Field trip to the Otways

Another post, another field trip! I’ve been quite fortunate so far this year, this trip was my third already and it’s only March (I think my fiancé has forgotten who I am)! In my defence though, this trip was only a short two night stay, with a day and a half worth of field work.

But enough already, where did I go? The locality we were digging at is known as Eric the Red West and it is situated on the southern coast of Victoria’s Otways ranges, around four hours west of Melbourne. The name of the site comes from a famous ship known as Eric the Red that wrecked there in 1880, whose anchor lies just east of our dig site, hence the Eric the Red West! The rocks at this locality are similar to those found at the site of my last field trip at Flat Rocks, Inverloch, which is on the other side of Melbourne. However the rocks in the Otways, although also Early Cretaceous, are around 10 million years younger than those found at Inverloch. They would have once been part of the same single unit but geological events in the Miocene have split them into two separate groups. The fossils found from the Otways are from the Eumarella Formation, Otways Group and the Flat Rocks fossils are from the Wonthaggi Formation, Strzelecki Group (Benson et al., 2012). This temporal difference between the two areas gives us a unique opportunity to study the evolution of life here in Victoria during the early Cretaceous as we can compare the two sites and look for differences in the flora and fauna.

Map showing not only the Eric the Red West site and the Flat Rocks site at Inverloch, but other fossil localites from Victoria. Image from Benson et al., 2012.

Map showing not only the Eric the Red West site and the Flat Rocks site at Inverloch, but other fossil localities from Victoria. Image from Benson et al., 2012.

Another bonus of a field trip to the Otways is the camp we get to stay in. Called Bimbi Park, it is situated right in the middle of the Otways Ranges National Park (so no Internet, hence the lateness of this blog post) where you are surrounded by trees full of Koalas, although at night when you’re trying to sleep and the males won’t stop bellowing they can lose their appeal momentarily! It really is a beautiful picturesque spot for getting away from it all and I’d definitely recommend it should you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods.

Picture of the campsite at Bimbi park. You really do get to sleep with Koalas above your head! Image from planbooktravel.com

Picture of the campsite at Bimbi park. You really do get to sleep with Koalas above your head! Image from planbooktravel.com

Tourism plugs aside, there have been several notable finds at the Eric the Red West site since it was first prospected in 2005 (Kool, 2010). There tends to be fewer finds at the Otways site, but the material is often of better quality than Flat Rocks. One of the best came on that very first day of prospecting when an articulated tail and complete right foot of a small ornithopod dinosaur was discovered. In 2006 Inverloch and Otways dig stalwart Mary Walters found a mammal jaw (not her first one either) and more recently, dig regular Alanna Maguire has found the first upper mammal jaw from the Cretaceous of Australia (something that is still being researched at present).

The mammal jaw Mary Walters found at the Eric the Red West site in 2006, prompting an annual field season there every year since. Image from the 2007 Dinosaur Dreaming Field Report.

The mammal jaw Mary Walters found at the Eric the Red West site in 2006, prompting an annual field season there every year since onwards. Image from the 2007 Dinosaur Dreaming Field Report.

This field season is proving to be a very profitable one with the record for number of bones found in one day at the site being broken on the Monday I was there, and just prior to writing this post I read (via the Dinosaur Dreaming blog) that they had found two ornithopod jaws! There are some very exciting fossil layers being chased into the rock at present and hopefully they keep finding more cool stuff!

Now, where should I go for my next field trip…?

References

Benson, RBJ, Rich, TH, Vickers-Rich, P, Hall, M (2012) Theropod Fauna from Southern Australia Indicates High Polar Diversity and Climate-Driven Dinosaur Provinciality. PLOS One 7(5): e37122. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037122.

Kool, L (2010) Dinosaur Dreaming. Exploring the Bass Coast of Victoria. New Artworx, Melbourne. 95pp.

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About Travis Park

I am a PhD student in Palaeontology at Monash University and Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, where I'm studying fossil whales. Other areas of interest include fossil penguins, seals, dromornithids, dinosaurs... basically fossil vertebrates in general! I'll be blogging about anything palaeo related that interests me, but I'll try to ensure Australian palaeontology gets its fair share! If there's anything specific you would like me to blog about, drop me an email and I'll have a stab at it!

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