often. This stuff is likely fallen pieces that the shore laps up and, after getting water-logged, falls to the sea floor.
Kevin found a real prize in this one. Nicely inflated, well preserved, and pyritized nautiloid.
Not anywhere near as dramatic, but two of my own cephs -- dirty Tornoceras.
A prize find: a good chunk of placoderm plate with that biggest piece being quite thick like a chunk of bone.
And yet another lovely piece of placoderm with full pustular surface. I'm still working away at it slowly on the prep bench, having yet to find where it ends in its companion rock.
In all, a fantastic trip. Great people, great finds. I have a lot of prep work to get to in the coming while.
Readers of the blog may recall a find from my Bowmanville trip back in late May, and the uncertainty of the species. Kevin excellently prepared this beauty, and although it is missing pygidial spines, it is indeed the rarer trilobite Leviceraurus mammilloides.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Deb and me spent the day at our usual Arkona spot, focusing exclusively on the calcareous layers of the Widder Formation in search of more complete Greenops widderensis. We certainly moved a lot of shale with results that may have fallen short of pristine specimens, but far better luck than we'd been having this year. Having zeroed in on a very productive layer, we were finding more relatively complete specimens rather than just bits.
A mixed bunch of semi-partials on the left, and more complete specimens on the right. Sadly, even the complete ones are fairly damaged or distorted - that's just the way the Widder breaks.
What some of these look like after a bit of prep. The one on the left is likely a complete roller, but far too delicate for the tools I have on hand to prep out better. The one in the centre is complete save for the disappointing damage to the upper right cephalon. The one on the right is likely complete, but crushed and would require far more precise tools under a scope to prep.
A heavily pyritized Michelinoceras was among the circumstantial finds. The layers with the higher percentage of full trilobites rests above the hard brachiopod layer, but will also have its fair share of nautiloids and ammonoids. There is also a thin yet productive layer beneath the brachiopod layer that has several ammonoids, but fewer trilobites overall.
Generally, at this level of the Widder Fm, if it is long, thin, and not straight, it will be a pyritized worm burrow. In this instance, we have the appearance of fairly uncommon crinoid stalk which looks to possibly be terminating in a calyx (only some prep will determine one way or another). This would be the first evidence of crinoid I've seen this high up in the formation.
Ammonoids (Tornoceras uniangulare). The two little ones need a bit of a cleanup, while the middle is a whopper at 35 mm. The big one was wedged between two bedding planes in a large slab I was splitting. Although on the hunt for Greenops, this was a trip maker for me. It is fully inflated and intact - not terribly common for the larger ones in that shale as they tend to come out flattened and crushed. The smallest ones at the site (Tornoceras arkonense) come out of the Arkona Formation, and readers of this blog have seen pictures of several ones I've pulled out from there.
The detail on it is also quite good, and might look even better with proper preparation. Those suture lines are fantastic.
But perhaps the real trip-making prize goes to Deb for this find. This is a substantial piece of the arthrodire placoderm, Protitanichthys sp. (I think). It lacks the plate segments of a Bothriolepis canadensis. Most people just find tiny pieces of fish plate, so this one is a really great find. The exact species is not entirely certain to me yet, but the Devonian fish of the Widder are not well described.
So, although we didn't quite find any pristine trilobites this time, the stuff we found by chance in the same layers was more than worth the effort.
Before signing off, for those who would like to see just the trilobites in the expanding collection, I've created a separate gallery page here. It can also be accessed using the green button at the top right of this blog.
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!
Now that the course I was teaching is done, and the heavy rains are behind us, thoughts turn back to the hunt. The heavy rain system that lashed a lot of Ontario and western Quebec left a great deal of flooding. Fortunately, not as much here, but the rivers and lakes had been dangerously high, making any collecting near them too dangerous.
But as it is the long weekend, Deb and I got out to Arkona for a five hour hunt. Overall, not a hunt that bagged the best specimens, but we weren't skunked either.
This is the north bank. The photo does not show the proper scale for the bench I worked out. It was already started by someone else, but I was able to lever out two enormous slabs weighing maybe 300-400lbs each. The slabs were partially covered by overburden, so I underestimated their size until I started seeing a crack. But with a lot of grunting and levering with the pry bar, I freed them and rolled them down the hill to be worked on.
Anyone who has worked the Widder shale before knows all too well that one has to go almost quite literally through tons of it to find a full Greenops. Instead, hundreds of moulted bits are quite plentiful.
There are layers in the Widder almost entirely dominate by spirifer brachiopods, but they are trilobite-poor.
Patience and a lot of hammer blows / rock busting can be rewarded. I was able to call first blood on a likely near-complete Greenops widderensis after a few hours working the slabs. Sadly, this one is tucked in the matrix (but can be worked out) and is missing a chunk of its right cephalon.
But it seemed a pretty good day for nautiloids. Pictured above are three Michelinoceras sp.
This one may be a bit more of a challenge to make out, but if you look closely you can see the spiral shape, with a bit of the texture showing in the upper left (the brassy, pyritized stuff). This would be a Goniatites, and a fairly large one for this strata.
And last up: Deb found her complete Greenops (also tucked in matrix, but in better shape than the one I found). On the right is another semi-inflated pyritized Michelinoceras that I'll have to chip out of the rock.
Pictured above is a before and after picture of the nautiloid I found, prepped with a Dremel. Came out fairly well, but this is as far as I dare to take it using an engraver. One day, air scribes and compressors will be needed!
