Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tracking Cretaceous Birds in South Korea: Goseong Dinosaur Tracks

Hello Dear Readers!

I'm excited to continue with our tale of Cretaceous tracks in South Korea! September 15 was our day to check out the coastal dinosaur track sites in Sangjogam County Park, a heritage site. This was a track site that Dr. Richard McCrea had visited back in 2000 on his first trip to South Korea. He said to me "I did not expect that I would ever get a chance to visit this site again."

A LOT had changed since Rich's visit in 2000. At that time the area was newly discovered and in the process of being documented. Let's just say, the progress made on the site was impressive!

After breakfasting and grabbing some Starbucks (science runs on caffeine all over the world), we drove to the parking area next to the coastline. We were immediately greeted by a great sauropod sculpture surveying the gorgeous shoreline.

"I am Lord/Lady of all I survey!" said every sauropod everywhere.
The entire area around the Goseong Dinosaur Museum was developed to celebrate the dinosaur track sites. The sidewalks also celebrate their fossil heritage.
Getting ready leave the walkway to stroll along the beach to see the sauropod tracks.
Of course, a sandy beach is a glorious place to look for present-day bird tracks. Today was a day for gull tracks.
One of these days, I'll be able to afford a decent lens for photographing birds. September 15 was not that day. Neither is today, actually.
This was the best picture I could get of one of the gulls roaming around the beach that morning. It's carrying a mussel in its beak, so the appearance of a black ring on the bill is artificial. I also didn't pack my binoculars that day, so my identification of this gull is "gull." The gulls did leave some nice trackways.
The sand is damp enough that the webbing impressions are preserved. We can clearly see the claw impressions and occasional toe impressions.
There was also some interesting behavior exhibited by the gull tracks. Check out this landing trace of a gull: you can see the long drag mark left by the hallux (backward-facing toe) running down the middle of the scuffed-looking footprint. I used this image for my weekly Twitter ichnology game #NameThatTrack.

Of course, I couldn't spend all day on the beach taking pictures of modern footprints (although this would be a worthy ichnology project.) We made our way over to the Goseong Track Site.

Goseong Dinosaur Track Site in Sangjogam County Park. Drs. Kim Kyung-soo (left) and Richard McCrea (right) taking initial observation notes.
The most obvious trackways on the site are sauropod trackways.
The circled areas are the sauropod tracks. Scalebar in the picture is 10 cm.
Close-up of the sauropod tracks with a 10 cm scale (and my feet) for scale.
While we were on the site, we found ourselves in the middle of a couple of school groups doing a geology-based field trip assignment and tour on the track site. We ended up being part of the tour, with the students watching us take photos and asking us questions. We also ended up signing autographs on their site brochures! That felt...odd. I mean, I was not involved with finding or developing the site, but I suppose they appreciated the chance to interact with dinosaur track scientists on the site.
Drs. Martin Lockley and Richard McCrea somewhere in the middle of the tour group!
There are several track types on the Goseong Track Site. Here is an ornithopod trackway, with the tracks outlined with dashed lines.

With coastal rock exposures, particularly those that are periodically covered by tides, we don't expect that tracks will "last" that long. Tides are powerful, running sand and shells over track surfaces. They also form tidal ecosystems: it's not uncommon to see dinosaur footprints doubling as tidepools. Given that tidal-influenced areas are generally high-energy, I was not expecting to see bird tracks at this site. I moved a little farther away from the shoreline to check out some fine-grained surfaces. I was not disappointed!
They are shallow, but there are small bird tracks!
It was an overcast day, so the light was fairly dim and there few shadows being cast on the track surface. These were great conditions for getting photogrammetry images of the sauropod and ornithopod trackways, but the dim light made seeing bird difficult. Like I've mentioned before, lighting is everything when it comes to recognizing tracks.

The Goseong Track Site was impressive for another reason: the level of resources and development that went into making the site accessible to the public. When I show these images, remember that only 17 years prior this area didn't have the track sites developed or a dinosaur museum built.

First, there are the extensive walkways built along the coastline so that people can look over the track surface. There are several kilometers of these walkways! At key points along the walkways are informative signs that direct visitors' attention to key geologic and paleontologic views.

