Monday, August 7, 2017

The $0.00 Field Budget Season - Heavy Bird Tracks

Happy August (YIKES) Dear Readers!

Yes, August caught up with us. We've been as busy as a $0.00 field work budget season can allow us to be: this means no multi-week or multi-day expeditions to work on our many large-scale projects. I outlined a small list large projects we should be doing this summer in my last blog post. Spoilers: like all work of value, working to protect, preserve, and interpret fossil heritage has a price tag. Anyone who thinks you can do field work for free is lying to themselves and others.

We have a great member of our field crew, Dr. Charles Helm. To say that he is a passionate and avid outdoors person is an understatement. To say that he is one of our most dedicated and passionate volunteer is an understatement. Medical doctor by training, Charles has authored books, been an author on some of our scientific papers, and is now first-authoring his own papers on an ichnology site he has been surveying for years (stay tuned!)

We have a list of "Helm Sites" that we check out every field season. On August 01, after checking out a report of ankylosaur tracks from Conuma Coal's Wolverine Mine, we visited three other sites to confirm fossil tracks that Charles found and, of course, to look for more!

This expedition fell on a Tuesday, which is the day of the week I run #NameThatTrack on Twitter, the fun ichnology game!

Confession time, Dear Readers: I work on Cretaceous-age bird tracks, but until now I had never found a really clear Cretaceous bird track in the field. Don't get me wrong: I'm perfectly happy sciencing the heck out of Cretaceous bird tracks found by others. It's just that the irony of never having found a Cretaceous bird track was not lost on me.

All of that changed on August 1. Charles and Rich were checking out different parts of the outcrop, and I looked at what I obsessively look at: really fine-grained bedding surfaces of rock. My lack of personal Cretaceous bird track discoveries was not for lack of trying, my friends. I posted tweets of tracks we were coming across.

Lighting is EVERYTHING for tracks, and even more so for small tracks. Dim overcast light, or super bright straight-on light, will wash out shadows that highlight subtle surface relief. The lighting was not exactly on my side that day...but I finally got to post this tweet:

Based on the geology of the area, these tracks are Early Cretaceous in age (about 100 million years old), and are similar in age to bird tracks that we research in Alberta, the United States, and China. Here's a close-up of one of the tracks!
You can see (barely) one of the toes of a bird track right above the third black square from the left of the scale. This was horrid lighting for a picture.
Our only problem with the specimen was this:

At over two meters long and half a meter thick, this slab of rock must have weighed close to 400 kg (Note: at the time, we thought the whole slab was only 300 kg. Oh, were we wrong. So wrong.) There was no way Charles, Rich, and I could move it in its current state. But we needed to collect this specimen.

Fast forward to August 5. We were scheduled to be interviewed for a news broadcast on the work our Research Centre has been doing in the region since 2003. Rich asked the reporter, Kraig Krause, if he would be interested in including the recovery of the bird tracks in his segment. He was definitely on board, so we planned a morning tour of the research centre and then off to collect the bird track slab!

We arrived at the site around 12:30 pm. It was starting out to be a hot day, with no cloud cover in sight.

Step 1: Build a temporary bridge over the ditch. This part was simple. We weren't worried about the steep part leading down to the bridge: after all, there were four of us, and the slab would be much lighter. What could possibly go wrong?
(Note: I can feel every field person cringe at that statement. You never, ever ask that on an expedition.)
Dr. Richard McCrea (left) positioning the temporary bridge boards while Dr. Charles Helm (right) brings over more bridge material.
Step 2: Trim the track slab. We needed to remove at least half of the track slab thickness to make it portable. Here's the specimen before the trimming.

