Tails from the Reedbed: A study of otters at Leighton Moss

(3 customer reviews)


Watching from one of the marvellous bird-hides on the reserve, Elaine Prince writes with such wonderful directness and excitement that you feel as though you are in the hide with her, observing females looking after their young ones, revelling in the antics of the otters’ cubs, or witnessing the mating of a particular male otter whose bent tail earned him the nickname ‘Kinky’. Drawings and photographs provide visual portrayals of Elaine’s detailed stories, to create a book that will delight anyone who loves otters and wildlife in general.

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Otters are charismatic and enchanting animals, with universal appeal, but most people will never see one in the wild. Leighton Moss is one of the best places in England to connect with these elusive creatures, although even here it is unusual to see one out of the water. More typical would be a tantalising glimpse of a distant head or tail disappearing into the reedbed.

Yet in this unique and revealing book are mesmerising first-hand accounts of many close and intimate encounters, collected over a decade of almost daily observations.

With fascinating insight and attention to detail, patiently and quietly observing and recording, Elaine Prince follows the fortunes of eight families of otters as they mate, hunt, play and raise their young. The result is this engaging and invaluable volume, which contributes significantly to our knowledge and will delight anyone who loves otters and the natural world.

• A truly unique and captivating book which has already attracted much praise
• Lavishly illustrated with beautiful original drawings, paintings and photos
• Includes observations of other wildlife at Leighton Moss

Author: Elaine Prince
Imprint: Palatine Books
Binding: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-910837-20-7 (PB)
978-1-910837-21-4 (HB)
Extent: 128 pages
Format: 200 x 138mm
Illustrations:60, colour and b&w
Pub. date: 12 April 2019


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Softback, Hardback

3 reviews for Tails from the Reedbed: A study of otters at Leighton Moss

  1. John Wilson, the first warden of Leighton Moss

    With outstanding dedication Elaine relates a wonderful story of her unique observations of that delightful and most sought after resident of Leighton Moss, the otter. She takes us through her 10 year study, from her very first sighting to a wonderful moment when a mother and four cubs appeared. She describes many of her encounters in great detail, with such enthusiasm and obvious love for her subject. Her understanding of otter behaviour is helped by one of the males being recognisable. Her love for her subject shines through, as do her observational and recording skills. A wonderful read for anyone interested in wildlife.

  2. Hans Kruuk, Leading Otter Expert

    For any ornithologist, Leighton Moss is a paradise, known throughout the country. Not just to ornithologists, of course, but for any naturalist it has an unparalleled richness of wildlife, of water, reedbeds and natural open spaces, with lots of places where one can easily watch all this without causing disturbance. It is one of the best places in England to see that elusive symbol of elegant beauty, the otter.

    Elaine Prince has used this unique opportunity offered by Leighton Moss more than anyone else, and here she describes her breathtaking encounters with the animals in lovely detail. She shows how much a visitor can see of the behaviour of the otters by just watching from one of the several marvellous bird-hides on the reserve, and writes about this with such wonderful directness that one sits in the hide with her, taking in the antics of the otters’ cubs, the mating of a particular male otter called ‘Kinky’, a mother looking after the young ones, otters catching eels right in front of one.

    There is something magical about otters, something that makes the animal as popular as it is despite very few people ever seeing it. Even when lucky enough to watch one, rarely do we see the whole animal, usually only the top of a head, a tail, with a stir along the surface. Yet the behaviour is all there and one never tires of the excitement of an otter watch, seeing grace through the ripples, with always something new.

    This little book brings this home through the eyes of an experienced observer, of someone with ultimate patience and who can write about it. It will make one wish to be there in the hide, to experience the wonderful scenery of Leighton Moss with not only otters, but also a bittern, some egrets, a marsh harrier that upsets the ducks. Against all this rich tapestry of birds, it is great to find how much one can learn from these pages about the otters’ behaviour, their mating, looking after cubs, catching eels. A beautiful piece of work!

  3. Gail Armstrong, Keer to Kent: Journal of the Landscape Trust (Autumn/Winter 2019, Issue 100, p.15)

    With a foreword by the noted behavioural ecologist and otter expert Hans Kruuk, facts and figures from ‘Mr Leighton Moss’ John Wilson and many beautiful original illustrations, this book has great credentials before you have even opened the front cover. And it does exactly what it says on the tin!

    It is a meticulous, chronological account of one woman’s patient observations over 10 years of otter watching at the Moss (2006–2016). Not just otters, though, because the story of the otters is liberally sprinkled with descriptions of bird behaviour and other wildlife encounters that aim to put you right in the hide with her. The description of a half-million strong starling roost emerging from the reeds at dawn and the account of two young stoats playing together among the cut reeds in front of Lower Hide are two such passages.

    Beautiful wildlife art by Andrew Mackay and Ivan Frontani, as well as sketches and photographs by the author herself, suitably illustrate and enhance the events being described.

    Landmarks visible from the various hides are explained and mapped in some detail straight away, so that those familiar with the reserve can accurately visualise where the action is taking place. There are also some nice explanations of general otter behaviour and ecology in the later chapters and more in an appendix at the back. This factual information helps to put the various observations in context and gave this reader a better understanding of behaviours that might otherwise just seem routine.

    The book begins at a time when otters at Leighton Moss had become quite rare and the action builds up slowly, until it became almost unthinkable to spend a day without a sighting. There is lots of wondering about the antics of the various families of otters that were observed and I got the impression that the author is a very knowledgeable but modest observer, not pronouncing or being emphatic unless she is absolutely sure of what she has observed.

    The high point of events in the book seems to be the summer, when five otters were regularly seen together, a mother with four cubs. The author describes the events in detail as their early forays outside the natal holt are observed. We witness their early hunting attempts, unsuccessful at first and then gaining confidence as their techniques improve. And we realise they are becoming increasingly independent as they move towards adulthood.

    The author concludes her account by saying that her aim was simply to share her joy of watching these magnificent animals in the wild. If you love Leighton Moss and are interested in the lives of the otters that call it home, then this neat little book will be a must for your natural history bookshelf and she will have achieved that aim.

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