Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dinosaur Dig (Part 1)

Last summer I taught my regular Fossils to Feathers summer camp and fellow Warner naturalist Bekah Dalen brought in some fossils to show me. She said she got them on a dinosaur dig while working at the Children's Museum. Hmm, we thought, why don't we lead a dinosaur dig though Warner?

Here were the two selling points.

1. Digging up dinosaurs
2. Getting paid to do it

Need I say more?

We offered the summer camp this summer and a little over a week ago we took seven kids on a 10 hour van ride to the far nether regions of North Dakota to root around in the famous Hell Creek Formation. (Okay, famous to other geeks, geologists and paleo-types.)

We worked with Marmarth Research Foundation and the week was tons of fun. Fossil wise we found many pieces of trionychid turtles and parts of another species of turtle I need to identify. We found champsosaur bones, a hadrosaur femur, a triceratops femur, a triceratops tooth, a dromeosaur tooth, fossil trees, crocodile teeth, freshwater ray teeth, triceratops frill and more. The pictures tell a good story so let's start there.

We set out on Sunday for the 10 hour ride to Marmarth, ND. The highlight of the trip was of course stopping at the Middle Spunk rest stop in Minnesota (purely because of the name) and stopping to gawk at Salem Sue the world's largest holstein cow statue in New Salem, ND. That's six tons of reinforced fiberglass in the shape of a cow up there on that butte. She's actually the world's largest fiberglass animal. Okay so the picture is awful. Follow the link for up close giant cow bliss.

We arrived in Marmarth just in time for some Tater Tot hotdish. We found this quite hilarious as we were joking with the kids that dinner would be tater tot hotdish and there it was like culinary destiny. Little did we suspect at the time (how foolish) that hotdish would grace our lips at several dinners. The only one that was vile was the chow mein hotdish, the rest were edible. Oh I now wish I had a photo of the tater tot hotdish! There were some folks there from the east coast who were completely perplexed by the hotdish phenomenon. The term casserole was only slightly less alien.

That night we got our room assignments in the Marmarth Bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was built for railway workers back in the old days. As far accommodations for a dinosaur dig this was posh. Most digs involve sleeping in tents so this was nice. There was a phone, showers, private rooms and satellite TV. Weirdly, the kids all wanted to watch shows about serial killers while I preferred spongebob. Go figure.

Monday morning we headed out to a site where kids a few years ago uncovered a hadrosaur femur. There is still probably more of the dino inside the hillside but a LOT of rock would have to be removed to get at it. Maybe someday, but for now there are easier quarry. I found one of my first cool things here. It was a little piece of a trionychid turtle. It was thrilling but little did I know I would be seeing thousands of such parts in the next few days. This site was also home to many many modern rodent bones as a large owl roosted in the area and the ground was littered with bones and owl pellets. Our leader, Doug Hanks, showed us a profile of the rock in the area and taught us how to read the record of what had happened there.

Monday afternoon we headed out to another area to work on a site rich in turtles. It is apparently one of the richest turtle sites in the world. We didn't see any. I used an exacto knife to slowly carve out a one foot square area. In an hour our so I went down about four inches. This is the very unglamourous part of field work. Carefully looking for nothing. The area I worked in was where they had just removed six complete turtles so it was important to keep searching. It was too bad we didn't uncover anything but that's part of the job too.

Dinner Monday was meatloaf hotdish. When I say meatloaf I mean many many pounds of ground beef tossed into a pan, covered in ketchup and baked. I think there may have been a can of "cream of something" soup mixed in. Welcome to flavor country. Why didn't I take any pictures of the food?

That's it for the first installment. I'll post up the rest of the week soon.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Improve Blogger

Here's an excellent script that makes your blogger edit box much bigger. The box used to edit posts in Blogger is way too small but this Greasemonkey script fixes that.

Get Firefox, Install Greasemonkey, Install this script, be happy.

Rinse lather, repeat.


Birds while I Blog

I've got some cool blog posts I am working on but they will take a while to finish up. The big post is about the dinosaur dig I was on two weeks ago. I promise to post something soon. It will have video and clickable satellite photos and be worth the wait.

In the mean time it is time for a simple bird count update. I saw five new species in North Dakota and two new species since I returned home. That means I have broken my personal best record for number of birds spotted in one year. Of course, this is my second year so one would expect that.

I wasn't in North Dakota to bird so all sightings were almost accidental. For example, two of the birds I spotted and identified for sure only when the van we were in stopped to open a cattle gate as we crossed through the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Here's the North Dakota list.

121 Western Meadowlark
122 Lark Bunting
123 Lazuli Bunting
124 Red Breasted Nuthatch
125 Swainson's Hawk

Yesterday while I was locking up the building at work I head a barred owl in the distance. I called to it only to be surprised when an owl answered from les then 100 feet away. These two birds called back and forth until the jays came and chased to owl away. I was surprised how rapid a call the owl in the distance used. I've never head the "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" spit out in three seconds like that.

Today I arrived at work and Paul told me there were Tennessee Warblers in the bog. I grabbed my binoculars and headed down. Sure enough they were dripping off the trees. The warbler migration has begun. I also spotted a beautiful great crested flycatcher and a catbird. The flycatcher was hunting close to the ground as the entire bog was etheiral nad filled with fog this morning.

So, for the numbers game that's:

126 Barred Owl
127 Tennessee Warbler

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Baby Blog

So I can't believe I haven't posted this yet.

If you want to follow my adventures into fatherhood you can read up on my other blog, Adventures in DNA Mixing.