Removing some of the thickness from the slab was easy: there was already a fracture in the rock that we could exploit, and the bottom half of the slab separated with three chisels and maybe half a dozen hits with the crack hammer.
Success Part 1! Now we needed to drill holes to separate the non-track surface part of the slab from the birdy-goodness part of the specimen.
The next step was to remove the eroded (no track surface) part of the rock at the bottom of the picture. Rich and I took turns: one would drill holes along the bottom edge of the track surface while the other watched the track surface. Rotary hammers cause vibrations that could shake loose bits of track surface.
Dr. Rich McCrea adding punch holes to the non-track part of the slab, while Dr. Charles Helm selects more potential specimens for careful viewing later.
Kraig Krause getting some footage of the slab trimming process while Rich drills the punch holes.
Of course, when you're in the middle of doing a delicate job such as track slab trimming, you hope there isn't going to be a big "Oops!" that ends up on camera. Thankfully the trimming went smoothly, and the non-track part of the slab came off easily.
The piece off to the left was at least a good 30 kg that we didn't need to carry.
Step 3: Haul the specimen.
This was the Hard Part: hoisting the slab on to the wheelbarrow. First we wrapped it with a heavy tow strap to give ourselves more hand holds for potentially hand-hauling the block over the ditch bridge. Then we muscled the specimen on to one of the 2" by 8" boards so that the specimen would sit evenly across the wheelbarrow. Then...HEAVE! That specimen was heavier than we anticipated: it had to be close to 225 kg.
Kraig (top), Charles (middle), and Rich (bottom) preparing for the mighty lift while I brace the wheelbarrow.
Then Rich noticed an issue with the wheelbarrow: the cotter pin that keeps the wheel from slipping off of the axle was missing for the left wheel. The last thing we wanted to have happen was the wheel fall off while we were moving 250 kg of solid rock. Before we continued, Rich improvised an ersatz cotter pin out of a small awl.

Walking the track slab down to the bridge was a group effort: we made sure that the slab wasn't going to bounce or slide off as the wheelbarrow jostled over uneven terrain. Then we approached the ditch.

Because of how steep the bank of the ditch was, we had to slide the track slab off of the wheelbarrow to get it on to the bridge. We stood around the slab, not really relishing the thought of pushing it across the bridge and then putting it back on the wheelbarrow, when the thought hit us: we have a field truck and a tow strap.

New Plan: pull the track slab the rest of the way across the bridge and up the ditch slope on to the road, and then lift the slab into the back of the truck.

We hooked the tow strap up to the truck hitch...
Notice another field improvised pin?
...and then pulled the track slab gently on to the road.
Charles keeps an eye on the front of the truck while Kraig and I keep an eye on the track slab. The surface on which the tracks are found is facing up, of course. Success!
After the specimen was on the road, we positioned a 2" X 8" under the end that was closest to the truck crossways. This gave all four of us enough room to lift the front end up to tailgate level. Once the front end of the specimen was airborne, Rich left us to hold the front end up while he SLOWLY backed the end of the truck as close as possible. One great HEAVE and the specimen was resting on the tailgate!

Whew. The whole operation was finished by 2:30 pm.

Now that the track slab is back at the Research Centre, we get to do the fun part: examining the surface! This will involve turning off all of the overhead lights and shining a low angle light across the surface to create shadows from the small-scale surface details. This really makes small tracks POP. We'll also use the same technique at the field site: we're planning an overnight at the outcrop where we can examine all of the potential track surfaces with a flashlight in the evening. Once we do the low angle light examination, we'll have a better idea of what type of bird tracks these are.

Until then,

Strange Woman.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Calling All Shorebirds!

Hello Dear Readers!

We have returned from the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology 2017 conference in Dinosaur Provincial Park, and it was a blast! It was great to catch up with our friends and colleagues, and also great to see all of the ground-breaking research being done by early career paleontologists.

There's a lot happening in the next month for me. Tomorrow I grade for my next level in karate - this will be the first exam I've had since my candidacy! On June 3 I'll be leading the annual birding hike to Bullmoose Marshes, hosted by the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society. June 9 - 11 I am involved with hosting the British Columbia Field Ornithologists meeting, and am giving the afternoon keynote presentation...on Cretaceous birding, of course! I am also working with colleagues to finalize plans for a track site visit - stay tuned!

One aspect of my upcoming summer that is not busy is my field work life. With this year's field budget of a whopping $0.00 (don't spend it all in one place!) we do not have any large field excursions scheduled. That doesn't mean that we don't have plans were funding to materialize. Here's a list of the palaeontology projects we could  be working on this summer:

1. We still have at least four years of work to do on the Six Peaks Dinosaur Track Site near Hudson's Hope, British Columbia. Here's a video showcasing the site,

2. A hadrosaur bonebed (duck-billed dinosaurs), the first dinosaur bonebed for British Columbia. This site was featured in "Dino Hunt Canada," with an airlift of the articulated skeleton of one of the hadrosaurs. We've done as much digging as we can by hand. Watch the video!

3. Uncovering more of the world's first tyrannosaur trackways (described in our paper in PLoS One,) mentioned in this post on field work fails, and in this post on injuries in theropod tracks, and

4. A potential new dinosaur excavation site that needs several test pits dug to determine the extent of the bone-bearing section.