Editorial Note: OK, friends, I need to go on a bit of a rant. Look at this sign. It gives out science information without talking down to the reader. Do you see any cheap, lazy Jurassic Park-themed lettering? Any sensationalized attempts to use giant waves in "storytelling"? You do not. I did not see ANY sign of the North American-style insulting "tourism marketing" in South Korea. This is because the organizations that made these signs actually respect the intelligence of the people who are visiting natural history sites. They don't assume that there is "too much science" in the information provided, or that the public needs to be "talked down to."  Each time I see a fossil heritage site that blatantly uses Jurassic Park imagery and/or sensationalized "stories" to interpret a site, I assume the organization that created those signs does not respect their visitors OR the fossil heritage they exploit. Respect for fossil heritage or those interested in natural history isn't even on the radar for those particular organisations: fossils are merely a thing to selfishly use, and the public are just their dupes with wallets. It makes me feel angry and ill. Oh, and the fact that, since Rich's 2000 visit, a museum and outdoor interpretive sites had been fully developed? It is extremely frustrating to see the slow progress of getting similar dinosaur track sites developed in North America. We've been in the Peace Region full-time since 2004 and we still struggle year-to-year to have fossil heritage conservation funded.

We hiked up to another track site that was not yet interpreted: one of the aspects of coastal geology is that it changes a lot, with new rock surfaces constantly being exposed. Rocky cliffs are also a tricky place to do ichnology, mostly because of the ever-present threat of those tracks using gravity to make face-time with you. Here are some bird tracks exposed on the underside of a rock exposure. We couldn't get a close-up view of them, but we could tell they were the ichnogenus Jindongornipes.
The preservation of these large bird tracks (Jindongornipes) is amazing! We can even see webbing impressions!
Rich attempting photogrammetry on the Jindongornipes tracks. It becomes more tricky when you can't get something for scale on to the track surface.
We continued our hike up from the coastline boardwalk to connect with the outdoor trails and displays of the Goseong Dinosaur Museum. Again we were treated to a glorious sight: great outdoor displays that did not shy away from interpreting science.
The boardwalk trail joins up to the Goseong Dinosaur Museum outdoor trails.
Um, friends? There's a Utahraptor watching you!
All of the outdoor dinosaur sculptures were time-appropriate to the age of the tracks exposed at the Goseong Dinosaur Track Site: Early Cretaceous in age, roughly 120-100 million years old. We did not see any Tyrannosaurus rex or Triceratops models, which are 66 million years old. This was another sign (to me) that the Goseong Dinosaur Museum wasn't relying on sensationalism (a.k.a. all cool dinosaurs are T. rex!) to interpret their fossil heritage.

The Goseong Dinosaur Museum also had some fun with their outdoor displays. I love this cartoon bird pointing out the names of the bird tracks.
We stopped for lunch with the Goseong Dinosaur Museum curator at the museum's cafe, and were treated to a wonderful beverage: quince tea that the curator made! We found out the recipe, but darn it! We can't seem to find quince anywhere in grocery stores. The hunt continues!

After lunch we spent some time in the collections facility of the Goseong Dinosaur Museum, collecting data, photogrammetry images, and track slab tracings.
Dr. Martin Lockley making a plastic sheet tracing of a bird track slab.
Sometimes you meet the local fauna when you work on tracks. Here's a wolf spider, who was not impressed when I disturbed its cozy hideout. It was ceremoniously moved outside.
One of the many bird track slabs in the Goseong Dinosaur Museum collections.

Drs. Martin Lockley (left) and Richard McCrea (right). If you like groaner-puns, these are the two to go into the field with.
We worked until evening, and then went out for dinner at a restaurant whose name roughly translates to "The Broken Bone Restaurant." It was a great dish of stewed meat on the bone, served with fried rice.
The Broken Bone Restaurant. 
It's no secret that I like spicy foods. Do you see the green chilis on the dish to the left? Up until this point, I had been munching on these peppers like they were candy. Tonight was the night that I found out there are two types of long green chilis: mild and spicy. I caused a great deal of amusement as I sat there, eyes streaming, face flushed, laughing at my luck of the draw. I found out that the smooth-skinned green chilis are the mild ones, and the green chilis with wrinkled skin near the stem are spicy. Live and learn!

