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.
It was just a week ago that we spent all day carving out big slabs of Widder shale from the productive Tornoceras layer above the brachiopod layer. With the weather holding on to summer by its eye teeth, it was an impromptu invitation from a fellow TFF member, Kevin, who is part of a fossil club that saw us loading up our tools and spending our Saturday in the sun.
We began in the south pit. I spent the morning digging into the high energy coral biostrome of the Hungry Hollow Member, picking through the softer, shale layers. Apart from large rugose corals, there are brachiopods, pelecypods, bryozoan colonies, and trilobites. Because the deposition conditions were turbid, high energy environments, most trilobites only appear as fragments.
Pictured here is one of many of the large trilobite fragments that can be found in this layer. The most common species in this layer is Eldredgeops rana. This one is fairly large, even for this site as evidenced by this plump and inflated glabella. Prepping it a bit more, this one is nearly 2 inches wide.
When I first found this one in the biostrome, all that was showing was the glabella. After some prep with a Dremel and then sewing needle, I uncovered more of the cephalon, but also discovered another cephalon to the bottom left. Sadly, neither are complete, but I was happy to bring out some detail.
The second most abundant species in this layer is Crassiproetus candadensis. Pictured above is how one usually finds them: mostly pygidiums. The crushed one on the right has a slim chance of continuing into the rock, but I am skeptical.
By the afternoon, we made our way to the north side, and I took others to my favourite cliff exposure. This spirifer is quite nice as they can be very delicate, so it is not common to acquire a matrix-free one with its wings intact. This one is over 2 inches wide.
I spent almost four hours in the same spot extending a bench and moving about 30-40 cubic feet of shale. I mostly had to remove a lot of overburden and layers of less productive shale to get to my coveted low energy layer that rests atop the hard brachiopod layer, but also has a chance of finding very nicely preserved ammonoids and nautiloids. The productive layer is about 3-6 inches thick. Again, I failed to find a fully complete and pristine Greenops widderenesis, although the fact that they appear mostly complete as opposed to lots of shredded bits increases the probability of encountering one. I collected this for practice prep as I am expecting a Paasche air eraser in the mail in the next week or so.
Of the 4 or 5 I collected on this day, this one was in the middle of a large slab of shale. It took a lot of careful finesse to extract it without having the shale split through it, or the vibration of the extraction process knock off any of its delicate and flaky shell. This one will clean up fairly nicely.
I don't usually bother with fragments unless they have something special about them. In this case, the cephalon is much larger than one typically finds for a Greenops. This one is over an inch wide. Typically, the species is a little over an inch long. On the right is an impression with some of the shell sticking to it.
Last week I found a large and inflated Tornoceras uniangulare. So why not find another one? This one is slightly smaller and thinner than the one I previously found, but the detail on this one is fantastic. I think it is a gorgeous specimen.
Not pictured would be my usual assortment of odds and sods I always found at Arkona. Although once again I was skunked on finding a pristine Greenops, I still made out very well, and got to collect with two members of the Fossil Forum, too.
Lastly, this piece was not found in Arkona, but I rediscovered it while going through a trip bucket. I picked this up from the Verulam Fm in Brechin. Is it a big crinoid head? Nope. It is an ichnofossil; i.e., a trace left by an organism or organisms. In this case, it is Phycodes ottawense. This mop-headed piece is caused by worms burrowing repeatedly into the sediment from the same spot. Worm burrows bore me to bits, but this one was worth picking up due to its neat appearance.
But stay tuned: there will be at least three major events coming up: 1. Cleaning up a lot of fossils with the new air eraser once that comes and I get a good air compressor; 2. A multi-day trip return to Penn Dixie in October; 3. A possible trip back to the Ordovician on the hunt for Isotelus in Bowmanville in late October. Even without those upcoming events, this has already been the best collecting year ever.