Friday, 24 January 2014

Roll up, roll up.

Hello dear readers and a big hello and welcome to Stewart, my new follower. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer and long may you stay aboard.

This week I've still been a bit busy on my little projects, but first up, here's something you can do from the comfort of your own home, The Big Garden Birdwatch. All you have to do is register with the RSPB on the birdwatch link, then come this weekend of the 25th & 26th January, grab yourself a culpa and some biscuits and count how many and what birds visit your garden in 1 hour. It really is that simple and if you don't have a garden, then do it at your local park or nature reserve. Your participation in projects like these really are important and help us to understand what is happening in nature.

The blue tit was back again this week to check the box out again

As you can see, he really does show a lot more interest this time, which is a good thing. Also good news is anymore video from the nest cam from today should include sound on it as I've figured out why there was no sound before. I put a plug in a wrong socket. But hey all sorted now and hopefully next time you'll get a full on surround sound experience, well not surround sound, but you know what I mean.

MK2 moth trap update

I decided to have a go at making the rain guard from the old perspex vanes of the MK1 moth trap. I even ordered the special 'perspex cutting' jigsaw blades that would glide through the perspex. As I said last week, cutting perspex isn't very easy, in fact, it's nigh impossible to do without cracking or breaking it. But hey, I now have 'perspex cutting' blades, so this should now be a doddle, wrong.

Cutting perspex is not easy.
As you can see in the above photo, it chipped and split and flung sharp shards in all directions. So what am I going to do? Thankfully, my superstar wifey is a bit of an up and coming glass artist and as the collection vanes are already made out of glass, she reckons she can make me a specially designed rain guard. Excellent! The MK2 really is going to be an all bells and whistles moth trap. 

In the meantime though, I've started to put some varnish on to the trap to help it be a bit better protected from the weather than the MK1.

First coats of varnish going on.
It's only had a coat so far, but will look much better when that's done, I hope.

Entomology cabinet update

This project has hit a slight problem this week, none of which is my fault. I decided to order some plastazote (the foam used to pin collections to) from an entomologist supplier who I've used before. Dealing with this guy is a bit strange as he has no website. You have to email him to get him to send you a higldy-pigldy price list that states in bold letters at the top 'P&P WILL BE CHARGED AT COST', yet nowhere on the price list are there any P&P prices. The next line states that "Prices, in general are correct, but may fluctuate depending on wholesalers/suppliers demands'. In other words it might be the price stated, or it could be something completely different. Needless to say, I ordered some plastazote which arrived a few days later. It was well packed, rolled up in cardboard AND bubble wrap (weird considering it's foam, hardly going to break) AND plastic wrapping. After I eventually got through the layers of parcel tape I opened the rolls of plastazote and my heart sank, it was filthy. On one edge it had red and green paint or something running along it's edge. Then on one side of the foam it had filthy black water damage to it as if had been sitting under a dripping tap for some time. OK I thought, I could turn it over and trim off the edge, alas no, the other side was also as filthy running along its entire length. 

I then opened the invoice inside to find that the plastazote wasn't £17.95 as I thought I was paying, but £19.10 instead, and although the postage label on the packet said £5.20, the charge for P&P on the invoice came in at £8.56. I know it was well packed, but the sum total of the stuff he packed it in would never come to £3.36. So as you can imagine, I wasn't happy and I had to do the thing I hate most, complain. When I spoke to him on the phone and told him it was damaged he asked in what way? I told him it looked like old water damage and his reply was "Yes, that's very possible, try wiping it down with a cloth or try sponging it out". I must admit, if this had been any other company, I would've told them right there and then what they could go and do with there suggestion. However, this guy comes across like a little old bloke who's been running his little business as a postal type of business that you would've seen advertised in the back of old entomology newsletters in the post war days. The internet bus of the modern world has passed him by and he forgot to put his hand out.

I tried to wipe the stains away, but it wasn't happening, so reluctantly I phoned him again. The conversation went a little like this.

Me: Hi, it's me again, unfortunately the stains won't come out
Him: Oh, can you phone back tomorrow?
Me: Sorry?
Him: Phone me back tomorrow
Me: Well I would like to get this sorted now please
Him: Well it's not convenient now, I'm just going out and I need to catch my bus (I hope it wasn't the internet bus).
Me: Well I'm sorry, but I need some plastazote.
Him: I'll call you back this evening.
Me: OK

He never called me back that evening. But he did call me back the following day where he really didn't know what could be done. So I told him I would send him the plastazote back and he could send me a cheque for the postage and that we would leave it at that. 

