Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mesozoic magic...

My curiosity of the natural world is growing all the time with every direct experience in a wild environment and after my fascination of geology in the Hebrides the last five years I have extended my reach to focusing on the living organisms that can be recorded in the rocks.

One of the great things about searching for fossils is that weather conditions is not an issue, as our target species have been there for up to two hundred million years they are not going to be going anywhere in a hurry. Myself and Rachel had a rare day off together and as it was lashing with rain in the morning we thought what perfect conditions for some fossil hunting. 

We decided to cover the south side of the isle which is very much under explored by ourselves so worth the long journey down to do so.The heavy rain continued on the trip down but the timing was excellent as on arrival it cleared up nicely as the forecast had said. 

We worked our way to the east and soon came across some stunning basaltic dykes and sills around 65 million years old heading in a south east direction away from volcanic impacts to the north. Parts of the coastline were made up of ancient sedimentary rock of the Mesozoic era dating back 248 million years. Our next discovery was very special, it was an ammonite fossil imprint as big as a size five football at nearly 30cm wide. We discovered more smaller ammonites the harder we looked which included one very well preserved in fine detail which was only 1cm long. 
Ammonites were a very successful species which covered the worlds oceans in the Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous periods. They had hard coiled shells and could go to depths of 100m mainly feeding on plankton.

30cm Ammonite
1cm Ammonite
We discovered a Belemnite fossil as well which was a bullet shaped marine animals closely related to the modern day squid. They lived between 65 and 208 million years ago during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods becoming extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Another discovery was what I think is a part of a Trilobite, presumably its tail. This is a species dating back 550 million years, from the Cambrian period.  

Tail of Trilobite?
Of course we could not ignore all the present day living organisms all around us as we recorded a close flyby of a female sparrowhawk and also saw a male common darter on the wing. Around fifty harbour seals hauled out on a nearby skerry and ringed plover and grey wagtails calling nearby. Wild flowers included devils-bit, knapweed, bell and ling heather, birds-foot trefoil, purple saxifrage, grass-of-parnassus, bog myrtle, bog asphodel and tufted vetch.

On our way back north we stopped at Pennyghael and enjoyed views of a juvenile hen herrier quartering the rough grass and hunting a meadow pipit unsuccessfully. We took the scenic route to Salen and timed it well at a well known golden eagle territory as we watched three birds in flight overhead with this years juvenile very vocal as they soon disappeared into the mountain mist. On Loch Na Keal we had drake eiders in eclipse and red-breasted mergansers. 

A wonderful day connecting with some true wildscapes on Mull and their all round natural heritage. 

A very fitting end as when we arrived back home Jurassic Park 3 was just starting on ITV!!