Bond’s bond, or not

In May 2018 a male calf was born in our Reindeer Enclosure. His mother Ladybird was happy and attentive. He would later be called Bond. He and his mother left the enclosure a few weeks later bound for the tops of the hills and away from the heat of the coming summer.

Bond as a calf

The pair was seen together a few times in the summer. Bond was progressing fine and enjoying being a calf in the Cairngorms.

Free-ranging Bond

In the autumn, as always the reindeer came down from the tops of mountains to the lower pastures. I was out looking for them one morning and spotted a large group up on the ski road. I led them down towards the Allt Mor and over Utsi’s Bridge keeping them interested all along with a bag of treats. This time of year we are always keen to see how the calves have got on so I was checking the group for any calves. I spied just one in this group, very small and without any antlers. Usually a calf will have grown a small set of antlers in their first summer. While I walk I try and identify the calf’s mother, but it’s not obvious which female is his mother! He darts around the whole group and gets bunted away by several females. Where is his mother? By a process of elimination we identify him as Bond and indeed his mother Ladybird in missing. It is very rare for a four month old calf to be without its mother. He was very small for his age but he was in perfect health. We thought he must have been without his mother’s milk for some time. Reindeer calves are extremely hardy and are capable of grazing as soon as a few weeks after birth.
Weeks passed and we began to fear the worst about the whereabouts of Ladybird. Until one morning I was out again and spied a group and was relieved to see Ladybird amongst them. I had images like in the movies of long lost relatives reunited but it was not to be. There was no embrace, no high fives. They were often in the same group but would not stick tightly together like other cows and calves. Bond had ‘roughed it’ on his own and that was how it was going to stay. Ladybird’s milk had dried out so their bond was broken.

Bond back in the enclosure in September

Bond is still smaller than the other calves but makes up for it in gusto. He is often one for the first to kick at the bag of feed, but does so gently. I think to make it on your own you must be stoic and gentle if at times a little pushy.

Bond in December

We think around August Bond and Ladybird must have become separated. Dogs can sometimes chase our reindeer and can force a group to split. We are looking forward to watching Bond’s progress and Ladybird is doing fine also.
Dave

Christmas and New year!

I suspect it’s definitely my turn to write a blog and Chris has been very polite and not pestering me but it’s definitely in the back of my mind so I’ll give you a wee sum up of Christmas.

Christmas team 2018… or at least most of it, including dogs.

As always Christmas went very smoothly in 2018. We covered the length and breadth of the country with our furthest north event in Lairg and our furthest south event in Truro. On our busiest weekends we had eight teams out all consisting of 4-6 reindeer and 2 herders. No weekend for me was the same, I had different reindeer, different team mates and I found myself in as far south as Essex and as far north as Tain and Dingwall. I also flew home (not by reindeer and sleigh!) from the depths of the south at one point as Leonie (fellow reindeer herder) swapped places with me. My first weekend away was with Joe and Sheena. They were in training, learning the ropes for the rest of the season. We had an absolute ball and it was nice for them to experience another part of the Reindeer Company having worked up here in the highlands for so long with the reindeer. The three of us all had hoarse voices when we got home from all the singing in the cab of the lorry. The following week was my long drive south, in what felt like the slowest lorry. Olly joined me as far as the Lakes then Eve jumped in there and we headed to the far south covering events south of London over the Saturday and Sunday. We stayed with friends of ours who have a deer farm down there and had some lovely mornings exercising the reindeer and doing a spot of extra training with the team. Leonie then flew south, joined Eve and that team of reindeer while I flew back north. Spending too much time down south isn’t really my cup of tea anymore; it’s nice to be back on home soil! The following weekend I was with real old timer Colin Delap. When I was a kid Colin lived and worked here so is like a brother to me. Having lived in Australia for over ten years he is now back in Scotland and dots in and out helping us out at busy times of year… i.e. Christmas! We did some more local Scottish events that weekend which was nice. I have to say (with some exceptions of course) the Scottish events are much more hospitable than the events down south. There is always tea/coffee and food on tap… Hint Hint! 😉

Oryx relaxing in Peterhead
Cake given to us at our event in Essex by one of our lovely adopters… Thanks Michelle!

