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.
My fossil forum friend, Jason, had sent me a great assortment of fossils which arrived on the first day of my three-day fossil trip. Have a look: these are mostly from Calvert Cliffs, and includes some great Miocene shells and plenty of teeth, plates, and... on the far right is the Cambrian exception: the tiny trilobite Perenopsis (actually: Itagnostus interstricta).
A short post today before I'm off for three days at three different quarries.
So I spent the latter half of the morning at my usual spot just beyond my backyard, cracking rocks in the rip rap pit. There is a wide variety of formations present, all of them in a big jumble. I do know that they largely span the early to mid Devonian. I was not expecting to find much as I've been there so many times that it has become the victim of my picking it over! However, surprises still happen on occasion.
A new entry to be included in the trilobite gallery. Initially, I thought this was just another Anchiopsis anchiops, as their tail fragments are among those I find on occasion in these rocks. But it is not quite right. These are images from Rolf Ludvigsen's 1979 book, Fossils of Ontario: The Trilobites. The one on the right is the closer match: Coronura aspectans, which is found in the Dundee Fm.
.How I can suspect it is Coronura is based on a few observations: 1. The pygidium of my specimen does not taper in the same way as an Anchiopsis; 2. The number of pleural pairs is very high; 3. The axial lobe is relatively thin; 4. There seems to be small concavity at the pydigium's edge that would either have been a single spike (no) or the two-pronged spike of a Coronura.
And so, as tentatively confirmed by my TFF friend, Don, I'm going with Coronura aspectans. Awesome!
*****But wait, there's more!*****
Actually, the tentative ID is incorrect. It was tentative, just for the record, based on a poorly preserved specimen. Scott, our trilobite expert on TFF, has given the ID as Trypaulites erinus from the Bois Blanc Fm. Not a new genus for me, but definitely a new species. Here is the picture Scott referenced, put next to another image of my specimen. We have a dead ringer!
So, a few things to mention here. T. erinus is described in "STRATIGRAPHY AND PALEONTOLOGY OF THE SYNPHORIIDAE (LOWER AND MIDDLE DEVONIAN DALMANITACEAN TRILOBITES)" by Pierre Lesperance (thanks again to Scott for the reference, and from where the image above comes).
Second point being that this specimen is only known by its pygidium; no other parts have been found. I suppose there is a chance that this is not a common find.
This year has had a lot of these moments where I seem to find uncommon/rare trilobites for which only fragments are known - or, in some cases, no specimens have been recorded where I found them (but they are described in equivalent units elsewhere). Finding fragments may seem like a bummer, and a lot of fossil collectors would pitch them aside in search of a full specimen, but there are specimens out there so rare that finding a fragment is a significant event.
It looks as though the "rip rap hill/pit" behind my home is a veritable trove of uncommon specimens. And to think, several years ago, I just ignored a lot of the rock there or assumed it was just dull Dundee stuff. I've now found five distinct genera at this location, and I can only hope more rock gets exposed for me to split. At the same time, trilobites are not abundant at this location; many have been the trips when I came back skunked without even a trace of trilobite, and I would say it is now about 1 in 5 trips that I find even a single trace. But I need more weathering and exposure. I am pretty much running out of rock to break, and spending my time sifting through tiny shards of my own previous visits is unlikely to make for a lot more winning visits.
I simply have too much work at the moment to dig into all those Penn Dixie finds, but I did manage to play with one roller yesterday morning.
On the far left, this is how I found it, barely peeking through the shale. I had a feeling it was complete, so I put it in the bucket. The next image is what it looks like after a bit of work with the Dremel and dental picks. On the far right is after using a small flathead lens screwdriver. The purpose here is to eventually free it from the matrix, but trenching around it is a good idea to avoid accidentally causing a crack to run through the specimen.
Using sturdy tongue and groove pliers, I was able to clip off the matrix to free the bug. Not a bad looking one, although it is more crushed than enrolled. There's also a tricky bit of "underbite" where the pygidium protrudes farther than the cephalon. On the right is what it looks like after some sewing needles and 20 minutes of air abrasion at 40 PSI using baking soda. It still has some stubborn matrix to remove, but that may have to wait until I can get my hands on some dolomite as blasting media. Still, not a bad job compared to what it initially looked like!