The next day we were scheduled to give public talks on our work in Canada and South Korea at the Goseong Public Library! Tune in next week to find out how our talks went!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tracking Cretaceous Birds in South Korea: Gajin-ri Site

Hello, Dear Readers! I'm back! Well, sort of back. I have been down and out with that nasty flu that is going around. It's a bad one. Friends, if you happen to catch it, please please please take the time to get the rest you need to recover. I've taken the time off that I need, and darn if I don't feel the least bit guilty about it.

We last left our intrepid ichnology adventurers enjoying a lunch of mul-naengmyeon. Here our party split up. Martin went back to Dr. Kim Kyung-soo's lab at Chinju University with Sujin to continue collecting data, making latex peels, and tracings of track slabs on to plastic sheets. Rich and I accompanied Dr. Kim to the Fossil Heritage Hall of the Gyeongsangnam-do Institute of Science Education. We were here to see the famous Early Cretaceous Gajin-ri track site. This site was written up scientifically by Kim Jeong-yul and coauthors in 2012 (Dr. Kim Kyung-soo was one of the authors), and it is famous for two main reasons. One, there are SO MANY BIRD TRACKS, with an estimated 600 bird tracks per square meter!
Figure 3 from Kim et al. (2012). Each one of those marks is an individual bird footprint. This is glorious.
Second, the Gajin-ri site is where Ignotornis gajinensis was found! This is a bird track type has the classic Ignotornis look - three forward-pointing toes with webbing in-between them, one long reversed toe (hallux) - but it also has bill scrape marks!
Tracks of Ignotornis gajinensis, with the bill scrape marks. I like to call them swooshes!
These bill scrape marks are very close in shape to those of modern-day spoonbills. Spoonbills get their name from their spoon-shaped bill, which they use to search for food by swooshing their bills through the water and the underwater sediment, stirring up fish and invertebrates.

I love this image of a Eurasian Spoonbill for two reasons: a great view of the bill, and its showing off its foot.
This site is one of many sites in the Republic of Korea that has been designated a Natural Monument (No. 395), but an entire center was built over the site to offer top-notch science outreach and education. I need to show you how wonderful this center is: this is what I dream of happening in northeastern British Columbia.

First, here's entrance sign. Do you see the bird tracks on the sign?
There are three different bird track types on this sign, including the iconic Ignotornis gajinensis and the bill swooshes!
 Once we were in the Center, we immediately saw a sign for Ignotornis gajinensis!

We were eager to see the track surface, which the Center set up so that visitors can walk around the entire exposed surface at an upper and a lower level.

The lower level allows visitors to get up close and personal with the track surface.
There are several track types on this surface, displaying a whole track ecosystem from the Early Cretaceous Period. Here is one of the sauropod trackways.
Sauropod trackway walking towards me.
Small (left) and large (right) sauropod trackways.
You'll notice how dark the pictures are. It seems counter-intuitive that a dark room is the best way to see dinosaur and bird footprints, but it really is. Bright, direct lights wash out all of the details, while a dark room with a low angle light shining over the surface makes the details pop.

Here is the trackway of a small non-avian theropod, walking among the trackways of sauropods and birds.
Birds, theropods, and sauropods, oh my!
If you look at the upper left-hand corner of the above picture, you'll see my shoes. We got to crawl all over the track surface, but I sure as heck wasn't going to drag my rough shoes - with abrasive grit and dirt stuck in the treads - over a fine-grained track surface. It was socks for us!

Since some of the tracks on the middle part of the surface are hard to see, a series of cameras that project a close-up image of the Ignotornis gajinensis tracks on a huge projection screen. It also shows a projection of anyone working on the tracks, putting research on display. In this case, people got to see our socked feet.
The socked foot of Dr. Richard McCrea next to the trackway (and bill swooshes!) of Ignotornis gajinensis. Dr. Kim and I had a bit of a chuckle over this picture.
Not only was there was a track surface live cam, there was a gorgeous mural depicting the Early Cretaceous paleoenvironment, showing the shoreline of the lake complete with sauropods and flocks of birds!
Spoonbill and sandpiper-like birds fly over the future Gajin-ri track site 117 million years ago.
I didn't want to see Ignotornis gajinensis just because it is a famous bird track type: I have research reasons for wanting to see the real deal. I had an idea that I wanted to test: if we didn't have the glorious bill swoops, would we be able to tell Ignotornis gajinenesis apart from Ignotornis mcconnelli? Before visiting this site and seeing the tracks firsthand, I had to rely on measurements and photographs from publications. Now, data and pictures are good, but there's a lot of information that gets washed out in two-dimensional photos. It didn't take me long to abandon the idea that Ignotornis gajinensis and Ignotornis mcconnelli were the same track shape: there are just too many small differences that separate them.