So that's about the long and short of the five hour Arkona trip. Below are some other odds and sods:
Paid a visit to my local rock shop run by two very nice folks. I picked up these two Flexicalymene ouzregui (Ordovician) from Morocco's Anti-Atlas mountains.
A busy brach hash plate from the Bois Blanc Fm fill out in my back nine.
Nice big brach + impression from the same area.
And lastly, another example of Anchiopsis anchiops - pygidium missing its pygidial spike. Lower right I suspect is just a worn and partially buried Eldredgeops rana. Below is a close-up of the Anchiops with some diagrammatic details provided by our Fossil Forum's resident trilobite expert, Scott. "Anchee," as I will call it, is a dalmanitid trilobite, and the way to tell it is by such an incomplete specimen would be the incised axial rings, shown by the arrows in the re-cropped photo below:
Deb and I just got back from an intensive four-day dig at Penn Dixie in Buffalo. We were joined by several Fossil Forum members, and it was great to put faces to names. We probably spent about 30 or so hours at the site in total, and cleared well over 150 square feet of virgin matrix of the Windom shale. I was also able to make use of some of my new tools, and by far the most valuable one was the 5 lb wedge. There simply wasn't a slab I couldn't yank out. Apart from just a brief bit of rain on the Saturday, the weather was ideal.
On the first day, when it was just me, Deb, and Tim, we plucked some pretty amazing stuff.
We arrived at the site on Thursday, meeting up with Fossil Forum friend, Tim. The site isn't officially open for the fossil collecting season until the following weekend, but as members we can enter any time. Pictured here is the entrance, and Deb's very great idea of adding a wagon to our collecting kit - which makes ferrying tools from the car to the north part of the pit much easier (and in bringing loads of fossils back to the car after a long day of turning rock into rubble!).
As we approached the productive trilobite pit, some white-tailed dear and wild turkeys in full display.
Below are some shots of our crew/chain gang at work if you ever wondered what it's like to work as a team breaking rock in search of great fossil specimens. Between everybody, we had all the right tools for the job and then some.
On Easter Sunday, while others ate chocolate, it was just me, Deb, and Jay working the pit - but it was by far the most productive day with shale that kept on giving. Quite literally hundreds of trilobites were collected on that day. Easter in 'Murica wouldn't be complete without the percussive sound of the shooting range next door, cuz... 'Murica! Guns!
Below, Jay and I get into the real stuff by clearing out large shale slabs at the productive Smoke's Creek trilobite layer. There's a lot of overburden to remove, and some of those slabs can be stubborn... But stubborn is no match for my reputation of being a human backhoe. There's always a nice and satisfying crunch/pop sound when the slab is freed (and a sound you hope isn't coming from your body!).
Deb splits the shale for the win: a nicely articulated Michelinoceras. We were pulling out a lot of nautiloids that day, as well.
We're absolutely exhausted. It's hard to tell with all that rubble that we made, but that entire circle formed of our bodies and tools represents the removal of a heck of a lot of shale (8" - 15" slabs). We dug right down below the water table. These onlookers had just come by and were curious what we were up to.
A find from the very first day, a rare - yet beat up - Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi. If there is 1 Greenops boothi per 100 Eldredgeops rana, there is probably 1 Bellacartwrightia for every 100 Greenops. The Bellacartwrightia are similar in appearance to the Greenops, but with some key differences in the glabellar furrows, spines along the axial lobe, longer pygidial spikes, and more robust genal spines. A nice catch, if I say so myself!
This is hardly representative of the number of Eldredgeops rana rollers and semi-prones I pulled out. I still have a lot to go through and prep. I estimate that I probably found about 250-300 specimens of E. rana.
This one is kind of funny. On the left is a cephalon covering a full prone, making it look like it is wearing one of those oversized masks. To the right of that is a piggy pile of rollers.
This gorgeous full prone popped right out of the matrix. I stabilized it on site with crazy glue to prevent any accidental breakage in transit.
An example of a full semi-prone still in matrix. Won't need too much prep to bring it out, but there may be two rollers also buried in here that need some preparation work.
These two pictures hardly do justice to the number of trilobites that still need some prep attention. Some of them are quite large, too. This will keep me busy for a while!
A fairly representative array of brachiopods one can find at Penn Dixie.
This is an interesting one as it has a black trilobite on top of a brown one. If I can prep it right, it should really stand out and reveal some of those chromatophores.
Top row: a crinoid calyx and a horn coral with encrusted calcite. Bottom row: three fairly well preserved Platyceras.
The group dig provided our members with a great opportunity to trade finds native to our respective areas. Tim very generously gave me a big box of incredible stuff (fish, gastropods, trilobites, ferns, coprolites, etc.) that I will photograph and post as a separate blog entry. For now, I'll post a few new trilobite species for my collection that Tim has given me. This one is a Phalangacephalus dentatus.
And these are fragments of Dipleura dekayi, a very interesting Devonian trilobite. These were collected by Tim at Deep Springs Road, NY.
This has been a memorable and possibly the best fossil collecting trip I've ever been on. Meeting new people, working together to haul rock, sharing our finds, perfect weather, and an abundance of quality specimens really made this a remarkable one. The aftermath - apart from nursing a very sore body! - is to process the finds I have. I expect to be posting a few more entries on the finds I've yet to prep and photograph. Thanks for reading!