The next weekend was completely different to the usual. With Bobby my buddy from the Everest marathon around for a couple of months, Tom (another Everest marathon friend) came to visit us. Tom could only come over on the weekend which meant if he wanted to spend time with us he had to work! He took it all on board and between him and Mo (the reindeer) they had these events down to a T! As a bit of back up, Ruth (ex-herder) joined us for the events as an extra pair of hands as she lived fairly local to them so the four of us had a great time. The following weekend I headed off with Kate who was also taking part in Christmas for her first year. She had already been out with other herders so knew the drill by this point. We had world famous fish and chips in Anstruther, hung out with the posh students of St Andrews and did the longest parade through Linwood. By this point it was getting quite close to Christmas. My next weekend was away with Bobby. But this time there was no Ruth or Tom to help out so instead I took a ‘bomb proof’ reindeer team. In fact Bobby had done the least amount of events out of the whole team, however he took it all in his stride. We joked as we were getting close to our event that the parade will probably all be uphill and he’d have to push the sleigh the whole way… Well we shouldn’t have joked because it was about 1 mile of uphill. Poor Bobby had a quick lesson on pushing the sleigh while I walked merrily at the front leading the two reindeer ‘pulling’ the sleigh and the reindeer at the back plodded along. Ach, Bobby does marathons all over the world, it’ll just go towards his training 😉

Fiona, Tom and Bobby heading off on their first events
Ruth joining the team to make sure we were doing all the right things
Catching up on sleep!

The final days running up to Christmas I dotted back and forth from the farm, doing local events at schools, nurseries and hotels… basically trying to avoid Christmas Fun at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. These guys have got it all under control and having organised the events side of Christmas I didn’t need to be involved with Christmas fun as well. I’m clueless when it came to Christmas fun so I was better off keeping out of their hair. Chris finished off Christmas with me doing Christmas Eve and Christmas day round the final events. We also had youngest herders Oscar and Tilly (Colin Delap’s children) join us on Christmas day. They were leading reindeer and sitting in the sleigh, making sure we were all doing the right jobs of course. It reminds me a lot of when I was a child because myself and Alex would have to join mum and dad on Christmas day going round the local hotels before heading home to celebrate Christmas itself. I wouldn’t know Christmas any other way and wouldn’t have it any other way so delighted to see Oscar and Tilly also getting involved because it is such a great way of life working with the reindeer.

Fiona

Mini Tilly and Oscar on Christmas day. Start em young!

Camouflaged reindeer

Last week we had a brief thaw of the snow, it’s an awful lot harder to spot the reindeer! The first few photos show how well they blend in with their surroundings in these conditions. Luckily they don’t hide and come running for food whenever we call them and they can hear us, as politely demonstrate here 😊. Enjoy some photos of our freeranging herd!

The females kept us waiting last Thursday as they meandered down off the mountains slowly to meet us.
Chris leading the likes of Frost, Wapiti, Angua, Fly and Tap in for the final few metres.
Fly leading the herd in as she does most days.

Bond’s beard blowing beautifully in the breeze.
Dave giving the calves their bonus feed.
Camouflaged reindeer running down the hillside
Reindeer can be quite tricky to spot far away on patchy snow!
Chris got fed up of waiting for the reindeer so went to slide down the snowbanks 🙂

Manouk

Feeding the Free-rangers

With Christmas over and the Centre closed to the public for a month, we have put all of our reindeer out to free-range – the males are on the Cromdale mountains and the females are split between there and the Cairngorm mountains. We don’t necessarily see them every day, but where possible we like to catch up with them, feed them and check everyone’s ok. Here’s some photos from feeding the herd the other day:

The herd approaching – they had come to call from the summit of the mountain just to the left of centre.
Sika leading the herd in.
We sometimes feed the herd within the top part of our hill enclosure, out of the way of dogs, and leave the gate open for them to leave when they want to.

We always let the calves get “first dibs” and a crowd of impatient mini-reindeer gather round the bags.
We also use a small bag of feed to go round any of the older or skinnier adults to give them a “top up”. Here is Suidhe, a 3-year-old female, having an extra snack.
6-year-old female Torch.
One of the calves born last May, Nancy.
Ryvita, a 9-year-old female.
At nearly 16 years old, Fonn is one of the oldest reindeer in the herd. She still looks great!
11-year-old Meadow is missing the tips of her ears, and looks even stranger now she’s cast her antlers.
Blondie is one of the most recognizable reindeer in the herd.
Little Galilee is very sweet natured. She’s nearly 5 years old but quite small for her age.
Parmesan (with the white nose) and daughter Blyton are still close, even now Blyton is nearly 2 years old.