This isn't the outcome I wanted and I have now ordered my goods from Watkins & Doncaster. They are slightly more expensive, but at least you know what the price is from the moment you order, you know you're going to get quality service and if there's a problem, they'll sort it immediately as I once received an item that'd been damaged in the post and they sent a replacement next day, no problems.

In the meantime, I added my collection of found dead bumblebees to one of the drawers I had already completed. 

A queen and her workers
As I added them, I also took the opportunity to key them out and sex them too. This keying out was good as I could definitely confirm that they were Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). Out of the 1 queen and 14 workers, there were only 4 males.

Hibernating ladybirds

Got a call from my dear old mother this week saying she had found a ladybird in her kitchen, what should she do? Like the butterflies I reported on a few days back, the ladybirds are also looking for somewhere nice and sheltered to sleep out the winter. In most cases, the ladybirds in question are Harlequins (Harmonia axyridis), the alien invaders. Even Chris Packham on BBC's Winterwatch said of his dilemma about whether he should kill them or not and last year I blogged on this topic about killing Harlequins when we found them. The outcome was, no matter how much we disliked it, Harlequin's are here to stay and killing them would be futile as they have much higher reproductive rate than our native ladybirds. Killing the odd one, two or even hundred here and there would do absolutely nothing to the Harlequin population.

7-spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-puncta)
However, I digress. The ladybird in question at my mothers turned out to be a 7-spot ladybird and I gave her (my mother, not the ladybird) the instruction to just place it in the shed. I popped round to see her the following day and in the process checked on the ladybird. I actually found two of the same species in the shed and duly sent a record of it to iRecord, something we should all do.

Nature's New Scientists

Here's something I think you might be interested in, Suffolk Naturalists' Society (SNS) conference.

As you can see from the above flyer, the main gist of the conference is the Future of Wildlife Recording, a very important subject in these exciting days of technological wonders. Tickets are only £12.50 for non-members, which personally, I think is a bargain when you consider how much conference tickets are usually. I also have it on good authority, even though it doesn't say it in the flyer, that there will be some stands there such as Butterfly Conservation. If you want to know more about the conference, then go to the SNS website here where you can also book a ticket too.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Till next time dear friends, take care and be safe.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Winter projects and possible new tenants.

Hello again dear readers, hope all is good in your world. Weather's been a bit of a mix between sunshine and showers here and although we've had one frost, the chilly weather that was predicted, failed to materialise.

The weather's been so mild of late, that I have even had a blue tit come to check out my nest box. I was lucky to catch the occasion on my nest box cam.

In fact, as I sit here and write this now, I can see the nest box monitor keep flickering as an inquisitive bird sits in front of the entrance hole looking around, but not yet brave enough to look in. My finger is poised by the record button. All this activity looks positive for some nesting action this year, fingers crossed.

Restoration project update

As many of you will know, I acquired this beautiful entomologist's cabinet from London's Natural History Museum last week. 

Newly acquired history.
I did have a little bit of a dilemma in that I wanted to find a large freezer to place the drawers in for a 24 hour period to kill off any possible museum beetles. A small beetle that just loves to munch on preserved insects and destroy collections in the process. However, Max Barclay, the museum's head entomology curator, contacted me via Twitter to assure me that the cabinet had been kept in a controlled environment for nearly 100 years and should be OK. Excellent news, now the restoration can begin. 

The cabinet surround is in fine fettle and will not need any work on it at all. The drawers do look like they've seen plenty of action though and you may remember I had another dilemma about the labels on the drawers. Should I strip the drawer outer layers down, remove all the labels and worn tape and replace with new tape and only my labels or, keep the old labels in place and do nothing. After all, they show the history of the drawers and in doing so, tell a story.

In the end, I reached a compromise. I've decided not to strip the labels and tape from the drawers, but instead, I'll cover them with clear contact film, the kind of stuff used to protect book covers. This way, they won't get damaged any more, they will still retain their history and I will be able to place my own labels on the drawers without damaging what is already there. So, armed with roll of contact film I got into action.

