Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mishaps in the Millwood

Monday was Lisa’s first field dig of the week. It was a warm and beautiful day with just enough wind to make it refreshing. A young group of girls found 3 fossils while another group of girls found 2. Unfortunately they were only fragments and therefore unidentifiable, but it was cool nevertheless. The boys were more interested in surveying the area for their finds. They had fun; it was a great day.
This group found tons of stuff!
Wednesday Matt and I had a great tour. We spent the morning in the museum and then popped out to the field in the afternoon after a relaxing lunch in the park. It was a great day, slightly windy, but still warm. We weren’t there more than half an hour and fossils started popping up like daisies! Matt and I were busily running around like gophers confirming fossils, snapping pictures, writing notes and taking names. Our students were great palaeontologists: one group found approximately 7 fossils in one little area and were still making discoveries as we left the site. Needless to say, they didn’t want to leave!

The students were great at getting together in groups and excavating their areas. Mostly they found mosasaur vertebrae; one was squished. Some of the fossils were unidentifiable because they were typical Pembina preservation (typically not great!).

Matt's shoe after he pulled it out.
We took the bus back to the highway and turned to go back to the dig site. Along our way we saw a large blue bird just chilling in the ditch, looking rather regal. We debated over whether it was a stork or a heron (turns out it was a heron) and stopped to take some pictures. Well, the heron was shy and flew off gracefully while I ran clumsily behind like a loping zebra with my camera trying to take a picture. I got one, but it was after a lot of zooming and is slightly shaky!

After that Matt and I decided to head to one of our research sites after we had examined some curious outcrops of Millwood shale. Unfortunately for us, Millwood loves water and it loves to retain moisture. I was fortunate enough to scramble safely to the top of the outcrop and examine some of the exposed layers. Matt, however, was not so privileged. The tricky Millwood appeared dry on the crust, but underneath lurked a slippery, goopy quicksand mixture just anxious for someone to step in and sink. Matt just happened to be that “someone.” He took one step and sank up to his knee in the devious Millwood. After some struggling (and many pictures on my part!) he pulled his muddy foot from the shale victoriously and we decided to head to the research site before we had any more mishaps. The rest of the day passed without a hitch as we excavated part of a mosasaur and found a cornucopia of tiny fish teeth. It was a great end to an interesting day!

On the way to one of the dig sites, we saw a painted turtle on the road clambering along. So Matt and Anita graciously decided to move the poor little guy to the side of a pond. Not long after, we walked back to the vehicle and lo and behold! The turtle was now barreling down the road at top speed and into the grass away from the pond. We were certain he just wanted a ride to the CFDC. Needless to say, we didn’t give him one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Its a Hit!

Saturday was our Dig Launch and it turned out to be a fantastic day for it! There were a few clouds, but the afternoon was sunny and warm. Anita and Joey brought out some tents and a picnic table into the field so people could have some shade and just relax. Coolers full of drinks and snacks lay within reach and we even brought a port-a-potty so that our participants were never in need of anything! Field volunteers Ted and Joe helped teach our participants to dig and to identify fossils and Ted sledge hammered in the first railway spike of the season with great pomp and ceremony.

Ted and the 1st rail spike
of the season!

Some that came out were very prepared for the dig. There was one young man that was so prepared he even brought his own tools! He was a future paleontologist in the making. One group discovered some fossils sometime around lunch! I know it was an enjoyable experience for all. We had lots of people (over 80) come out to our dig site and our bus driver, Cam, and Matt were busy every hour giving people a tour through the Manitoba Escarpment as they wound their way up to the site over bumpy gravel roads.

Lisa and I stayed in the museum conducting the free museum tours. We were kept very busy too as our groups swelled from small groups of 4 or 5 to groups of 20. I recall that I started with one group and there were only 3 at the start. By the end, I had around 25 people. It was awesome and we had such a blast! It was also challenging because we had to condense our normal 45 or 50 minute tours into 30 minutes (not as easy as it sounds!) and then add a 15 minute VIP addition: the collection room. We had to make sure that everyone was out in time for the bus and although it was hard sometimes, we managed to pull it off without a hitch!

