Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let the Digging Commence

Monday burst forth with glorious warmth and great potential. It was a wonderful and welcome change from the gloomy rain of last week. This weather enabled us to make the best of our tours and Monday afternoon we managed to head out with our first dig tour to one of our dig sites.

All of the students learned very quickly and they got down to work right away. The warmth of the day made the shale flaky and ready to be brushed aside; which the kids did eagerly! It was a productive day and many of our students found some great fossils. Most were smaller shards that were hard to identify, but it was still exciting to find something that was part of a world from so long ago. One young man in Grade 2 found a mosasaur jaw fragment that still had two of its teeth. It was a great discovery and ended the day triumphantly. 

Mosasaur Jaw
Tuesday was also sunny with temperatures around 24 degrees Celsius. You couldn’t have kept us out of the sun if you had wanted to! Selenite was in abundance and glistened like a sea of diamonds. They aren’t called diamonds for nothing! No…before you ask, sadly, they aren’t real diamonds and they are worth nothing. They are fun to find, however! This was also the day of a large school group dig tour. We drove to our dig site after lunch and brought along as many brushes, shovels and rakes as we could find. Almost immediately students started finding pieces of fossil; a weathered fish vertebra (back bone) here and a possible mosasaur vertebra there. Some of the fossils were poorly preserved and crumbled on contact, but it didn’t dim the joy of discovering the piece! The students were busy the entire time, digging large sites and excavating them thoroughly.

Matt, not pleased with all the bugs

After the tour the fossil crew travelled over to an exposed outcrop that looked interesting. We immediately started to dig a trench to develop a good cross section of the exposed layers. Once again we were out searching for the ever elusive Gammon Ferruginous (rock unit), but, alas, that day we did not find it. We did, however, discover the Boyne (rock unit) as Matt was digging through what should be called the “Grub” member. (As you can tell from the picture, he wasn’t too happy about all the grub!) Anita and I were on top of the outcrop raking through layers and layers of compacted Pembina bentinite so we knew that the Gammon had to be somewhere in between. We shall definitely discover it one of these days!

Wednesday was Lisa’s dig tour. The students were excited to collect selenite and jarosite (a yellow, chalky, mineral) and everyone dug away happily. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Joey discovered the tooth of a Squalicorax, the “Crow Shark” of the Cretaceous.

The Fossil Crew busily excavating

Thursday Matt led another dig tour and one of the students discovered a fish vertebra that was almost nearly complete! According to Matt, it appeared to be from Cimolichthys, an extinct predatory salmonid fish.

Friday was an indoor museum tour with a very large group. We managed to work our system timing perfectly and it was a blast playing Dinosaur tag with the kids! This week was a great success and very exciting!

A Week of Firsts

 Welcome to the 2011 field season at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre! May I introduce you to our new (and some old) summer staff? This year we have a smaller group of summer students working here at the CFDC. Matt Duda has returned in all his glory for yet another year as well as Katie Magitoaux who will be our sole Youth Program Coordinator. There are only two of us field and program staff this season; Lisa Burnett and myself, Shawnee Holmes. We’re all super excited to be here and we’re all enjoying our first week very much!

So let me tell you a little bit about our first week.

Monday was our first day and what a day to begin the season! It was completely overcast with a slight smattering of rain and a good helping of slippery mud.

We also made lots of little friends with…wood ticks. 

Dermacentor variablis
One of the games that is often a great delight to employees at the CFDC is the great Tick Challenge. Basically, whoever has the most ticks wins. And apparently this year the gender of the tick is also important. How on this green planet can you tell the gender of a wood tick? (A little question that most of us have to ask.) Well, you will notice that the females are wearing necklaces while the males have stripes on their backs; suspenders, according to Lisa. Whoever said ticks weren’t classy? I believe I was the winner of that particular escapade with the grand tally being 11 ticks. Anita, wearing protective rubber boots, was our (lucky) “loser” who had absolutely none.

Something else that we learned from our little journey was the importance of being prepared. Some of us didn’t know exactly what we would be doing that day and we left our field equipment at the museum. As it turns out, that wasn’t a great idea. We ended up clearing a section with a boot scraper and two borrowed picks. Just another lesson to remember: always bring the proper equipment! As well as field equipment, we all learned to dress for any eventuality. You never know what the weather will be like!

As we walked along counting our ticks, slipping in mud and enjoying the fresh prairie air and the beautiful scenery (who said Manitoba is totally flat? The Manitoba Escarpment is full of rocking hills!), we examined any outcrop for signs of the next great mosasaur or plesiosaur. Or perhaps even a fish. Just about any fossil would have been nice. So far we had found the hind leg of a long-since-dead deer and several cow bones (all interesting finds in themselves, but still not what we were looking for).

Our discovered strata

It wasn’t long before Anita gave a shout: she’d found an outcrop of exposed strata that looked promising! We set about digging and looking for the Pembina Member; the shale that has produced most of the fossils at the CFDC. We didn’t find any fossils, but we did notice something interesting. The top layer appeared to be the Millwood Member, but what was beneath that layer belied that particular notion. It was red like Gammon (another rock unit), but had none of the other identifying markers of that particular member. We also found the interaction point between two shale members. Definitely worth a day in the mud!

The rest of the week was mostly learning indoors and shadowing tours. One of the school groups arrived, but it was too wet outside for a proper dig and the roads were slippery. We remained indoors and the kids had a blast playing Dino Hunt, Rock ID and Clipbirds.

Friday was the first day that Lisa and I (the two newest employees) did our first tours. We had a blast! We both had a class of kindergartners who were fun. That is a great age as the kids are happy just telling you stories about how many teeth they have lost or pretending to be mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. It is very difficult to pretend swim/walk like a mosasaur, if you ever want to try it. All in all, it was a wonderful first experience.

Fish vertebrae: right one is squished

Friday we also traveled to one of our dig sites despite more cold wind. There is nothing quite like hiking through the wilderness searching the ground for 80 million year old fossils…and then finding said fossils. We practiced writing our field notes (not an easy thing in the wind and cold!) and bagging our precious little fish vertebrae. (As you can see, one is terribly squished.) It was during this excursion that I discovered my very first fossil! What an experience!

It has been a wonderful week of firsts: first tour, first fossils, first time driving a 4-wheel drive, etc. With such a great start, it is obvious that this is going to be a great summer! So come on down and meet our great staff and dig for some fossils. You’ll have a great time!