The untrained eye might think I'm pointing out sauropod tracks, but we all know I'm pointing out a really long bird trackway!
We also saw lots of tracks of a track type called Koreanaornis. These are small, three-toed tracks that sometimes - but not all the time - have a small reversed digit impression. These tracks show many individuals skittering all over a wet sandy surface, much like we would see sandpipers at the beach doing today.
A flock of Koreanaornis track makers, likely running all over the lakeshore, looking for food.
We also saw the other fossil interpretive displays. My favorite one (of course) was the interpretive display for Ignotornis gajinensis. This is a good time to point out another similarity between the work our colleagues in South Korea and the work we do in the Peace Region: the scientists design the interpretive displays! Dr. Kim designed this awesome display.
Scientists like Dr. Kim Kyung-soo make awesome science interpretive displays.
Scientists are great at communicating their science to the public.
Check out those awesome spoonbills!
From left to right: Drs. Kim Kyung-soo, Lisa Buckley (me), and Richard McCrea. 
After taking many pictures, and many photogrammetry pictures, and seeing many, many specimens, we drove back to Chinju University to pick up Martin for dinner. Of course, I had to take pictures of these lovely shed exoskeletons of cicadas attached to a quince tree.

We went to a restaurant that only serves two dishes: two variations of stewed ribs. Let me tell you: when a restaurant focuses on one specialty, they do it up right. These ribs were delicious!
I cannot begin to describe the mouth-watering aroma that came from this dish. I have not had better ribs.
That was the end of a very busy day! The next day (September 15) we were scheduled to visit the field sites and collections of the Goseong Dinosaur Museum! Stay tuned!


Kim JY, Lockley MG, Seo SJ, Kim KS, Kim SH, Baek KS. 2012.  A paradise of Mesozoic birds: the world's richest and most diverse Cretaceous bird track assemblage from the Early Cretaceous Haman Formation of the Gajin Tracksite, Jinju, Korea. Ichnos 19(1-2): 28-42.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tracking Cretaceous Birds in South Korea: Chinju Innovation City and Sangcheong-gun

Hello, Dear Readers!

When we last left our heroes, they were finishing up a long day (September 13) of laboratory and field work in Chinju (Jinju) University and Bito Island, respectively. September 14 would also prove to be an exciting field- and museum- day, full of bird tracks! Don't worry: I won't forget the non-avian dinosaur and pterosaur tracks!

Once again I'm forced to break our day into the field component and the museum component because there is just so much to talk about. This week's September 14 post will cover our field activities, and the next post will cover the spectacular Gajin Track Site.

We start off our day with a 7:30am wake-up and met Sujin for breakfast at a local Starbucks around 8:30am. After breakfast, we met Dr. Kim Kyung-soo at the hotel and drove to one of the in-progress construction sites of Jinju Innovation City. Remember in my last post, when I said that one of the similarities between studying tracks in British Columbia and South Korea is that many discoveries were (and continue to be) made as a result of industrial activity? Jinju Innovation City is a perfect example of industry significantly contributing to paleontology discoveries.

Excavations are uncovering track surface after track surface, and with a mandate to preserve national heritage, paleontologists in South Korea have to not only archive these large track-bearing blocks, but they also have to collect them! In the spirit of "necessity is the mother of invention," Dr. Kim designed a novel method for removing and transporting track blocks weighing several hundred one piece. Oh yes: and every picture in which you see a "KS" label on a track specimen? That specimen was collected and documented by Dr. Kim Kyung-soo.
People with visible faces: Drs. Kim Kyung-soo (left), Martin Lockley (center) and Richard McCrea (right) examining one of Dr. Kim's amazing track cradles for a large specimen ready to be removed to collections.
When we have the resources, we are going to bring Dr. Kim and his team over to visit track sites in British Columbia: I would love to see his track slab cradle technique in action!