What this summer does is give me an opportunity to spend more time at my neoichnology (modern track) sites. My first step was to see what shorebirds have arrived in the area, so I went out yesterday to spot check my usual sites.

My first trip was to Bullmoose Marshes, about 30 km away from the Research Centre. This site is in important stop-over and summer breeding ground for a fantastic variety of birds. It was a gorgeous day to be outside.
Me, squinting into the sun, which gives me a pensive look. No one can look pensive at this marsh.
While I did hear and see a great variety of birds, including two Trumpeter Swans, I only saw one shorebird: a Solitary Sandpiper.

My submission for Worst Bird Pic. There's a Solitary Sandpiper in here!

Of course, visiting sites always provides reminders of Why We Can't Have Nice Things. These boardwalks were put in by volunteers who had to raise funds for the materials. But I guess that all pales in comparison to twue wuv.

Yes, we're all very impressed that your love for C.C. is so great that vandalism is your answer.
The water levels are very high at the marshes right now, so there was no exposed ground to check for shorebird footprints. In addition to the Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs also frequent this marsh, but perhaps they have not yet set up their breeding territories.

My next stop was to the local dump. I often find myself going to to the dump for bird-related activities. The sewage treatment ponds are full of breeding Canada Goose, and several species of ducks and swallows can also be found. I discovered in 2016, while I was dropping off my recycling, that Killdeer also frequent one of the cleared off, rocky areas.

The dump did not disappoint! Here's a trackway of a Killdeer!

Killdeer trackway. 10 cm from outer dot to outer dot.
This made me a very happy ichnologist! These tracks were made that morning. If they were any more fresh, the Killdeer would still be standing in them.

I also saw some tracks that were made a day to a few days before, meaning that the Killdeer were not just making a one-time stop at the site. I'm hoping this means that they are getting ready to establish their breeding territory, and that I haven't missed all of the fun of them doing their nest scrape displays!

A not-so-fresh Killdeer trackway at the same site. Notice the edges are less clear than the above trackway.
Over the next few days I'll be paying this site early morning visits to see how active these Killdeer are, and where they feel is a good spot to build a nest.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Theropods or Tender-pods? The Softer Side of the "Terrible Lizard."

Nature, red in tooth and claw...

It's the common image associated with theropod dinosaurs: they are either chasing something down to eat it, or they are eating it. Every lazy bit of sad science storytelling depicts theropods consumed with one objective: devouring poor innocent plant-eating prey. From Lex asking "Where's the goat?" in Jurassic Park to Littlefoot's mom being killed by Sharptooth, theropods (and all carnivores, really) get painted with the "evil" brush and brushed off as mindless killers.

It's still too soon for me to post Littlefoot's mom's death.
Logically we know that theropods were more than just heartless (our words and judgement) killing machines. Theropod dinosaurs were and still are animals with a complex suite of behaviors that we would anthropomorphize as "tender" and "gentle."

We know that theropods built nests and incubated their young: research by Tanaka et al. (2015) demonstrated the different nesting strategies that dinosaurs used based on egg shell porosity. Egg shell is not solid: it is full of tiny pores that allow for moisture and gas exchange to happen between the egg and its environment. Based on modern nesting crocodiles and birds, the more porous eggshell is, the more likely it was that the eggs would be completely buried in a nest mound. Less porous eggs would only be partially buried with the upper surfaces of the eggs exposed. Maniraptoran theropods (dromaeosaurs, oviraptors, troodons, and our modern birds) have low porosity eggs, which would be partially exposed in the nest.

Maniraptoran theropods are well-known for another tender-loving trait: incubating eggs. Several fossil nests have been recovered with a maniraptoran caught in the act of brooding. The spectacular specimen of Citipati, an oviraptorosaur, on top of a nest of eggs is on display at the American Museum of Natural History. This is a good example of parental care in theropods.

We know that theropods (at least the maniraptorans) engage(d) in nest building and egg brooding behavior...but what about the pre-nesting activities, like courtship? Our modern theropods are famous for their courtship behaviors. Check out the mating dance of the Flame Bowerbird...

...and now imagine Oviraptor doing this dance.

"Hold up! There should be evidence of male theropods having some skeletal differences that can be used to support possible mating dances, right? Right!?!"

Using the skeleton alone, the best way to tell if a theropod skeleton was male or female is to look for a structure called medullary bone: it's a special deposit in the hollow portion of theropod bones that acts as a calcium reserve for adding shells to eggs. Medullary bone is only going to occur in egg-laying (female) theropods. However, medullary bone is an internal structure: you can't tell by looking at the exterior of a bone whether it contains medullary bone.

