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I watched a pair of goosanders (Mergus merganser) slowly making their way up one side of the River Taff today, frequently ducking their heads underwater in search of the fish, molluscs, crustaceans and amphibians that make up their diet. When they reached Blackweir, I expected them to drift back down the river but it seems they were determined to go further up steam.

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That’s when it became apparent that the female can’t fly. Half of her right wing is missing. I doubt this is a birth defect and suspect a narrow escape from the mink that I have seen in recent weeks on the riverbanks in this vicinity.

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The only way to cross the weir then was to walk as the flow of water, even though currently quite weak, was much too strong for swimming. The female had trouble getting out of the water up onto the rocks and then the concrete of the weir, but managed after a couple of tries. Her mate was very patient, and seemed very tender with her, touching her head with his beak, watching to see she was alright while also keeping a look out for danger. He would toddle a little way ahead, then turn and wait for her to catch up. Once he returned to her side as if to encourage her. It took perhaps 20 minutes but they made it and swam on up the river.

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Trouble is, she is now very vulnerable to attack, especially from creatures like the mink but also from unleashed dogs (of which there are many in Cardiff). And the chances of these goosanders successfully breeding are also probably quite slim. My heart went out to these two little creatures, touched by the male’s gentleness with his disabled mate but saddened by their somewhat bleak future prospects.

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