Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spotted shags, fur seals, and yellow eyed penguins at Katiki Point

After leaving Moeraki Boulders, we went to the southern point of the small peninsula to Katiki Point. Katiki Point boasts a lighthouse, paua diving (paua is the Maori word for abalone), and viewing of fur seals, yellow eyed penguins, little blue penguins, spotted shags, stewart island shags, and other seabirds.

This adorable donation box greeted us at the parking lot.

This pretty much sums up New Zealand in a single photo.

A female NZ fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) hauled out on some rocks.

This NZ fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) woke up from a nap in the sun when we approached.

A single Stewart Island shag (Phalacrocorax chalconotus) flies across the water.

A trio of spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus) at Katiki Point.

At Katiki Point, there's an entire rookery of spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus) which can be easily approached and photographed.

Two spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus) being somewhat goofy.

Spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus) get their name from the numerous black spots on their wings. Between those (which you cannot really appreciate unless you get close), the white and black stripes on the neck and head, and the blue eye patch - these guys are easily the most beautiful cormorants.

More spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus).

Even more spotted shags (Strictocarbo punctatus).

Nic and I found this fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) pup carcass, which demonstrates fairly well a taphonomic observation of mine regarding the early loss of rostral elements in otariid pinnipeds. Unless a carcass is pretty fresh, the maxillae, nasals, and premaxillae are often lost - leaving just the braincase. I've got a manuscript in preparation on this topic at the moment.

Nic, Sarah, and Maria waiting in the penguin blind. We spotted 8 yellow eyed penguins in only an hour.

A subadult yellow eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) has some trouble negotiating the surf. This poor guy got knocked around by waves about four times.

A single adult yellow eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) just outside the blind.

Another yellow eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) comes ashore in the afternoon. This individual had less distinctive head coloring, suggesting it was a bit younger.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fossil cetacean research and Santa Cruz fossil collectors in the San Francisco Chronicle

David Perlman at the San Francisco Chronicle has just published a great article focusing on my research with Frank Perry and Jonathan Geisler on fossil globicephaline whales from the Purisima Formation, and the intrepid amateurs who made the discoveries.

Read more at Fossil hunters in Santa Cruz make whale of a find.

Visit to Moeraki Boulders

Even though Sarah and I have been in Dunedin for over a year, we haven't really started getting out of town until the last couple of months. We have no car (a refreshing experience for an American), and it hasn't been until recently that we've been lucky enough to be invited out of town with various friends, such as our department scientific illustrator Luke, and Zoology Postdoc Nic Rawlence and wife Maria Zammit (an Australian marine reptile paleontologist). Nic and Maria invited Sarah and I to go up the coast to Moeraki Boulders - I've driven by it about a dozen times with Ewan, and every time Ewan has said something like "We really ought to stop by there sometime - but not today!". We also visited Katiki Point, and those photos will be on the next blog post. The boulders are Paleocene in age, and the largest ones took about 4 million years of diagenesis to form. These photos are mostly going to be pretty, scenic photos and not really accompanied by much geologic information. However, the Wikipedia page has some great information.

The Moeraki Boulders are a series of enormous spherical septarian concretions with numerous radiating veins. The outer zone is well indurated, but when they crack open the middle is easily eroded. This boulder had lost the middle, and had a tidepool inside about 1 m above the beach.

Maria and Nic enjoying a snack at the boulders.

Complete and damaged concretions.

Sarah standing on a concretion.

Small pool between some concretions. The concretions on the right show the 
surface cracks from the veins.

Sand ripples and boulders.

The view north from Moeraki boulders with the Kakanui coastline off in the distance.

Nic Rawlence hanging out on a concretion.

Sarah sitting on one of the boulders - remember, she's short so it's not really that enormous.

Another pretty photo.

This one shows up in a lot of professional photos; this photo, I'll admit, is not very professional.

My wife, the concretion troll.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Otago/South Canterbury field visits

A few weeks ago, Ewan invited us to go into the field - mostly as a field tour rather than a dedicated collecting trip. All in all, Tsai, Morgan, new student Josh Corrie, and I went out with Ewan and we visited a number of localities including Kakanui, Awamoa Beach, the Waihao Greensand and Kokoamu/Otekaike LS interval in the Waihao valley, Haugh's Quarry, the Earthquakes, and Kokoamu Bluff. It was a great opportunity to see some old localities that have been more or less cleaned out, but where many of the important specimens from our respective Ph.D. theses were collected from.

Kakanui beach is the type locality of the squalodontid Tangaroasaurus kakanuiensis - it was originally thought to be a marine reptile by professor Benham, but is pretty obviously a cetacean according to various studies by Ewan and others.

Ewan and Morgan Churchill looking through concretions at Awamoa Beach. All we found were invertebrates, and several mermaids purses on the beach.

A mussel (Mytilus) in a concretion of the Mt. Harris Formation.

Josh Corrie and Ewan looking for bones in the Kokoamu Greensand along the Waihao River.

An isolated bone in the Kokoamu Greensand.

Some interesting bluffs of Otekaike Limestone in the Waihao Valley.

View to the south from Myer's Pass, looking down into the Hakataramea Valley.

A Zeacolpus (Turritellidae) from the Otekaike Limestone at Haugh's Quarry.

After some rainy weather, the limy sediment washes away leaving a pavement of shells and shell fragments along the quarry floor. A short window during the spring exists between the last extensive rains and the start of quarry operations in early summer; the rest of the year it's generally not possible to find these nice accumulations.

A gorgeous Guildfordia gastropod from the Otekaike Limestone at Haugh's Quarry. It's one of three large, low spired gastropods from the quarry, and one of the most attractive fossil mollusks. This one was one of the only specimens we brought back.

Josh (blue), Ewan (red) and Tsai (green) walk along the quarry looking for bones and teeth.

Ewan, Tsai, and Josh walking along the cliffs at the Earthquakes. The locality got its name because it does somewhat resemble a gigantic, cartoon-like fissure, about a half kilometer wide and 100 m or so wide, with numerous large house-sized blocks littering the valley floor. A large squalodontid and a beautiful eomysticetid from my dissertation were collected here.

The rest of the gang looking across at an odontocete locality in the base of a huge cliff at the Earthquakes. This was probably the most spectacular - in terms of scenery - locality I've visited here in NZ.