Unless by dint of some miracle the snows melt away, I think I'll have to call the season. This year has had its highlights and its challenges, and so I would class it as mixed in terms of collecting success compared to 2017. There were some notable challenges this year:
* Late spring and early winter definitely truncated the season.
* An overly hot July and rainy August + scheduling conflicts meant less trips
* My backyard honey hole is pretty much tapped out
* A premium Ordovician collecting site was shuttered to collectors this year
Trilobite collecting diversity was a bit low. Whereas last year I had managed to collect 14 new species, this year's total was only 4. The surge in species acquisitions was mostly supplied through purchases and trades.
Of the trips made this year, a roundup:
* 10 trips to the backyard honey hole with one exceptional find
* A combined 6 days at Penn Dixie (late April, early October)
* My first trip to Deep Springs Road (late April)
* 2 trips to Bowmanville (May and October)
* A combined 15 or so days in the Arkona area
Due to a lack of more local viable sites this year, it meant many of us had to fall back on focusing our efforts on the Widder beds near Arkona, and we managed to excavate extensively this year. The finds were quite good (numerous full Greenops widderensis, placoderm plates, pyritized cephalopods), but somewhat repetitive.
Serious collectors up here in Canada are a little like squirrels. We try to collect as much material as possible for preparation over the winter. Pictured below is 4 of about 5 or so beer flats of material for preparation.
There is more than what is pictured here, but it isn't preparation riches.
Two new areas of focus certainly mark the year. The first has been in the gradual improvement to both my preparation tools/area and skills.
2018 saw the inclusion of that handy trolley, the manifold block for the air tools, a blast chamber my fossil comrade Malcolm made for me, a shop vac, and a new sturdy stool (previously, it was a too-low kitchen chair where the seat was propped up by boxes of rocks with a cushion atop it -- hardly comfortable or convenient). Other stuff include the usual tools of the trade (not all pictured): scrapers, blast media, glues, blades, brushes of all sizes, portable cases, etc. I also now have a nice display cabinet for the trilobites in the living room.
The second area of focus has been extensive reading and research. As I make the transition from "weekend warrior" style fossil hobbyist to something more substantive, I have been consuming a large volume of academic literature on trilobites -- everything from studies on Isoteline hypostome function, biostratigraphy, ecdysis patterns, pathologies and predation, provincial faunalism, eye-blindness trends in evolutionary morphology, microsculpture variation, etc. I also managed to read through the entirety of the trilo-bible, "Treatise O" (the revised Kaesler volume of 1997, sadly not yet including the much-needed two other volumes to round out the rest of the taxonomic Orders). Courtesy of a trilobite worker's kind textual gifts and raiding my own university library, I am effectively training myself to be a subject matter expert on all things trilobite.
IN FOcus: Arkona
Before and after: excavation area #1 (January - October). End of season image does not do much justice to the work done as a lot of debris is already burying the work.
I have been tardy in photographing all the more recent finds from Arkona since my last post about it back in July or August, but there were a few more trips made where I made mostly similar finds as in previous trips this year. Excavation work was extensive this season (and, as I'm the human backhoe, my bar for what I consider extensive is fairly high!). Last season's work became entirely buried by several metres of overburden and debris after the usual processes of winter and the fall of the erosion-resistant widow-makers higher up in the Widder.
Effectively, we had to start from scratch. Pictured above was our first major multi-day foray to get a bite into the cliff from which we could clear out debris and extend benches. It took some doing to locate the productive trilobite layer given that the overburden was obscuring the visible facies, meaning we were flying a bit blind. At the point pictured above, we're still a bit high in the formation by about 1-1.5 metres. Not a bad guess, though, and we were able to work it down and across throughout the season, managing the usual issues of cross-bedding and complicated interlocking of the Widder.
The difference a month makes. In May, Malcolm unlocking new areas. In June from the same vantage point, during Roger's annual visit to Canada, the aftermath of much more removal. We finally hit pay dirt as some remarkable finds were being made at this point after about 7 combined days of clearing and slab hauling.
By the end of spring and into early summer, excavation site #1 is well over 2 metres high, 1-1.5 metres deep, and 10+ metres wide.
Many of us contributed time and muscle to dig this out, with most (solo) visits done by me given that I live the closest to the area and have more ready access. About 12 of us hammered away at this, with a dedicated core of about half of us making repeat visits. By summer, our first excavation was pretty much tapped out unless we wanted to repeat the long clearing process to dig in deeper, which would have meant having to work from the top. We then struck a new claim nearby to the east of the same exposure.
Excavation area #2 was a bit thinner on trilobite pulses. You can see the first area to the far left of Greg.
The slope below the excavation is littered with splits from previous visits. I was able to unlock everything to the right of Greg.
The extent of excavation area #2 just won't fit in a single photo. On this final day, I was able to clear out over 15+ metres to the east. Below the excavation, you can see the massive blocks of the encrinal Hungry Hollow Member. The Widder begins just atop of that and extends to the root of the trees above. The Widder is a strange (and sometimes frustrating) formation where certain faunal intervals repeat, including very dense brachiopod limestone, mushy shale, fossil-poor nodular calcareous shales, and stuff that just weathers to chips and nothingness with poor preservation due to underground water runoff.
