Autumn in the Cairngorm Mountains




During the autumn months reindeer are starting to prepare for winter. By October, their summer coat has begun to disappear below a fresh new winter coat. Reindeer winter coat is one of the warmest coats in the animal kingdom, with over 2000 hairs per square inch on their body. About 600 hairs per square inch are hollow allowing air to be trapped between them forming an insulating layer, which can keep help them survive down to 72°C.



Cairn Gorm views

The rutting season is an important time of year for Reindeer bulls. First their velvet strips off their antlers leaving them with solid bone, stained red from the blood supply that was there to help the antlers to grow. Eventually the antlers lose the red stain and their impressive sets are revealed!


Kota during this year’s rutting season

Castrated males don’t lose the velvet from their antlers quite so quickly. This is because the reduction of testosterone doesn’t trigger the response to shed it. This also means that the castrated males get to keep their antlers slightly longer than the bulls. Because of this, castrated males make for the best Christmas reindeer.


Females that are put with the bulls during the rutting season spend the majority of the time with the breeding bull. Calves and yearlings will stay with their mothers during this period too.

Female with her calf and a friend


Red squirrels


The red squirrels are also preparing for winter during the autumn too. They collect stores of nuts and burry them so once winter begins they have a source of food, even when no suitable food is available. The only issue they have is remembering where they buried their store.


Also during the autumn Red Squirrels begin to grow their winter coat. Their winter coat, like reindeer, is thicker than their summer coat, and denser. This allows them to keep warm during the winter. Their ear tufts also become thicker and more prominent.


Pine Martins


A group of pine martins is called “richness”, even though they are skilful climbers they normally hunt on the ground. Pine martens are believed to have come to Britain around 10,500 BC, at the end of the last ice age. They live in woodland habitats and were Britain’s second most common carnivore around 6,500 years ago in Britain and Ireland.


Similar to red squirrels, pine martins do not hibernate. They have thick fur all over there body to keep them warm during the cold winters. Pine Martins are hardy mammals and will eat anything including mushrooms, insects, small mammals such as voles and bird eggs. Being omnivorous allows them to always have a source of food even when certain plants and berries have died off due to the winter frost. They mainly forage or hunt for food at night or late in the evening.


The local bar to the Reindeer Centre is named after this elusive creature, the reason being that several Pine Martins have been spotted outside the bar late in the evening eating the various feed which is left out for the Red Squirrels. (Reindeer herders are also often found at the Pine Marten Bar late in the evening…)






During the autumn Ospreys will start their incredible journey back to Africa, where they travel up to 5000 miles. The female is the first to leave. She leaves the nest and her fledglings in the care of the male who will continue to fish for them until they are able to fend for themselves, once they can the male will set of on the migration. Then finally the young will start their journey.


The mating pair may not see each other over the winter period, but will meet up again the following breeding season back in Scotland or Northern England. Ospreys were driven to extinction in the UK in the 1900’s due to egg collectors, they were also considered a pest due to them eating the salmon and trout.


Ospreys returned for the first time to breed in 1954 to Loch Garten near Aviemore. This was a natural recolonization, but the birds still needed a huge amount of help and protection to breed successfully in the Scottish highlands.

Eventually several pairs of osprey began to breed successfully in more remote parts of Scotland. However, many birds were helped with artificial nest platforms and nest protection watches, and a huge public enthusiasm for the birds helped ensure their survival.


Golden eagle


The golden eagle is the top predator in Scotland. It’s a massive bird of prey that mainly hunts rabbits and mountain hares but will also catch foxes, young deer and large birds like grouse. It can be seen soaring high in the sky in upland areas and remote glens. Golden eagles have large home territories, nesting on rocky cliff faces and in trees where it builds a giant nest or ‘eyrie’. These nests are often used by successive generations to rear their own young. Furthermore, similar to Osprey, Golden eagles pair for life


There are around 400 breeding pairs of Golden Eagles within Scotland and Northern England too. The birds are perfectly adapted to survive the harsh Scottish environment. Their talons can grow up to three inches, along with an amazingly sharp beak makes them perfect hunters. Also their varied diet means that there will always be some sort of prey to hunt.




They are exclusively found in the Scottish Highlands. Mature birds eat a diet of seeds, berries, nuts and leaves, while juveniles will also eat invertebrates. During the breeding season, males usually mate with one hen, producing one brood a year of around seven eggs.


You can often find them all year round on top of the highest mountains in the UK, especially on the Cairngorm Plato. Ptarmigans prefer the rocky tops of mountains to the forest environment.


During the autumn months they start to grow in their winter feathers. Eventually they change from brown to a pristine white colour. This helps protect them from predation. Blending into the snowy winter background makes it more difficult for Golden Eagles to hunt the small bird.


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