It took about eleven contiguous hours of work, but my screech owl nest box is back in business, and not as a bee hive.
The nest box had to be disassembled to properly clean all of the bee grunge out of it. That meant breaking it down into its major components: (1) the frame, which includes the back wall visible in the photos, (2) the fold-down front with integrated infrared entryway sensor assembly, (3) the side compartment with thermometer and perch, (4) the side camera compartment, and (5) the roof, which includes the ceiling-camera assembly. Components 1, 2 and 3 were thoroughly cleaned using a combination of a putty knife, a garden hose with a high-pressure nozzle on it, a bucket of soapy water, and a heavy-duty scrub brush. Spray, scrape, scrub with soapy water, rinse, repeat. The technique worked well, and—apart from the beeswax, which must be a permanent part of the wood at this point—provided the fastest and most effective cleaning of all the methods I used.
The roof component didn’t need cleaning, because the glass window, which separates its camera, infrared illuminators and other electronics from the interior of the nest box proper, kept the bees out. However, that window was the attachment point for most of the combs, so cleaning it took quite a bit of work. For that I used careful handling, hot water, dish soap, a putty knife, and a Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scour Pad. That did the trick and, after a few iterations, took every last trace of the comb off of the window. (As I would later learn, it also scratched the window, in a manner that was only evident when light hit it at just the right angle. Those scouring pads are like plastic sandpaper, so I should have guessed, but didn’t. Do not make this mistake yourself.)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t use the garden hose technique with the side camera compartment, because its interior wall, which was the part that needed cleaning, was only designed to keep out insects and owls. It wasn’t designed to be water-tight, so the garden hose technique, or any similar technique, would have leaked water into the electronics inside. So, I had to disassemble the compartment enough to take off its interior wall (which is how I access the internal electronics for modifications and repairs). Unfortunately, in this case, though it’s absolutely necessary in order to get good illumination, the infrared illuminator LEDs are integrated into the interior wall, so washing that wall would have meant pouring water over the LEDs and into all of their wiring. It’s all carefully insulated with heat shrink tubing, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether water finding its way into one of the stranded wires that join the LEDs in series would have caused a problem.
In any case, I started-off with the goal of cleaning the side camera compartment’s interior wall without disassembling anything. That almost worked. A couple of problems cropped-up, however. One was that I found that the bees had sealed the tiny gaps around, well, absolutely everything, including each LED where it projected through the wall. That meant that I could no longer use the small gap between the LEDs and the walls of the holes they stick out of to tweak their angles to optimize box lighting. Also, the bees found the other hole in the wall, the one that is covered with a screen to keep insects out (an especially good design decision under the circumstances, if I do say so myself) and is positioned directly in front of the microphone which is mounted further back in the compartment, thus providing a straight-line air path to the microphone. The bees, however, in their instinctive zeal to seal their hive, had descended into the hole and filled in every last gap in the screen. So, no direct air path, anymore. And no hole, for that matter. Finally, my efforts to get all traces of the bee comb off of the camera window, resulted in my using the same technique I thought had worked so well on the ceiling camera compartment’s window: the scouring pad. This time the pad not only scratched the window, but came close to fogging portions of the glass before I happened to look at the glass at just the right angle to see the scratches and noticed that I'd just ruined the window. (That’s when I went back and checked the ceiling camera compartment’s window and found that it was scratched to, though not nearly as seriously.)
At that point, cleaning the interior wall of the side camera compartment went from tedious to a huge time sink. I had to disassemble the interior wall into its five (or six) components, in order to replace the window. Fortunately, I’ve often made spares of owl box components, and in this case I had about six more windows of the same size on hand. Unfortunately, after finding them, cleaning one with great care, and sitting down to install it, I found that the hardware store glass cutting fellow had not made all of the windows to precisely the same dimensions, whereas I had routed into the wood a socket of precisely the right dimensions (and the first window I tried happened to fit). Now that the first window was history, I found that the other windows were a few millimeters too large to fit in the socket, and ripping the interior wall assembly apart completely so I could put the sheet of wood containing the window socket on my router table and fix the socket, wasn’t an appealing option. There ensued a period of careful, awkward work with a wood chisel until window no. 2 eventually fit.
With the interior wall already fully disassembled, I then took great care with a tiny pick to remove every bit of bee sealant (propolis) from the LED sockets and the microphone hole. After reassembling the whole interior wall, adjusting the LED angles, and making a few more cleaning passes to try to get every trace of bee gunk off of the aluminum walls, I cleaned an accumulation of dust out of the underlying camera compartment containing the camera, microphone, and the bulk of other electronics. Then I reinstalled its interior wall and carefully sealed it.
At long last it was time to put the whole box back together again. That went smoothly enough, and the nice, clean box with fresh bedding material, adjusted lighting, and the elegant new beeswax coating on its interior woodwork, was hoisted back into its mount in the nest box tree.
The box is ready and waiting, so now all I need is for my pair of owls (or some other desperate pair) to choose it as a nest site. It may be too late to attract an initial nesting attempt in this part of the country, but I’d blame myself mightily for not trying, so at least I’m off that hook. Now we’ll wait and see if owls appear sometime in March. Nest Box Cam’ followers, cross your fingers, knock on wood, etc., because I’m certain that I should have done all of this at least a month ago, and, at this late stage, we either need last year’s pair to prove that they’re highly dedicated to this nest site, or we need luck.
P.S. Now that I know how to kill invading bee swarms, I promise not to let the screech owl nest box be co-opted again. In the future, I’ll either have the swarm moved more-or-less immediately, or I’ll kill it shortly after arrival, before it can do any significant harm.