In all, it was a substantive amount of focused work to get the site productive again, although I fully expect it to be completely buried by next spring, when the process will have to be started from scratch yet again.
A mostly pyritized and enrolled Greenops widderensis found on my very last trip to Arkona. I have a few rollers to prepare this winter, and such configuration does not lend itself to just basic preparation skills.
FINDS OF THE YEAR
As stated, collecting opportunities were not as plentiful this year due to site closures, weather, and scheduling conflicts. And, of course, the occasional injuries I would sustain from various physical activities. This year, rather than post my best according to taxonomy, some highlights of what made the year special. I am only including here the stuff that was collected, not purchased or acquired as gifts and trades.
Perhaps among my most scientifically significant finds would be this fragmentary cephalic fringe from Odontocephalus sp. found in the imported low-mid Devonian fill (Amherstberg - Bois Blanc - Dundee formations) of my backyard spot. Only a handful of fragments have been reported in the literature in terms of Ontario of a species that is more common in New York deposits. The last significant find of said fragments may be Stauffer's in 1915.
Not just one, but two examples of a new species for me from Bowmanville: Levicerarurus mammilloides. Specimen on the left was prepared by Kevin B., and I have the on the right in my preparation queue (the right eye is in the impression). This is an uncommon cheirurid initially identified by Bill Hessin in 1988, and is restricted to Bowmanville (Hiller Member of the Cobourg Formation). The first one was find in the May trip, and the second in the October trip.
Just a few samples of some placoderm pieces, some of which may be new to science (I still need to deposit them to the ROM along with previous years' finds). The middle one is certainly not new, but a typical placoderm armour plate from Protitanichthys.
This was more a bucket-list item for me. It took three trips to Bowmanville, but I finally found a full Isotelus mafritzae. This one is morph type 'A' due to the presence of the genal spine. I'm still in the process of preparing it, and will be restoring some missing shell. It is only slightly above average size for the species at almost perfectly 100 mm (sag.). I've not seen any specimens that also present such distinct muscle attachment scars on the axis.
Initially just a Greenops widderensis threesome, my friend Kevin's prep skills on my early summer Arkona find produced the surprise of a fourth one. All are enrolled in this gregarious assemblage. As these are body fossils rather than moults, it is likely they enrolled in response to a sudden catastrophic mudslide that effectively buried and smothered them.
Of the four new trilobite species found this year, this would be a short list:
* Odontocephalus sp. (?selenurus) - My thanks to both Scott M. and Dave Rudkin for confirming the ID.
* Leviceraurus mammilloides
* Thaleops sp.
* Flexicalymene croneisi
I was fortunate this year to make new field friends courtesy of their visits to my collecting localities, or to theirs. I was able to meet several new people from The Fossil Forum in person, and many others who are not on the Forum. I made new friends, and cultivated existing ones. In a niche passion such as ours, camaraderie is quickly established (and it helps that we can talk shop without our interlocutors becoming glaze-eyed!).
In the year since I took on a more serious approach to fossil preparation with specialized equipment, I've seen marked improvement in my skills, and I've had an embarrassment of riches in terms of getting guidance from veteran preparators. Some highlights of this year from my "lab":
Although the season has now dictated that I must down collecting tools, it means picking up the preparation tools while dreaming of what new and exciting opportunities for collecting may be in the offing for 2019.
I am reminded of one of Charles Southworth's statements about February, when we stop reminiscing about the collecting season that we've just had and start thinking about the season to come.
Looking ahead to 2019, there are already some new potential opportunities in central New York, in Ontario, and possibly even some digging when I visit Germany next summer. I am also hopeful that some of the sites that have been removed from our list this year will be available next year.
This blog will also not be taking a hiatus just because snow blankets the sites; I will be updating periodically as I acquire new specimens via purchase, and tackle my preparation piles. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
No rest for the weary! After the big multi-day dig, I was up in Barrie helping to downsize a house and got to keep some supplementary tools that will help at the prep bench and in the field. A selection of awls, sandpaper, tiny screwdrivers, and even a fish knife all come in handy when paired with the precision tools I use.
So began a bit of prep.
This is the placoderm plate that I chased to its end. I'm thinking it is a plate from Protitanichthys rockportensis.
I'm always looking to hone my preparation skills, so practicing on less than perfect trilobites is ideal. The one on the left is by far the best of the two, but could still use some restoration on the right side by grafting a bit of cephalon and the right genal spine.
Small and battered, this goniatite is now clean.
Although incomplete, this Tornoceras unioangulare has some stunning detail after I put it under heavy abrasion.
A pity this one is missing a few pieces, but not a bad preliminary prep if I do say so myself!
Some of the other trilobites are going to be much tougher work, and they are also missing pieces. The main thing is that my prep skills are improving with practice. Beyond that, someone from the University of Calgary has shown some interest in the placoderm pieces I pull from the Widder Formation. There is a remote possibility that I might have something new to science, but who knows? Just as a refresher, two previous placo pieces that might be worth studying:
It's just too darn hot to go out collecting these days, but I'm really hoping to get out there relatively soon, if not also a possible trip to Western NY pending Deb's work schedule.
