Tuesday, 4 June 2019

EOCENE FOSSIL FEATHER

Eocene Fossil Feather / McAbee Fossil Beds
This wee feather is from the Eocene fossil beds at McAbee. McAbee is part of an old lake bed deposited 52 million years ago and is one of the most diverse fossil sites known in British Columbia.

The McAbee beds are known worldwide for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species.

The site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under British Columbia's Heritage Conservation Act and closed to in July of 2012. But this decision is soon to be reversed.

McAbee reopened to the public on June 21, 2019, with plans to build out a visitor's centre and educational programs. McAbee will be open to the public this summer from Thursday to Monday 10AM-5PM.

We are still learning about how the collecting will take place. The Province is committed to providing access to the site to scientists and the lay public. The direction on what happens next at McAbee is being driven by the Heritage Branch in consultation with members of the Shuswap Nation and Bonaparte Band.

Local members of the Bonaparte Band want to share the spiritual significance of the area from a First Nations perspective and see McAbee as an indigenous tourism destination. So it looks like it will be paleontology, archaeology with a cultural focus to add spice. In any case, collection of fossils will continue, likely through the use of day-permits with oversight to ensure significant fossil finds make there way to museums.

While the area is referred to as the Okanagan, the term is used in a slightly misleading fashion to describe an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington, in the south. The grouping includes the fossil sites of Driftwood Canyon, Quilchena, Allenby, Tranquille, McAbee, Princeton and Republic.

Fossils from the Okanagan highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to our ancient climate. The fossils range in age from Early to Middle Eocene and provide significant the most a snapshot of ancient life and the climate at that time. McAbee had a more temperate climate, slightly cooler and wetter than other Eocene sites to the south at Princeton, British Columbia and Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

The McAbee fossil beds consist of 30 metres of fossiliferous shale in the Eocene Kamloops Group.
The fossils are preserved here as impressions and carbonaceous films. We see gymnosperm (16 species); a variety of conifers (14 species to my knowledge); two species of ginko, a large variety of angiosperm (67 species); a variety of insects and fish remains, the rare feather and a boatload of mashed deciduous material. Nuts and cupules are also found from the dicotyledonous Fagus and Ulmus and members of the Betulaceae, including Betula and Alnus.

We see many species that look very similar to those growing in the Pacific Northwest today. Specifically, we see cypress, dawn redwood, fir, spruce, pine, larch, hemlock, alder, birch, dogwood, beech, sassafras, cottonwood, maple, elm and grape. If we look at the pollen data, we see 103 (highly probable) species from the site. Though rare, McAbee has also produced spiders, birds and a single specimen of the freshwater crayfish, Aenigmastacus crandalli.

For insects, we see dragonflies, damselflies, cockroaches, termites, earwigs, aphids, leaf hoppers, spittlebugs, lacewings, a variety of beetles, gnats, ants, hornets, stick insects, water striders, weevils, wasps and March flies. The insects are particularly well-preserved.

Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

My first trips up there were as a teenager, dragging my mother, sister and pretty near anyone else I could convince to hike up into the outback. This was years before Dave Langevin and John Leahy, mineral rights/lease-holder and resident curator, respectively, began working at the site.

Once they did a whole new world opened up with their efforts. Much of the overburden was removed and new exposures revealed. John also used to leave a jeep at the base of the hill with a bit of gas in it that we'd hot wire and use to avoid the hike heading up and pack down fossils heading back. Good man, John. He was an avid collector and meticulous in his curation. Most of his collection is now in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia.

McAbee is located just east of Cache Creek, just north of and visible from Highway 1/97. 14.5 km to be exact and exactly the distance you need to drink one large coffee and then need a washroom. I've measured. Luckily, they've just installed some so you're in luck! There are telltale hoodoos on the ridge to let you know you've reached the right spot. If you have a GPS, pop in these coordinates and you're on your way. 50°47.831′N 121°8.469′W.