Tyler and Katie managed the front and took waiver forms while a few of our wonderful volunteers, Jeanette and Linda worked with the kids and took in registration forms respectively. We all had our jobs and the day went smoothly! Everyone seemed to have a great time and Bruce the Mascot even made his appearances around town at the Block Party.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fishing for Fossils

Wednesday was my first dig tour of this week. I had a large and great group full of enthusiastic kids who were eager to learn. The first fossil was found almost immediately: within 20 minutes of arriving there! Two young boys found a possible fish rib fragment with a hole in it. We hypothesized that it was a tooth mark as the hole was on both sides as if someone (or something) had bit down on both sides. Possibly a mosasaur trying to have some fish for lunch! The second fossil was found shortly after that by two young ladies. It was broken and therefore unidentifiable, but it was still exciting nevertheless! Three more finds followed in rapid succession as our budding paleontologists worked hard to each have their own find. Unfortunately for one group of boys, their find happened to be an anthill full of red ants. Needless to say, they got out of that area pretty quickly!

The quarter is used to
indicate the size
of the fossil.

After the dig I followed Joey, Anita and Ted to our other dig site and we got down to work right away examining the Gammon Ferruginous rocks and moving away the top layers. It was a beautiful day out and while the small stream flowed merrily through the layers of rock, we worked for hours unearthing some more fossils. Joey also bagged some pieces of a fish caudal (tail) fin that had only recently been found.

Thursday we had a smaller group come out. It was an interesting day! The weather made things uneasy for a while, but the kids were absolute troopers and despite the muddy conditions, they continued on with the dig as planned. The morning had started out beautifully; sunny and clear. As soon as we wanted to head out to our dig site the sky darkened and lightning flashed. It started to pour almost immediately and the thunder rolled. The rain, however, stopped again pretty quickly so left it up to the class if they wanted to go out and they decided to move forward with the dig. The site was muddy on the topsoil, but not even an inch down, there was dry dirt. The kids managed to dig themselves little sitting spots that were dry and settled down to dig. It wasn’t long before one of the boys found a fossil! It was very exciting as it might have been a part of a turtle! It was a great discovery for the day and the rest of the afternoon was warm and perfect.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Fake Gold, Fake Diamonds and a Real…Fish Jaw?

The blue is the Pyrite
The beige is the Bentonite

Tuesday Lisa and Matt had a school dig. After the tour, they joined Joey and Ted. They discovered a few fossil fragments, but the real puzzler of the day was a bluish-gold concretion in the Boyne Bentonite. Their first thought was some sort of blue clay, but after further examination, they discovered that it was indeed a pyrite concretion. You know, Fool’s Gold? Yeah, that kind of Pyrite, but it wasn’t as golden as that type, so we were in no danger of falling victim to gold fever. In the picture here, it appears to be blue, but with closer observation there are the tell-tale golden sparkles that permeate it.

Searching the Glacial Till while
Joey and Ted observe.

Wednesday Joey, Ted, Matt and I travelled down to one of our dig sites to remove overburden and dig for fossils. Before we even reached the site, we stopped at an exposure that had only recently been uncovered by rain from the previous week. We examined the soil and discovered…it was only glacial till. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a member and therefore not useful for us. It was terribly anti-climactic, but the day wasn’t done with us yet!

The bottom of the jaw.
At the site Matt and Ted worked extremely hard and carted away a considerable section of upper and middle Gammon. The most exciting part for me: I found my first (identifiable) fossil!! I was happily scraping away with my tiny pick, brush and rock hammer when I suddenly caught a flash of the recognizable pinkish whitish of a fossil. I picked up the piece that dropped and lo and behold! There was a (possible) Cimolicthys jaw with some discernible teeth still in it! A Cimolicthys is actually a pre-historic and extinct salmonid fish. The other half of the jaw was still encased in the ground, but I bagged and tagged my jaw with the squealing excitement of a 5-year old. There is nothing quite like finding the teeth of a carnivorous 80-million year old ginormous fish. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I luckily discovered some lone teeth floating around in the Gammon. There might still be a jaw down there!

The random tooth.
Maybe there's a jaw
underneath it!

Thursday was a very busy day as Lisa and I had a school dig. We had a very happy school group who were excited to learn and eager to find their very own fossils. Before we arrived at the dig site, however, we took our enthusiastic group to a neat spot of exposed Morden member bursting with Pembina diamonds or Selenite. A colorless crystal, this mineral is salt based and will dissolve if it comes into contact with water.It is an enjoyable spot to stop and search for diamonds that you can bring back home to show your family and friends! Our kids collected handfuls, pocketfuls and bagfuls of glassy selenite. Our only advice: Make sure they are out of your pants pockets before you wash your jeans.  Not something you want in your washing machine! It was an exceptionally warm day and although we had several false alarms (the concretions were out in full force!) of fossil finds, we did have 3 young fellows discover some possible mosasaur vertebrae (backbones) and some unidentifiable fossils.

 It was a great third week and I can't wait to go out digging again to see if I can find the rest of my Cimolicthys!