A recent Sunday morning walk took us past the weir that crosses the river Dart about a mile upstream from Totnes. A weir was built here as early as the 16th century to divert water from the river along a leat so that its energy could power corn mills in the town The leat is still intact, but now meanders largely unnoticed through industrial estates and near supermarkets, though still attracting the occasional kingfisher. The Town Mill also still stands and has variously been the Tourist Information Centre, a Coffee Shop and home for the Local Image Bank. In the past decade, though, the weir has seen major change and rejuvenation with the construction of the Totnes Weir Hydro. Its twin Archimedes Screw-driven turbines once more harness the energy of the upper river, this time to generate electricity. [See picture of the weir and hydro at the head of this post]
Below the weir, the river is tidal and increasingly brackish with large sandbanks emerging at low tide. Today, these are gull territory where they squabble and shout at one another while fellow birds continually join and leave the party. Nearer the weir, small gangs of mallards, male and female, poke around in the water for food, taking little notice of children and their dogs playing nearby.
We pick our way downstream across the filigree of raised tree roots that covers the tidal area at the lower river’s edge. Across the water, a large, well-marked bird is swimming back and forth despite the brisk current. With its black head and long red beak above a largely white body this is a male goosander. The bird is paying attention to something floating in the water and, from this distance, this looks like a dead bird. I make out a chestnut head and grey body, possibly a female goosander, and my immediate reaction is that the male is mourning his dead mate. But no, I was wrong because, after a little more manoeuvring, the male hops briefly on to the female and when he is finished, she miraculously springs into life and swims about rapidly. My photos [see below] confirmed that she was far from dead but had adopted a submissive posture to encourage her chosen mate.