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

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