As can be seen, the old labels are already looking a bit tatty.
But a few minutes with a scalpel and some contact film, it can be protected from further damage.

Contact in place.
With the contact in place, I could then place my labels on it without damaging what was already there. Then there was the drawer handles. These stubby little metal things looked a bit drab and I had a suspicion that they may be brass.
Drawer handle looking a bit drab.
So I did no more than unscrewed a couple (quite easy) and placed them in a small shot glass of Brasso for 20 mins. Then pulled them out one at a time and gave them a good rub down with a yellow duster.

Before and after.
It seems I was right, so now I have to rub down the other 39 handles and as you can see from there size, it's a bit tricky. But once they're done, it should begin to look quite nice.

Brass handle and contact in place.
The inside of the drawers is the next bit and they all have a cork base with paper lined over it. This is how they did stuff in the old days and the cork and paper lining, although efficient, left holes visible when collections were changed around or altered. Nowadays, museums and collectors use Plastazote foam instead of cork. This retains no memory of pin holes and is very clean and flexible to use. However, it isn't cheap and costs around £8-£10 per metre to buy. This cabinet holds 20 drawers measuring around 50 x 40cm, so this won't be cheap to do. Yet, the blessing is that I don't have to do this all at once as my collection is far from that big, yet!

Good old Mr Sheen
First job is to clean the drawers as each one did have a good thick layer of dust on them. This was removed with a liberal polishing with the Mr Sheen.

Then, moving on to the interior of the drawer, there was the odd label and insect appendage laying about. I kept the old labels and put them all on one pin, which I will leave in the corner of the drawer when it's finished. The odd bits of insect however, have been disposed of.
Some remains of the past.
You can also see from the above photo, the pin holes which I was talking of earlier. These will not be visible any more as the will be covered in 6mm thick Plastazote.

Plastazote cut to size, slips in nicely.
The plastazote is easily cut to size and is best done using a sharp scalpel to ensure a nice clean cut edge. As the drawer inside is not perfectly square, this causes the plastazote to not lay entirely flat. So, with the help of some of my chunky books placed inside and left overnight, this caused the plastazote to set nicely in the drawer.

Books have more than one function you know.
In the morning, the books are removed and I'm left with a nice flat surface to start pinning my collection to. The first ones in are my small collection of UK beetles.

My very small collection of UK beetles.
As time goes on, I will slowly and surely begin to move my collection to the various drawers and through the coming years, hopefully find enough dead creatures to add to my collection.

Behold, the MK2!!!

As many of you will know, a couple of years back I wanted to have a go at moth trapping. I didn't want to spend a fortune on a new moth trap as being the handy kinda guy I am, I knew I could make one at a fraction of the cost. You can see how I built it here.

Well, like I say, that was a couple of years back and moth-ing is certainly addictive. The trap has served me very well, but has also succumb to warping, which means there are gaps where there shouldn't be gaps and this just lets the moths escape again come the morning. So I decided to place the MK1 into retirement and build the bigger and stronger MK2.
Behold, the MK2.
 I learnt a lot from the MK1 which let me build a better moth trap. First up was the wood. The MK1 was constructed from a previously used packing crate that I'd picked up on my travels as a trucker. It was thin stuff and it was free (always good). This time I bought some external 9mm plywood and some battening. The MK1 was a small affair as I worked around what I had to hand. However, as small as it was (47cm L x 36W x 37H), it still did an outstanding job and on one night last year caught over 500 moths. Size doesn't mean nothing though and a bigger trap isn't going to catch me more moths, so that's not the reason why I'm building it bigger, no. The reason behind the bigger build is to allow more room for the moths inside to settle down. When a moth falls into the trap, its first reaction is to fly up out of the trap unless it can find somewhere nice and dark to hide away. This is where the egg cartons come in, these are scattered inside the trap and provide a lovely safe refuge until a mother moth falls in and starts flapping about all over the place. This disturbs the other resting moths who also begin to flutter about and in doing so, knock the scales off their wings making identification hard. So in the end, more room means more relaxed moths, well that's the plan anyway.

So how much bigger is it I hear you ask. The MK2 is 60cm L x 50W x 50H. As you can imagine, this makes it a little bit hefty, but I don't plan on taking it away anywhere, this is a home trap and to make getting it out and putting it away more easier, I've attached wheels!