Not bad for a place to live, but where is the snow?!?

Andi

 

Nicky’s first day/blog: Volunteering Winter 2017 /2018

Volunteering Winter 2017 /2018

 

Snowy tree

 

Last winter I had the amazing pleasure of volunteering at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for the first time.  After two poor winters, and by poor winters I mean that we had a lack of snow.  Most people in the UK would probably deem a good winter one with little snow.  But here in Aviemore and the Cairngorms, both as skiers and Reindeer Herders, a good winter is one with a plentiful supply of snow!  And preferably one with as little of the usual high winds as possible. Thankfully, this year, our snow dances were answered with a good supply of snow and a fairly long winter season.

View from Utsi’s Bridge

On the days I volunteered we had calf deep snow to trudge through and 60mph cross winds to battle through to find the Reindeer Herd first thing in the morning.  This was my first experience of seeing these magnificent animals in their natural environment out on the Free Range on the mountains.  This was also the first time I had the pleasure of hearing the traditional Sami call Reindeer Herders use to summon the Reindeer down from the mountains.  To my surprise the Reindeer weren’t sheltering in any of the Corrie’s out of the wind, but instead were standing on the most exposed ridges bearing the brunt of the strongest gusts of wind.   Once one of the Reindeer heard the recognisable call and started heading down from the ridge, being a herd animal, the rest soon followed.  Once they got up close I was most surprised by how much smaller they were than I expected.  We put out a line of food for the Reindeer on the snow, counted them and we checked them for their general health, as we do every time we go and see any members of the Herd.

 

The Alt Mor burn

 

While on my days volunteering I learned that this species of deer are extremely well adapted to the Sub-Arctic environment we have here in the Cairngorm Mountains, it is perfect Reindeer habitat with an abundance of their favourite foods.  So despite being cold and tired from hiking in the snow in the strong winds, I learned that, unlike myself, Reindeer are comfortable in temperatures of down to minus 30 degrees Celsius, and that the lowest temperature they have been known to survive in is minus 72 degrees C.

View across Utsis Bridge

In the afternoons of my volunteer days I was able to go along on some of the Hill Trips.  At most times of the year, a couple of times a day, one or two of the Reindeer Herders will guide a visit up onto the mountains to share their knowledge about the history of the herd, interesting facts about these incredible animals and, the bit that people seem to love the most,  hand-feeding these mostly gentle animals.  Like most mammals Reindeer have their own characters and personalities, which when it comes to feeding, usually draws out certain characteristics like bolshiness, being greedy or quite cheeky!  All of our Reindeer have names, so I was able to get some guidance on how to learn them, not only by getting to know their features but also by their lovely and quirky characters.

 

Photo – Bumble and the Herd in a windblown enclosure

Bumble – Andi and Chris’ favourite reindeer

 

At the end of my winter volunteering I was honoured to be offered a job working as a part time Reindeer Herder at the Centre starting in April 2018.

 

Reindeer Herder Chris, Visitors with their Cameras, and our beautiful photogenic Reindeer

 

Nicky

Poo or rock?

As reindeer herders, one of the first things we do in the morning is opening up the paddocks. This includes cleaning out the exhibition areas, getting the dvds playing and, the best job of them all, clearing the grassy bits from reindeer poo. We start our day of work at 8 ‘o clock in the morning, which is not the best time of day for some of the herders (read: me). This quite often results in having to squad down to check if a targeted poo is indeed a poo, or if it was a rock posing as one. If you don’t believe me, try to play this game of “is it a poo or is it a rock?” and see how well you do!

 

 

1
2
3
4
5
6
7

 

Answers

1: Rock

2: Rock

3: Poo

4: Rock

5: Manouk can’t remember/tell which one it is!

6:Rock

7: Poo

Svalbard

Svalbard: Born in early June 2011, Mother: Arnish

Svalbard was born in the year calves were named after Games and Puzzles, with other reindeer born that year including Hopscotch, Bingo, Monopoly and Jenga. Svalbard was originally named Meccano, however in the autumn of 2011 when he came back off the free-range as a 5-month-old calf we were so struck by his short legs and dumpy body that we nicknamed him Svalbard, after the short, fat reindeer found on the high Arctic island with that name, and it stuck.

Svalbard at around 8 months old

Now at seven and a half years old you could hardly describe Svalbard as short and dumpy. Maybe just rotund? