A Salutary Experience 7 March 2011

Which is all jolly fine (see Swimming Off Exmouth) till something goes wrong. With hindsight I could have ticked all the boxes in ‘Pratical Considerations’ except nos. 1, 2 and 7. Failure to tick nos. 1 & 2 adequately nearly made 7 an irrelevance.


7th March 2011 was a great day; high pressure, nearly cloudless with an easterly breeze. Out of the wind it was warm. Back home, daffs and tulips were out. Water temperature 8.3° C. Quite a big spring tide, two weeks before the equinox. I swam in the middle of the ebb, about noon. [High water ca. 0800 hrs 3.8m; low water ca. 1400 hrs 0.4m] The Rule of Twelfths states that the rise or fall of tide will alter by approximately 1/12 of the total in the first hour, 2/12 in the second, 3/12 in each of the third and fourth hours, then reduce to 2/12 in the fifth and 1/12 in the final hour. So the least amount of water is shifting at the start and finish of ebb and flood and increases to a maximum in the middle.


It was choppy rather than rough, with two to three foot high waves coming ashore. The water was already quite far out. It seemed to take an age to get deep enough to swim so I ducked down well before I was even waist deep. For the first ten or twenty strokes I could still feel the bottom with my hands as I swam. “Right,” I thought, “let’s get cracking. Fifty strokes for France.” After about 30 strokes I decided to check for depth only to find I could no longer touch the bottom. I turned around and headed back to shore, taking a bead on a transit shore mark but found, to my alarm, that I was still going backwards. France was on!


orcombe point



The main channel from seawards into the Exe Estuary is marked by a line of buoys, indicated on the chart above starting with E. Exe, at bottom right of the image, and continuing with No.1, No.2, No.3 etc north-westerly. The local almanac states that the current in the main channel can run at up to 4½ knots. It was certainly hammering out on the day in question. An average swimmer – and I am a very average swimmer – can expect to swim at about 2 knots. A really good swimmer might manage 3 knots for a short distance. Clearly, expecting to make headway against a 4 knot, or even a 2 knot current, is optimistic bordering on plain stupid. But then I had not anticipated any of this.


I am not sure exactly what happened next, apart from slipping effortlessly into panic mode, but I noticed that each wave gave considerable assistance towards the shore while immediately behind it was a corresponding but slightly greater tug away. I tried to make best use of the former while resisting as much as possible the latter. Somehow I was soon able to touch bottom again. Fortuna favet fatuis – on this occasion anyway.


So technically I was back in my depth and everything was hunky-dory. Wrong! The undertow was so strong that I was unable to remain standing in the same place while shoulder deep. Waves either broke over my head or lifted me off my feet and I was then carried backwards, further out of my depth, by the undertow as the wave passed. Even when chest deep progress towards the shore was extremely hard. What seemed to work best was leaning as far forward as possible, which was not very far at the outset on account of the depth of water, and ‘running’ with the feet while flailing my arms like a madman. [Well, here I am aren’t I?] The result is a better definition of what it is to be “in one’s depth.” In adverse conditions I would say no more than waist deep. One inadvertent mouth- or lung-full of water when chest or shoulder deep would be seriously inconvenient!


Ironically, I had intended the swim to be an endurance trial for how long I could remain in the water before it got too cold for comfort and had planned to stay in for 10 minutes or so. As it was, I didn’t get around to that as I was too freaked out and just wanted to get ashore, but it did mean that I had taken note of the time as I entered the water. I was immersed for just under 6 minutes. As far as the temperature was concerned I could have stayed in longer, but the exertion required to return to safety was enervating and I was pleased to get ashore to put it mildly! The cold endurance will have to await another day.


The most important lesson learned is the absolute need for planning – not during, not after, but before! My rules [see above] gave me a false sense of security. I had no plan what to do if things went wrong. How could they? I’d got my check-list. In cold water there is very little time in which to stay effective. There is not only fatigue with which to contend but the cold renders the muscles less responsive and efficient. And it is the wrong place to start planning. I don’t know what I would have done had I not been extremely lucky, but having thought about it a lot since, I now have a plan of sorts should anything similar happen again. I should have had one before entering the water.


I was about where the is on the chart when I found myself out of depth. The deep water channel, indicated by the buoys, is presumably scoured from the leveller surrounding sandbanks and beach by the flow of water, but I am not aware exactly where it starts nor how steeply sloping its sides, but I assume I must have drifted into it. The exact spot I chose to swim is a narrow corridor of sand unimpeded by rocks ahead but bounded on each side by rocky promontories. These must somewhat reduce the current along the shoreline but once beyond their shelter the full force of the stream is encountered. Having failed to make a conscious note of this at the time, I think I must strayed unwittingly into a ‘danger’ zone.


Had I not been lucky what should I have done? What I actually did was instinctively swim as directly as I could for the shore. If I had not regained my depth this was probably the wrong strategy ‘long term’ i.e. for the next 5 or so minutes one could reasonably expect to swim effectively. Swimming westwards would have been an even worse choice as not only even more directly against the current but also towards a small ‘bay’ from whose shore the water may eddy at an accelerated speed seawards. By the same token, eastwards there might be a slackening of current, even, being really optimistic, an eddy ashore. (Straight Point, 200 ms or so off the chart, forms another large bay, Sandy Bay, which is comparatively sheltered and may eddy.) It would certainly be the best bet next time.


So, all in all I failed on “know your coast” as well with “take care with the tide.” Nautical charts are a good place to start. Another place is a nautical almanac. These are published every year and have a wealth of information about tides, currents, hazards etc but bear in mind they are prepared primarily for people in boats and concentrate on navigable waters. Apart from the fact that our poxy politicians seem hell-bent on closing them, your public library should have a current almanac. And make sure it is ‘current’. They are published annually and the data contained, especially for time and height of tide, alters yearly. If you plan to swim in un-navigable waters you will need to rely on your own interpretation of data from sea charts.


Me duce, tutus non eris.

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

18 March 2011

I noticed a Goldfinch on one of the dish feeders for the first time today. Obviously unadventurous, slow learners! They also feed from the ground below the niger feeder, so feeding on the ground per se not inimical to them, but they seem disinclined to forage or experiment. Thoroughly conservative in fact; they “know what they like and like what they know”. But they are pretty.

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

3 March 2011

To the seeds and feeders in the previous trial I added a tube feeder with HEMP SEED and noted on the previous table which birds were attracted to it and which ate it.

My promised supply of other single seeds has not materialized yet [“Ring back in a week…” etc etc]. Until it does I will continue feeding as above i.e. 4 dish feeders with mixed seed, 3 tube feeders containing single grains of black sunflower, niger and hemp and 1 peanut feeder. Don’t want the birds getting peckish.

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

1 March 2011

Trial 7 VARIATION Consumed
SE MIXED Total =
SW MIXED 10½ oz
B NIGER ½ oz


VARIATION. Mixed seed was placed in the 4 dish feeders, un-mixed Black Sunflower [at A] and Niger [at B] in the 2 tube feeders. [See revised image above.] A is to the NW and B to the SE but when filled with mixed seed birds have shown no preference for one position over the other i.e. previously they have both emptied at the same rate. Consumed is the total amount used during the course of the trial i.e. ca. 12 hours. ‘Consumed’ does not necessarily mean eaten!

During the course of this trial I had opportunity to note what birds fed on what grain and from which source as shown below. [Table modified by addition of HEMP – see under 3 March 2011]

Mix. Sun. Nig. Hemp Ground
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
House Sparrow
Collared Dove


Frequent feeder.


Occasionally seen on feeder but not seen eating.


I also noticed the following. Several species [see table above] landed on the Niger but were not seen to eat any. Chaffinches and Sparrows landed on the Niger feeder only rarely, whereas Greenfinches, and Great and Blue Tits inspected the Niger briefly before usually flying straight to the Sunflower where they fed. Greenfinches occasionally ‘sipped’ at the Niger. For Goldfinches the reverse was true. They occasionally landed on the Sunflower but invariably left without feeding and only fed on the Niger. While on the Niger Goldfinches did not ‘shovel’ as they had when the same feeders contained mixed seed. At no time were Goldfinches seen on the dish feeders [containing mixed seed]. This indicates that Goldfinches either do not recognise the dish feeders as sources of food or distrust them. In this trial the dish feeders contained the same food that they so assiduously shovelled from the tube feeders in the previous trial, and in the previous trial a dish feeder contained straight Niger seed which they did not touch while it was in the dish feeder but was the only thing they ate when in a tube feeder. Goldfinches in my garden appear to eat only Niger but no other birds seem interest. I have never seen Siskin or Redpoll here in Somerset – two other birds often cited as eating Niger.
If Goldfinches were looking for Niger in the mixed seed was in the tube feeder, their shovelling is hardly to be wondered at. The mixed seed, ‘Bestpets Premium Wild’, [NOT an endorsement’; it is as poor as all the others I have tried!] contains Niger in infinitesimally minuscule quantities. In a random 4 oz sample there was too little to weigh accurately but amounted to less than half a teaspoonful and was equivalent in weight to approximately 2 peanuts! Compared to the pure Niger seed sample I have, the Niger contained in the Bestpets mixed seed appears of very poor quality – very small and shriveled. It may be enough to satisfy the legal requirements for stating that the product contains Niger but not enough to satisfy this customer – nor the ones in my garden!