Another thing I learnt from the MK1 was I always had cable and the electric box to tidy away. Not anymore as I've now attached the electrics to the side of the box with a handily cable store too and it gets better. The MK1 had perspex vanes to guide the moths into the trap. I've replaced the perspex with 4mm glass and there's three reasons for this. Firstly, perspex is actually quite expensive compared to glass. Second, perspex is a pain in the neck to cut properly without it breaking or splintering and thirdly, glass is heavier, which means that if a small gust suddenly hits the trap, the glass will remain in place unlike the perspex which flapped about releasing the moths.

Now I know what you're thinking, what if I clumsily break a pane of it? Well, it works out less than £4 a sheet, there's a glass shop just down the road from me and my wifey is on the road to becoming a well renowned glass artist and she can cut glass with her eyes closed, well, with one eye closed at least. She tried it with both eyes shut once, the blood was everywhere, but that's a different story.

Obviously I transferred the lighting over from the MK1, but this time, instead of having the bulb fixed to a loose bit of wood that I placed on top of the trap, I've attached the wooden batten across the top and hinged it. This way, instead of taking it off and putting it on the floor for me to clumsily kick when not paying attention, the bulb is elevated and out of harms way (hopefully).

All that's left to do now to the trap is a coat of varnish, and as reader Ryan Clark pointed out to me on twitter, a rain guard, knew I'd forgot something. The rain guard I might try and recycle out of the old perspex if I can cut it without splitting it, failing that, I'm sure I'll work something out.

That's two of the projects I've been getting up to this week and there's still more in the pipeline, so keep tuned in for more developments.

The wrong kind of wing

This week I've been lucky to spot about 20 Redwings (Turdis iliacus) in the area. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the birds to share with you and for that I apologise (must try harder). Still haven't been lucky enough to see any Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) though, but I'm still looking.

That's it for now, but until next time my dear reader, keep safe and keep happy. 

Take care

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A new year, new things!

Hello and happy new year to all my readers. I hope you had a safe and happy one, I, being the party animal I am, was tucked up in bed by 10pm with a horrid cold. But never mind, could always be worse.

I hope santa brought you lots of nice goodies, he was very good to me bringing me lots of stuff to use in the new year, including a small webcam for my indoor bumblebee nest box project. A wonderful book on bumbles was also given, allowing me plenty of reading time to learn all about them. I got some lovely entomology related T-shirts too among many lovely things. But the biggest surprise gift of all was the gift of lovely camcorder from the wife, who, was so impressed with the success of this blog, thought that a positive next step would be a video log (vlog). Or at the very least, I can bring you some good video clips from out in the field in future blogs. Now don't despair dear reader, the blog won't stop because of the vlog, if the vlog idea works, it will run in conjunction with the blog, hopefully. So just watch this space as I've got a few things in the pipeline!

New beginnings

Well the new year is well under way by now and there are many things in the pipeline at the moment including my new volunteer job with the wonderful SuffolkWildlife Trust. This is something I look forward to getting stuck into, as I love to inform and educate people about the wonders that surround us (hence the blog). This new venture will allow me to do that hopefully. there is much in the planning stages at the moment for 2014 and I will share things with you as and when they happen. In the meantime, please click on the SWT link above and explore the site. There are many new projects happening that you can be involved with and your involvement really does help nature. There's also many events for the year you may want to stick in your diaries, there's something for everyone!

On the subject of new beginnings, I came across this subject the other day, Phenology! Not to be confused with phrenology, which is the study of the head, phenology is the study of the times of natural recurring phenomena such as the first buds on a tree, or the first butterfly seen. Records like this go back hundreds of years to the 1600's and give us an important insight not only about nature, but our climate too. After all, much (if not all) of nature is linked with temperatures, sunlight hours etc. So these records of first sightings, really help us to monitor trends and how seasons, climate and many other things are changing. Anyone can do this and you can monitor as much or as little as you like, you don't even have to wander out past the garden gate. You can do it all from your garden if you wish and you can read more about it here.

Another new beginning is my Youtube channel. Yes, as I said earlier, wifey bought me a camcorder for Xmas, so what better way to put it to use, than create my own channel and share my videos with you via it. 