We had started around 4 pm the previous day in "brach city," an area that is close to the small tributary. This is an ideal spot to find a lot of Spinatrypa spinosa, Mucrospirifer audaculus, Athryris sp., Orbiculoiodea sp., Pseudotrypa sp., Rhipodomella sp., and Mediospirifer... The shale here is very crumbly, so these ones pop right out of the matrix. Trilobite pieces can be abundant here, but very rarely complete (comparable to the high energy coral biostrome of the Hungry Hollow member). The Mucrospirifers can be quite fragile and a challenge to find intact, but we got a bunch. We filled a bucket and planned to spend our final half day before leaving just focusing on this area. It is also filled with crinoid stems, bryozoans, occasional pelecypods, and other marine bits.
And thank goodness for easy pickings! My hammering arm was sore and my grip strength felt pretty weak.
A bit of a mucky layer, but you can pick out the shells in these pieces, along with the impression of a Greenops cranidium and an Edredgeops cephalon.
Not the most exciting picture, but it gives insight into what the layer looks like with all the brachiopods just waiting to pop right out.
There are clustered areas in the layer where the bigger shells congregate, and this is one of them.
A sweet and uncommon find in this layer: a full Eldredgeops rana that is very tough to find in these crumbly layers. Pictured on the right is what it looks like after some delicate work with a dental pick.
We filled buckets with brachs. This is just one of them.
We managed to collect about a thousand intact brachs. It will take me some time to clean and sort them all.
A small pile of spirifers (Mucrospirifer and Mediospirifer). For scale, most of these are almost two inches wide.
A small pile of Spinatrypa spinosa. Some can be quite large (about the size of a silver dollar) and came out either thin or plump, single or dual valved.
A small pile of Pseudotrypa sp. They come out either somewhat flattened or very plump, a bit bigger than cherry tomatoes.
Again, hardly representative of all the examples collected of each species, but cleaning and sorting of 1000 brachs will take time! We have here some Athyris sp., Rhipodomella sp., and another species I have to double check.
My next post will be the "aftermath" portion where I actually go through the large number of buckets filled with fossils, and get those to the prep table! Stay tuned...
The weakening vestiges of Hurricane Nate had made its way northward and gave Western NY a bit of a soaking. The weather forecast up to this point had been inconsistent to say the least, so it was really a gamble on what this day would bring. So we did a little bit of shopping in the morning, and by 11 am or so the rain finally stopped. So it was back to the site. However, so much rain had fallen that we were met with a fairly flooded area. That bench I carved out the day before? A little lake.
Those slabs I cut out the day before were on top of piles of overburden, so we were able to spend some time breaking those down and finding some good rollers and the occasional prone.
Although the torrential rains had stopped, the drizzle was constant. Rocks got covered in mud, my gloves became slick and muddy along with the tools, so it made work very challenging. I spent about and hour bailing the muddy water out of the bench with a bucket, and we spent another hour or so scraping and shovelling off goopy, sticky overburden. I was then able to hack out a near shopping cart sized slab that took a lot out of me. With some artful use of a wedge and pry bar, I was able to lift it just enough to get my fingers in and do a mighty pull by securing one boot on a ledge and the other stabilizing it so it wouldn't fall on top of me. It took about five or six tries, but I was able to get it on its side and start carving. The stuff was very dense and not cooperating as bedding planes just weren't a thing for this rock. Still, I managed to turn a boulder into shards, probably bagging little more than ten or so trilos. Not a great return on investment!
By about 4 or so, there really was no point continuing with this bench. Water was filling back in and I couldn't determine where the bottom of the slabs were except by touch. Also, the water had seeped into the cracks creating additional suction. I was just too pooped with the big slab anyway, so off we went to the brach area.
The not so great lakes. Wet, muddy, drizzly, and almost impossible to work.
This layer was "sticky" and dense, so some of the carapace got stuck to the impression side. That's a real bummer as this one is a complete prone.