While there have been a few - quite a few - papers published that purportedly contain evidence of skeletal sexual dimorphism (anatomical differences in the skeleton) in dinosaurs (the most recent one uses a small sample size of tails of oviraptorosaurs) the numbers simply do not support that the differences seen are the result of sexual differences, as opposed to good ol' natural variation. An excellent study by Dr. Jordan Mallon was recently published that rigorously tests the statistics of all of the proposed cases of sexual dimorphism that involve visual differences in bones...and no evidence of sexual dimorphism was found in any of the cases. Internal eggs, embryos, and medullary bone are still the only way to confidently identify the sex of a dinosaur.

So, are there any fossils that possibly support courtship activities in theropods? We may have fossils in the form of trace fossils...ichnology to the rescue! In 2016 we published on these enigmatic traces from the Early Cretaceous of Colorado. They are paired scrape marks made by the feet of large theropods (likely an allosaur.) No tracks led up to any of the scrape marks, showing us that the theropods dug down through the layer they were walking on.

Figure 1 from Lockley et al. (2016) showing the scrape marks.
Figure 3 from Lockley et al. (2016).

These marks were a puzzle at first. We initially thought that the trackmakers were digging for water, but the geology of the area showed that water was active and abundant. Next we considered that they were digging for food, but the sandy layer the theropods were digging down to was devoid of traces of most burrowing animals. Next we considered nest bowls and/or dust bathing. Both activities, like rooting around for food, tend to wipe out the marks made by digging (based on what we've seen with dust bowls made by Spruce and Ruffed grouse in our area.)

Ruffed Grouse dust bathing, Jose Schell.
Then we considered territory marks. The closest modern example we could find of a convincing territory mark came from mountain lions. Check out this blog for some excellent pictures of the paired scrapes left by mountain lions.

This led us to consider the different reasons a theropod would make a visible territory mark...and then we came across the nest scrape ceremony.

Check out this video of the Piping Plover nest scrape ceremony (and because I love plovers, check out the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Project.)

Also see this video of a Killdeer nest scrape ceremony. I know where Killdeer were nesting locally last year, so I'm hoping to get some of my own footage this spring.

To start the nest scrape ceremony, the male will define and defend their territory. They vocalize to nearby females, and demonstrate to them how good they are at digging out nests. A male may perform and create several nest scrapes during the pre-mating ceremony. If the female is satisfied with his performance, she allows the male to mate. One of the nest scrapes becomes the nest bowl.

There is a good chance that our large theropods were engaging in a courtship ceremony that involved scraping at the ground. It is not uncommon to have multiple males displaying in one location: game birds are a great example with their display arenas or leks, like the Greater Prairie Chicken.

Of course, we had to come up with an Early Cretaceous version of a theropod lek...
Figure 6 of Lockley et al. (2016). Yes, those theropods in the background are doing exactly what you think they are doing.

Recently a paper by Carr et al. (2017) published on the facial scales of the tyrannosaurid Daspletosaurus horneri (a new species) that has skeletal evidence of not just scales on its face, but very sensitive facial scales. How sensitive? These scales were likely more sensitive to touch than human fingertips. Why would a tyrannosaur have such a sensitive snout? I'll let the authors speak to that:

"ISOs [integumentary sensory organs] would have aided adult tyrannosaurids in harmlessly picking up eggs and nestlings and, in courtship, tyrannosaurids might have rubbed their sensitive faces together as a vital part of pre-copulatory play." (Carr et al., 2017)

We now have more than enough evidence to abandon the tired cliche of the one-dimensional killing machine image of theropod dinosaurs. Extinct theropods were just as multifaceted and complex as any of our modern theropods or animals that we see today. A carnivorous animal is not simply a vicious slaughterhouse on legs and wings: they attract mates and care for the young that they produce. The fact that they eat meat to support these tender activities should be free of judgement on our part. We should learn to appreciate all aspects of a carnivore's life and pass that appreciation on to the next generations.

While you are here, I highly recommend peeking into the tender lives of our modern theropods by watching live nest cams! Here are links to the nest cam I frequent. Most are nest cams of birds of prey, so you will see prey either in the nest or being brought to the nest.

Barred Owl:

Savannah Osprey:

Laysan Albatross:

Peregrine Falcon:

Bald Eagle:

Great Blue Heron:

Hummingbirds (there are babies in the nest right now!)