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.
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.
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.
I was able to spend a solid two hours in the south pit at Arkona this past weekend. The rain went from drizzle to downpour, and as mucky and unpleasant as it might make a sustained outing, the weather this season has been so erratic and rain-soaked that it is nigh impossible to plan collecting trips around (unreliable) forecasts.
Still, I made it fairly well in what was mostly a surface collecting operation. The rain brought out the colours of the weathered out fossils very well, making their browns and blacks "pop" for easier spotting.
Weathering out of the Arkona clay, I spotted quite a few of these goniatites. On sunny days, at the right angle, the sunlight makes their pyritized surfaces shine and become easily found; in rain, they show up as dark brown against the Arkona shale's light grey. But these are all full specimens. I've arranged these in ascending order of size, and I was quite impressed to find such large ones when a lot of them tend to be hardly larger than the head of a pin.
Finding full Eldredgeops rana rollers is not unheard of here, but the place does get picked over so thoroughly that they certainly are tougher to find. This roller (pictured at the bottom) had its pygidium sticking up and my eye was immediately drawn to it. As finding disarticulated pieces are the norm, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out this one was complete. Pictured above it is a small piece of fish plate.
This bumpy piece is a bryozoan. I don't find many of this particular type, and its constellatory arrangement reminded me of when I found that very rare bryozoan at the JD Quarry in June.
The amount of coral one has to sift through can be exasperating, but from time to time one encounters a nice piece worthy of putting in the collecting kit. In this case, a multi-cup example where the calyxes are very nicely articulated.
A collection of Platyceras spinosum. The one on the far left has still retained some of its stubby spines, while the one in the middle is a juvenile. One little fact about these gastropods is that they were coprophagous (they ate poop!), and so it is common to see them fossilized as being a symbiotic attachment to various creatures, particularly crinoids (although I do have one that affixed itself to a coral).
I always manage to pick up little goodies, even if I already have plenty of examples of these already. This assortment is heavily dominated by crinoid ossicles, some with cirra, but if you look closely you will find some tiny nautiloids, brachiopods, and the "button coral" Microcyclus on the upper left hand side.
And, finally, below is a short slideshow of some of the above finds under digital microscope at x75 magnification. In all, not a bad haul for two hours collecting in lashing rain!
This past year has been precedent-setting for fossil collecting as it has also meant a staggering number of new and fascinating specimens added to a collection that seems to have colonized a lot of space in the house. No fewer than 8 trips to Hungry Hollow, countless trips to my nearby “honey hole,” some visits to the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, and 2 fabulous multi-day adventures at Penn Dixie. Deb and I have found numerous trilobites, including several full prone Greenops widderensis, well over a hundred Eldredgeops rana rollers and prone specimens (this in itself a major change from a few years back when I hadn’t bagged even one full specimen), and some fairly large and nearly complete Pseudogygites latimarginatus. And that’s just the trilobites. Several new types of corals, gastropods, brachiopods, crinoids, and cephalopods were also added - and even a fish plate. So many were gathered, in fact, that I was glad to be able to sell off some excess in support of the United Way campaign at work.
The above trilobite, Flexicalymene ouzregui, was my first fossil purchase, a gift to Deb for all her great work and finds this past year. It is Ordovician in age and from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
Coral of the Year prize is tied with this specimen and one acquired from a trail. Both are Devonian
A lot of contenders for Assemblage of the Year, but the usual stuff from Arkona can take a backseat this time. It is a tie between this gravestone-sized block of black shale from Ottawa with plenty of Pseudogygites latimarginatus trilobites (and nautiloids), and an assemblage of Eldredgeops rana from Penn Dixie
Among a lot of brassy-coloured Goniatites and sundry other Devonian goodies, this slightly pyritized nautiloid from the Widder shale weathered out whole and not in its usual crushed state in the shale, earning it Cephalopod of the Year.
It was a bit of a challenge to settle on Gastropod of the Year, what with some neat high-spired specimens, but let's give the honour to my specimen Naticonema lineata from the encrinal layer of the Arkona Fm.
Although I did find a crinoid "bulb," I'm giving this pyritized beauty from the Arkona mud-shale Crinoid of the Year even if it is just a stem.
Amidst hundreds upon hundreds of brachiopods collected this year, including giant spirifers and the like, I could have copped out and said all of them are deserving of the honour of Gastropod of the Year, but let's opt for this specimen that preserved the umbilicus.
And the only fish fossil contender of the year, a confirmed fish plate from the Widder Fm
Contenders for Trilobite of the Year are legion. Instead of simply picking the biggest or most "perfect" specimen, this year is a tie between a Greenops widderensis that Deb found in the brittle Widder shale of Arkona, and an Eldredgeops rana that had been twisted and wrenched into an odd configuration, found at the Hungry Hollow Mbr of the Widder.
What follows are some odds and sods I hadn't got around to posting. Until the 2017 collecting season!