On the left, a trilobite peeking out at the contact edge of a slab. It came out full and fine. On the right, a headless one, but fairly large at about an inch wide.
Deb and I came back from three half-days at the Penn Dixie site with an ok mix of finds despite some weather and site challenges. This is usually an ideal time for us to get out and collect as Monday was our Thanksgiving, and my university has implemented a new Fall Reading Break. However, not everything went according to plan!
We arrived around 1 pm and left before sunset.
The site itself is vastly different from when we were on the big TFF dig back in April. After the Digging with the Experts, a lot of overburden seemed to have been dumped on areas we had been working. About 5 or more feet of the stuff, actually. Usually one will find a spot where a bench has been started, and that becomes the starting point for expansion. Not so much this time around as it more meant starting a bench from scratch at the right spot where the trilobite layer is. I found an entry point about a foot and half wide and we got to work moving about a foot or more of overburden. I then starting carving out slabs and placing them on the piles of debris we were scooping up (I'm glad I did as Day 2 will make clear).
There was a slightly higher proportion of Greenops bits at this spot as I suspected from the general area we had covered last year. Pictured here are some slabs. The first one with my rock hammer dangling was resting on a very smooth inclined layer that ran about 4-5 feet wide and about 3 feet deep. The bottom half of that slab is about a foot and the top tapered part is only about a few inches. The one I pulled out the next day was a real monster at about 2.5x larger and about 400 lbs, and it took a heck of a lot of energy and several tries to wrestle it into an upright position. My back was pretty sore after that! The other slab pictured has some promise as there are some trilobite parts showing.
Ultimately, I was in search of a trilobite party, and the stuff at the base of the inclined layer seemed to hold a bit of promise for a multi-plate.
Some of the slabs I was talking about. The second one has some trilobite promise.
These pieces above have trilobites. The one on the right is a little trilobite party!
Who is that peeking out? Judging by the broad and uniquely styled genal spine, it is none other than the very rare Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi in an awkward diagonal position through the bedding planes. This will take some preparation finesse!
This is how I left the bench at the end of Day 1. Looks promising, doesn't it?
Deb and I made it out to Arkona for about four hours yesterday, back to our coveted spot searching for little other than Greenops trilobites. We had full sun, about 16 degrees celsius, so not too hot nor too cool for some dedicated hammer time.
Left and right photos of the bench I've been working for a few trips now. This shot is taken before the real work gets started. The tools are resting just below the rich layer in the Widder Formation from where I have been lucky to find large, not crushed Tornoceras uniangulare specimens, and the highest concentration of mostly complete Greenops widderensis due to its low energy environment. Layers above are mostly dense and filled with shredded bits or weather into crumbling nothingness. I am having to work to the left and right to chase after the rich layer that is maybe only about 3-6 inches thick. It will also mean most of this trip will be me removing overburden, as well as moving a lot of suboptimal shale to get at that layer.
Deb sifts through the debris from chunks I've pitched down the cliff in my bench-making. Leaving them to weather like this over a few weeks makes them a bit easier to split, and allows for finding stuff I might have missed in the throes of some shale-moving frenzy.
First blood. Within ten minutes of some splitting, I find an almost full Greenops.
And then barely moments later, a full Tornoceras uniangulare. Sadly, it is in rough shape, and it was the only one I found on this trip (see my previous visits for some nicer ones I found here, and here). It did break when I tried to remove it, so some crazy glue is going to be needed.
Possibly a full Greenops, much of it trickily tucked into the matrix. Picture on the right is what it looks like after just a quick chipping off of matrix.
Here is a piggy pile of partial Greenops. You can tell by this image just how flaky and delicate these are, which presents an enormous challenge in terms of finding them well preserved.
More partials. I've collected quite a few in the last while.
Deb strikes trilobite gold. This one may be dirty and somewhat sunk into the matrix (nothing a good prep couldn't fix), but this is a full and intact Greenops, making that not one, but TWO full ones in our four hours there.
Associated pieces from the large fish plate Deb found a few weeks ago.
