Last week, we returned from another amazing Field School. This year we had twice as many teachers! 19 K-12 teachers from Washington and Montana joined us in the Hell Creek badlands of eastern Montana to participate in on-going research into the extinction of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals.
Teachers arrived on the evening of the 26th, and we settled into camp. UW PhD candidate Dave DeMar had been keeping camp set up throughout the summer – 5 weeks already!
Day One: an introduction to reading rocks and finding fossils. Teachers learned how to identify rock and rock layers, and how to prospect for small fossils by crawling fossil-rich areas.
Have you ever heard that geologists lick rocks? It’s true! It’s a great way to determine the size of grains in rocks, which helps you identify them. (Just be careful what you lick!)
No big dinosaur bones today ! The first day focused on “looking small” and crawling the site for the tiny fossils of mammals, fish and turtles that lived alongside the dinosaurs.
Day Two was our big dino dig! A morning rainstorm threatened to wash our plans away, but luckily it dried up early enough. We headed out a rugged road, then hiked the last mile to the dinosaur bone sites.
Excavating the bones and protecting them with burlap and plaster stole the show.
Thank you, everyone, for another great Field School!
The DIG Team is back in Seattle, more or less awake. We all took the weekend to relax and catch up on sleep, and hope you all got the chance to, too! Most of our gear is still in a huge pile in the lab, all the bones you all helped find, excavate, and haul out are tucked away in the Burke Museum. For the jackets, the next step is up to Bruce and his prep lab – he’ll open the jackets one by one and begin to prepare them (use tools to remove the rock matrix from around the bone). For the sediment, Greg’s lab will begin screening and picking some of the matrix – and a lot of it will end up in the DIG Boxes for you and your students to pick!
We’ve started a Flickr group to share photos and videos. We’ll have a nice recap of the Field School with lots of photos later this week!
Here at DIG HQ in Seattle, the team is getting ready for a 2-day drive to Hell Creek! We’ve been busy putting together a few new resources for this year, including diagrams of the stratigraphy as well as a “cheat sheet” of living animals you might see wandering around Montana. That’s right, folks – not all of Montana’s inhabitants are millions-of-years-dead! In fact, what looks like a barren wasteland from far away is actually home to an amazing variety of animals, especially birds that feast on all the insects.
Among the birds you might see are bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, and Swainson’s hawks. Ferruginous hawks (from the Latin Ferrugo meaning rust) hunt everything from amphibians and other birds to jackrabbits and ground squirrels by flying fast and low, or by swooping down from a hovering position or a perch. Like other raptors (the bird kind ;), they kill using the talons on their feet.
One bird you might hear but not see is the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). Like their name suggests, nighthawks are most active at dawn and dusk, when they scoops up insects from as many as 50 different species. Their owl-like eyes help them see better in low light, and their bat-like erratic flight is easy to recognize. Bark-like feather coloring makes the nighthawk difficult to see during the daytime, especially since they like to perch horizontal on tree branches. Click here to listen to a common nighthawk. Read more about them at Animal Diversity Web.
One bird you might be surprised to find hanging out in eastern Montana is the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). These shorebirds actually have huge ranges. Killdeer live year-round in diverse habitats from the Gulf of Alaska to the Andes Mountains, migrating only if temperatures get below 50F (10C). Their name comes from their extremely loud and piercing “kill-dee” call. They eat a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Scroll to the bottom of this page to listen to their call and watch a video of a killdeer performing a “wounded bird” routine to distract a predator (with a videocamera) from its nest.
We’re gearing up for this summer’s DIG Field School! We’ve ordered new hammers, and a few fun surprises. This afternoon’s task: compiling a list of Things That Bite or Sting! (Montana has surprisingly few, so they’re really not much to worry about.)