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

28 Feb 2011

Trial 6 VARIATION Consumed*
NE HEMP 1 oz


VARIATION. In order to get a slightly better idea of how much seed might be consumed if freely available, the feeders were topped up as they became empty. Hence some of the figures for consumption exceed the 4 oz amounts used in previous trials.


nigerBlue tits and Greenfinches were seen landing on the Niger dish, then leaving without feeding. Most flew to the Peanuts, which in Trial 5 had been positioned where the Niger is in this trial. I only noticed one Greenfinch that appeared to feed briefly from the Niger – but then I had other things to do! Goldfinches continued to feed from the tube feeders and ignored all the dish feeders including that with the Niger seed. In the image at left, the Niger feeder is the one without birds on! As well as the two Goldfinches shown on the tube feeder, when the image was taken another Goldfinch was on the other tube feeder just out of shot to the right. The Greenfinch in the image is on the Sunflower feeder.

The birds could possibly have eaten more than 12 ozs of Peanuts had I been able to keep the feeder stocked all the time but I found it empty on three occasions; how long it had been empty I don’t know. Of course birds can easily make off with a greater weight of Peanuts compared to any of the other trial seeds.

To replenish the 2 tube feeders each day requires approximately 1½ lbs of seed. This does not mean birds are eating that amount, because they are not. See previous images, pages etc. But I am surprised by the continuing enthusiasm the birds show either for the mixed seed or the tube feeders. Could the high visibility of the mixed seed in the tube feeders be a stronger stimulus than the single seeds visible in the dishes? The seed in the tube feeders is visible from 360° whereas that in the dishes is only visible from above the horizontal plane of the dishes. Next trial will use mixed seed in dish feeders and single seed in the tubes. That’ll fox them!


Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

27 Feb 2011

Trial 5 Each feeder starts with 4 oz of seed Remaining
SE NIGER >3¾ oz
SW HEMP 2¾ oz


Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

26 Feb 2011

Trial 4 Each feeder starts with 4 oz of seed Remaining
SW HEMP 3½ oz


I will re-run this trial in dry weather. There was a shower early on and the Niger seed got damp, which may account for its apparent lack of appeal, before the day turned fine. I saw birds land on the Niger dish – Blue Tits and Greenfinch – so it did not go unnoticed.


Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

25 Feb 2011

Trial 3 Each feeder starts with 4 oz of seed Remaining
NW HEMP 3½ oz
NE MAIZE >3¾ oz


I conclude from Trial 3 that this shows birds express a preference for certain seed types rather than for the location or orientation of the feeder itself.

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

24 Feb 2011

Trial 2 Each feeder starts with 4 oz of seed Remaining
SW HEMP 3¼ oz


I left the 2 tube feeders filled with ordinary mixed seed in situ for Trial 2 as shown in the image above. To my surprise, these seemed to attract as much interest as the dish feeders containing singles. Finches [‘Gold’ and ‘Green’] in particular were drawn to the tube feeders and shovelled out great quantities of seed in search of something. They either enjoy shovelling on the same principle as General Peckem [I think – or was it Major Major?; “while none of the work we do is very important, it is important that we do a great deal of it”] or they were looking for something other than peanuts, black sunflower, maize or hemp each of which was to be had more easily and in greater quantities only inches away.

Trial 3 will be an attempt to eliminate the possibility that birds’ feeding is determined by preference for the feeder location rather than its contents. Trial 2 is therefore repeated but with the positions of the preferred seed being swapped with that least favoured, and the middle two being reversed. One picture being worth…

Written on April 4th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth

Because my home-made dish feeders are not very satisfactory in wet weather, these trials will, so far as possible, be conducted in dry weather. The dish feeders will be replaced in wet weather by standard tube feeders [image below] filled with commercial mixed grain to maintain the birds’ feeding habits at the trial location.

In each trial I will position the 4 dish feeders holding single seed types [‘singles’] as follows [see image below]:

  1. At the North West
  2. At the NE
  3. At the SE
  4. At the SW.

At approximately 1 hour intervals I will rotate the support clockwise to move each feeder one position to eliminate feeding  preference determined by location rather than food type.



22 Feb 2011

Trial 1 Each feeder starts with 4 oz of seed Remaining
1 MAIZE >3¾ oz
2 PEANUTS* 1½ oz
< = less than 

> = more than





* The peanuts are slightly crushed, not whole. The ‘mixed small seeds’ used in Trial 1 seemed to consist of red and yellow millet, rape and maybe others. Single small seed trials await supplies.






feeder locations

Following Trial 1 I have decided not to rotate the feeders on an hourly basis! To do so is potentially confusing both to birds and the experiment. So, in all cases, the feeders will be positioned as shown at left and tethered if need be to prevent rotation by the wind. I will do a few  separate trials at the end with preferred singles in different positions to eliminate the possibility that an apparent preference for a seed variety is not in fact a preference for a particular position. [See later notes after Trial 2]

Trial 1 was something of a teething run. The clearance gap at the bottom of the holding tubes proved inadequate to allow free flow of peanuts and sunflower seeds. I modified the feeders slightly to remedy the fault.




Written on January 17th, 2011 , beini, Bird-seed Survey, Blogger Me, Sea Swimming, Exmouth Tags:

quivis powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).