Not all of the track-bearing surfaces are removed. One of the great approaches we witnessed in South Korea (take note, North America) is that people recognize - and act on - the value of preserving track localities as interpretive sites to educate the public. At this one construction site, two interpretive buildings are under construction for small interpretive centers.

I am just going to add an editorial note: this is the Republic of Korea. The country has a population of in a land area of 51,446,201 (with a density of 507 people per square kilometer) in a 100,210 square kilometers. Land, and space on which to develop, is valuable, and yet the Republic of Korea STILL finds ways to preserve and showcase their fossil heritage with respect. Now look to Canada. We have a population of 35,151,728 people spread over 9,984,670 square kilometers (population density of 3.92 people per square kilometer, albeit concentrated near the border with the United States.) So how come there is so much reticence towards protective buildings such as this one installed over important fossil sites? Take your time.

The track surface is covered to protect it during construction, so we pulled back the layers of tarps and thick felt-like cushioning to visit the surface.
Vertebrate ichnologists LOVE seeing surfaces like this...these are great surfaces for tracks!
We swept off portions of the track site to reveal some tracks with exquisite detail. The track type that has fascinated me (let's be honest: they all fascinate me) are trackways of pterosaurs. Yup: tracks of flying reptiles! When they weren't soaring through the air, pterosaurs walked on surfaces as quadrupeds, leaving wing finger impressions! HOW COOL IS THAT?!?
A pterosaur handprint! Guess what the loooong digit impression is from? (Psst: it's the wing digit!)
Editorial Note: You may want to Google pterosaurs. I don't blame you: they are fascinating archosaurs! However, you may encounter two websites in your search. One is called "" and the other is called "Pterosaur Heresies," both of which are run by the same person. Both of these sites are full of interesting artwork, but the information they provide on "radical" new ideas about pterosaurs is not supported by information from the fossils. Neither site should be a go-to site for accurate, data-supported information. Read the Tetrapod Zoology blog post on the issue.

One part of Dr. Richard McCrea's work is to refine photogrammetry techniques, particularly with small, low-relief tracks. This little pterosaur handprint is a perfect test subject!
Dr. Richard McCrea takes photogrammetry images for creating a 3D digital model of small tracks.
With a surface that preserved detail like pterosaur tracks, I was very hopeful for bird tracks. I was not disappointed! We didn't have a lot of time at the site, so this is the only definite track I could see, but where there's one, there's likely more!
This isn't the best picture (the room was under construction and unlit) but it is very birdie!
We drove to Sangcheong-gun (Sangcheong County) to check out a track site that was relatively close to the highway. It was a HOT day: the track surface was almost burning hot. It was a great contrast to the raindrop impressions we saw.
Oh yes, that's a bird track in the center of all of those rain drop casts.
This was a lovely track surface for fine details. The bird tracks were exquisite. The bird track in the center of the image above has slight digital pads and a lovely hint of a webbing impression!
You know you have a nice track surface when fine soft tissue details, like skin impressions and webbing impressions, are visible!
There's a lot we can tell about this trackmaker by looking at its footprint. One, this is a small bird (footprint length about 2.5 cm). Two, it doesn't have a well-impressed hallux (or reversed toe), so we know it didn't look or behave like a small crane or egret. Three, this bird only has a little bit of webbing between the middle and outer digit: this isn't a webbed bird like a duck. Four, this bird meandered, stopped, and started again, all over the track surface. This bird, if we were to take a time machine back to the Early Cretaceous, would have looked and behaved a lot like one of our present-day sandpipers. This was another track site exposed by industrial activity (construction of a highway), although our time machine shows us a peaceful scene of a very quiet, silty bank next to a small lake or slow-moving stream.

Also, we would have had to watch out for being stepped on by sauropods! Another thing we know from the tracks is that the sauropod came through first, and then the birds walked on the surface. We know this because the bird trackway actually walks around the sauropod track! How cool is that?

We then drove to a small cafe where we would eat what would be my favorite meal in Korea: naengmyeon, cold noodle soup! (Note: this is only one of many recipes I found online.) Most of the soups we tried in Korea had two versions, a regular version and a spicy version (I went spicy!) This is now a soup I make regularly for dinner, or at least the closest version I can make living in a remote area with limited shopping options.

Stay tuned for our visit to the Gajin-ri track!