Carr TD, Varricchio DJ, Sedlmayer JC, Roberts EM, Moore JR (2017) A new tyrannosaur with evidence for anagenesis and crocodile-like facial sensory system. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 44942 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep44942

Lockley MG*, McCrea RT, Buckley LG, Lim JD, Matthews NA, Breithaupt BH, Houck KJ, Gierlinski GD, Surmik D, Kim KS, Xing L, Kong D-Y, Cart K, Martin J, Hadden G. 2016. Theropod courtship: large scale physical evidence of display arenas and avian-like scrape ceremony behavior by Cretaceous dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 6:1–10

Mallon JC. 2017. Recognizing sexual dimorphism in the fossil record: lessons from nonavian dinosaurs. Paleobiology, doi: 10.1017/pab.2016.51

Persons SW IV, Funston GF, Currie PJ, Norell MA (2015) A possible instance of sexual dimorphism in the tails of two oviraptorid dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 9472 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep09472

Tanaka K, Zelenitsky DK, Therrien F (2015) Eggshell Porosity Provides Insight on Evolution of Nesting in Dinosaurs. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0142829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142829

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Story-telling in Science Doesn't Mean You Make *#%& Up.

Hello Dear Readers!

I have been a busy Strange Woman lately: giving talks, visiting family, writing abstracts, collecting data for know, the usual stuff.

I've also been - rather unsuccessfully, I might add - trying to influence science communication. I was asked to review the text of a tourism information sign. The purpose of the sign was to "engage visitors and get them excited to see the dinosaur track attraction." Now, I've reviewed such signs before - mostly for our local hiking group - and they have been both interesting and factually correct. I was expecting such quality when I opened the document (done by an organization not associated with the hiking group.)

Friends, I had to check my calendar to make sure that I was not in some April Fools' Day prank.
It. Was. Bad. I won't go into all of the details of how bad it was, but here are two examples.

First, it was painfully evident that the author did not actually look into any of the public work that had been done previously on the site in question, as the dinosaurs were misidentified. We're not talking a lower specialist "Oh you're just being picky type of identification." We're talking "saying ankylosaur tracks are duck-billed dinosaur tracks" type of boo-boo. It would be akin to me saying that a cat was a bear.

Getting the visitor interested: 4/10, but only because there are theropods.
Accuracy: 5/10, but only because they got the theropods right. The rest was made-up malarkey.

Now, this site has both theropod tracks (our carnivorous dinosaurs) and ankylosaur tracks (herbivorous armored dinosaurs) preserved on the same surface. One of the first questions people tend to ask is "Were the theropods hunting the ankylosaurs?" The answer is likely not. A dinosaur track surface is like a farmer's field in the winter. You'll see all sorts of tracks: deer, coyote, dog, cat, person, snowmobile, etc., all made at different times. The surface collects these tracks over time like a doodle scratch pad next to the phone. Just because you see snowmobile tracks in the same field as a dog trackway does not mean that they were made at the same time, or that snowmobiles are viciously hunting dogs and people.

That did not stop Skippy (I needed a name for the author, since I have no idea who it is) from pulling the sadly predictable of "the vicious theropods stalking the ankylosaurs."

Getting the visitor interested: 1/10. Who hasn't heard that tired old chestnut trotted out for EVERY site with a theropod involved without any way to back it up? Snooze-ville.
Accuracy: 0/10. With no evidence to support a hunting scenario, they would be essentially lying to the visitors.

I've read and written A LOT of public education materials. I give A LOT of public talks on fossil tracks. I tweet voraciously.  Do you know what I've found out during all of this time?

1. People are interested in the facts! We have not found it that difficult to tell people accurate information about our track sites and our research and to get them excited about it. Heck, that's where most of our research funding comes from: getting non-specialists excited about the projects. We're good at this. There are lots of different groups and media outlets that do ask us to fact check, because they know we aren't going to BS them with fanciful nonsense.

2. People don't like to be patronized to. Infantilizing information, or the infamous "dumbing down," is basically telling people that they are not bright enough to appreciate the facts. Most people really do want facts when they are visiting a science place or going to a science talk - heck, that's why they are there! - and it is a direct insult to the audience if you assume that they are not going to get it unless you add nonsense. Every time we give a talk, we have an audience that is excited about hearing the newest information. They're in the know, and they end up wanting to know more.

My comments on the document were longer than the document itself. The response: "This is a method of storytelling to get people engaged."