Another neat find by Deb: a phyllocarid mandible. First one I've ever seen on any trip I've been on to Arkona.
Deb is working her bench. My bench is gradually getting closer to connecting with hers (to the right, near the 3' yellow pry bar).
The hammer and the damage done: from the base of the cliff, my bench after four hours, extended more than double the width I started with. Sadly, my layer trail went cold and it was a lot of hauling for no new leads. All that rubble is from a lot of shale removal.
A panoramic stitching of three shots at the bench itself.
So, not a bad trip. Short, but intense. My best finds were in the first hour, while Deb's were happening closer to the end of our time there.
My new Paasche AECR arrived a few days ago, and I just got an air compressor last night, so it is time to dig into preparation!
On the left is a 4 ounce bag of potassium hydroxide (KOH), 90% pure. It is a strong alkaline used as an ingredient for making soap. It reacts quickly to moisture in the air, so precautions are necessary in handling it. This is part of the "passive prep" approach: place a few flakes of the KOH on a fossil you want to remove matrix from, check in once every hour, and leave it for 4-8 hours before rinsing it off and repeating as necessary. I've done a preliminary soak but didn't see any real difference, so I'll have to try again. On the right is the air eraser with built-in moisture trap.
A 3 gallon air compressor purchased from Princess Auto, right out of the box. It is safety rated up to 150 PSI, but the air eraser only operates between 0-55 PSI. This compressor comes with a pressure regulator. It is a bit loud, and it cycles very often due to such a small air tank, but I wanted to make sure I'd be keen on preparation before shelling out over 500 bucks or more for a serious air compressor. I attached all the hoses and teflon-taped each connector to stop up any air leaks.
With the hoses all connected and ready, time to bake up some blast medium. I am using plain old baking soda, which should be fine for the kind of shale matrix I usually deal with. I spread this on the cookie sheet, bake at about 250 F for 20 minutes, let cool, and transfer it immediately into an air tight container. As baking soda takes moisture from the air, the baking process gets rid of the moisture, since any of that will cause clumping and clog the air eraser.
So I'm ready to roll, but let's take stock of our safety equipment first. When using any blasting equipment where there will be fine particles, you certainly don't want to be breathing them in. As someone who is an ex-smoker, I'm pretty keen on keeping my lungs clean! I use a N95 dust mask, and have an additional high-grade respirator. I use full safety goggles and long thick rubber welding gloves as you don't want to accidentally abrade your hands.
I'm doing my test run outdoors in the backyard. This stuff produces a lot of dust. When colder temperatures forces me back indoors, I will be building a sealed blast cabinet, and attaching a dust collection system like a shop vac.
Time for a test run! It took me a few hours of fiddling around to get this thing to work, and I'm still having problems ensuring good air flow and the right amount of medium (if it picks it out of the canister at all). Pictured above is a before and after on a partial Greenops widderensis. I'm beginning my prep on junky pieces first to learn how to use this tool. No sense going right for the prize specimens and risking ruining them. As you can see, after about 5 minutes of abrasion, it has done an ok job removing excess matrix in the nooks and crannies, as well as matrix around the bug. Much finer, detail work may require affixing modified dispensers of about 18 or 20 gauge.
My next victim was this Eldredgeops rana cephalon from Arkona. Not too shabby. It can be slow going, so patience is required.
Another partial Greenops practice dummy. I love how it brings out the chocolate brown and gets rid of the dusty grey.
This is a semi-prone Flexicalymene senaria I picked up in Brechin, Ontario. This one is not only going to need a lot more work, but perhaps a stronger blasting medium than baking soda, such as dolomite given that the matrix is tougher than Widder or Penn Dixie shale. Still, a lot more detail is visible now compared to when I found it!
And just a quick before and after pic. The first is when I found it in the field, and the second after a bit of prep.
I did try out a few other specimens not pictured here. It seems to do a pretty good job on some brachiopods. I still have a great deal to learn about how to properly use this tool, and will be asking advice of prep experts, and practicing.
Stay tuned: my next anticipated trip will be a return to Penn Dixie in October.