One of my first 'trial' clips comes from waking up one morning last week, when my cold woke me at the wrong 4 o'clock (yes, there's two). Seeing that the night skies were clear, I decided to pop out and make the most of the situation. Destination was going to be Pin Mill on the banks of the Orwell River, but I never made it that far because as I rounded a bend along the bank hugging road, I came across this wonderful view.

Rich morning sunrise on the Orwell.
As you can see, it really was a lovely sight and also gave me the ideal view to try out my new present with a small time-lapse video of the sunrise.

The birds in the foreground, in case you're wondering, are Canadian geese (Branta canadensis). Like I say, it's only a short video, but I hope to be bringing you much more content along a similar vein in the future.

The River Orwell really is a beautiful place once you get outside Ipswich with lots of biodiversity for all interests and some wonderful photographic opportunities too. Just this morning, me and wifey woke up to the coldest morning of the year so far, a -3.2ºC on my weather station at 7:30am, so maybe this is the first inkling of a real winter approaching??? Either way, it's nice to get out even for just a small walk. The river looked like a mill pond and I was able to grab this shot of the Orwell bridge nice reflected in the river below.

Orwell bridge from the east bank of the Orwell.
It was so nice to see this stillness which was only broken by the eerie sound of waders along the shoreline. Please don't ask me what they were, you know birds are not really my strong point, especially water birds. However, I did find my first bug of the year whilst looking for any fossils in parts of the bank that had fallen away in the storms of late. It was a Harvestman, of what species, I'm unsure, as I was with the wifey who is not fond of such things. For those of a similar disposition to the wifey, a picture of it does follow at the end of this blog, however, it is in a very uncharacteristic pose for a spider and that's because it IS NOT a spider despite having 8 legs. Where spiders have two main body sections, an abdomen and thorax, a harvestman does not. It basically has one body section.  Harvestman only have two eyes unlike spiders which have 4-8 eyes. 

Talking of bugs, this leads me on nicely to my latest acquisition. As many of you know, last year saw me inning and mounting insects that I had found deceased and I've always marvelled at the drawers  in museums full of diverse insects. These entomological cabinets are not cheap and prices usually start at several hundred pounds and rising steeply upwards from there into the thousands. That was until Dafyyd Lewis of the Amateur Entomologist's Society, posted a link on the group's Facebook page of a old cabinet being sold by London's Natural History Museum no less. The description was as follows:
"This is an open 20 drawer rack in veneered hardboard, with 20 lightweight 'Oberthur' drawers of the kind used at the Paris Museum; drawers are made in the European style of reinforced card, lined with papered cork, and glazed, with a lift off glass lid, and two brass handles. The drawers are from the Charles Oberthur Collection and date to the 1930s. Drawers are 'continental' depth, i.e. will take a full length pin.

This represents a very reasonably priced bulk storage option for a large collection, a teaching or university collection, or a non-entomological collection requiring glass topped drawers for display

Collection from Natural History Museum, South Kensington."

Thankfully, to say, I won the item and drove all the way down to London to collect it. It now sits happily in my office awaiting some restoration.
New (old) cabinet awaiting some restoration.
The drawers still have all the old markings of their life attached on and in them.

Original labels

As you can see, I'm going to have some hard decisions to make, as although they are covered in history that tells something of the lives of the drawers. Some of them do need loving attention. 

For those who are wondering who Charles Oberthur was, he was the son of a French amateur entomologist and printer. He was one of two sons who both became entomologists with Charles studying lepidoptera and his brother, René, studying coleoptera.

Charles Oberthur (
So there you go, I have a wonderful piece of entomology history sitting right next to me in my office. The first thing that I need to address though, is finding someone with a largish freezer who would be happy for me to pop down every now and then to place a couple of drawers in the said freezer for a day. This is to make sure that any museum beetles ( a destructive beetle that loves dead insects and wood) are killed off. Anyone got a freezer then?

I will keep you posted on the restoration process and hopefully, not before too long I'll be able to start storing some of my collection in them.

So, what with building a new moth trap, a bumblebee nest and now restoring an entomology cabinet, I'm going to have my work cut out for the foreseeable future. All that remains for me to say is, till next time folks, keep happy, keep safe.

And just before I go, here's that picture of a harvestman I spoke of earlier. Take care

Harvestman, also know as daddy- long-legs. I wonder why?