According to Skippy, making stuff up about a science site is A-OK as long as people get interested. So Skippy, what happens when the visitors do get interested, and do their own investigations, and find out you fed them the science communication version of used tissues? Is this still engaging storytelling?

In my frustration, I took to Twitter. Here is what I posted:
That post struck a chord with people: I've never had a viral tweet, but a lot of people agreed with this approach. To me it's a sign that people are getting a bit tired of the same old insulting scicomm that marketing types and large-platform media are offering.

I cannot blame them. When a TV program, documentary, billboard, tourism brochure, marketing strategy, etc., presents a cheap and lazy science story to engage their target audience, they are not doing it from a place of respect. They are demonstrating that they do not respect either the science or their audience.

I am angry and frustrated at this lazy, disrespectful approach to science-related engagement. Anyone feeding you a sensationalized story "because it's engaging" is essentially lying to you. They don't want you to know that they think you are too thick to appreciate the facts. People should be insulted when they are presented with sloppy advertising, cringe-worthy network programming, and Barney-fied displays. You're being insulted right to your face, except the people doing the insulting get to hide behind their networks and billboards. For every "Hunting Bigfoot" show and use of Jurassic Park imagery to push dinosaurs, you are being told your interest is worth the minimal effort. They are using their large platforms to decide FOR YOU what you have the smarts to understand. If someone wearing a Big Network badge walked up to you and said "You are too dense to understand the real information," would you accept that? I hope not, and I hope you don't accept it when it's presented to you in the form of a sign, TV show, or tourism campaign.

The people who push these insulting narratives don't actually believe - or want to take the time to find out - that the facts do make a story interesting! People visit historical sites, read non-fiction biographies, and watch documentaries: they want to know what happened. People also want to know how and why we know it happened. This is no different when applied to promoting dinosaur sites and museums. We don't have to "trick" people into being excited about science, and we shouldn't ever be approaching this from a "tricking" or "sneaking in the science" perspective. Again, that doesn't come from a position of respect.

I'm in the process of collecting #SadSciPromo examples: the signs, promotions, and shows that are supposedly science-based but make you do the eternal head desk.

Do you have any examples of #SadSciPromo that you have encountered? Please let me know. The more of these that I collect - and the more people who indicate that they are fed up with this type of insulting media - the more background information I'll have to demonstrate when needed that we need to respect our audiences more than those who call marine reptiles dinosaurs, or those who think fake documentaries on mermaids are good for public science literacy. We all deserve much, much better, and should demand it.

Until next time,
Strange Woman.

Friday, January 6, 2017

SCIENCE TRACKS: Scicomm Pamphlets to Spread the Science Fun

Happy 2017, Dear Readers!

Over the holidays I was at home, minding my own business - drinking tea, working on retooling the last publishable chapter from my dissertation, watching bad paranormal TV, and acting as a heated mattress for the kitty - when there's a knock on my front door.

Lo and behold, it was a door-to-door religious solicitor. Nowadays they are fairly high-tech: rather than try to hand me a pamphlet, his opening line was presenting his tablet/iPad and saying "Now watch this video and I'm sure it will help you answer some of Life's questions." My grandparents had a sign taped to their door that read "No solicitors, religious or otherwise. We have no time, patience, or money." Needless to say, they taught me well.

My response to these types of solicitations is polite but direct: I'm an evolutionary biologist, and my questions are already answered. I caught a very brief change flicker over the guy's face - something akin to a flare of anger - but he wisely turned around and left.

Naturally, I shared my experience with my Twitter friends.

I let my mind free-associate a bit after that. I briefly thought about how funny it would be if - rather than having religious solicitors - we had science solicitors, going door-to-door spreading the Science. Of course my brain immediately jumped to "Science doesn't preach: science provides learning opportunities."

The more my brain played with the idea, the more my brain liked it.

I have completed one pamphlet for what I'm calling Science Tracks: purely scicomm pamphlets that can be used for any opportunity that arises for spreading the good word about all the awesome science that's out there. I may have been a little optimistic on getting more than one completed over the holidays. One big reason is that I don't want to use other people's photos for this without permission, and the only pamphlet I could complete using my own photos was OMFG* BIRDS! (no one who follows me is surprised), but it is a start of something that I hope to continue.
*Oh My Feathery Goodness

Here is the link to the first Science Tracks PDF, OMFG BIRDS! Hope you enjoy!

Here is a screenshot of the outside of the pamphlet:

Here's a screenshot of the inside of the pamphlet: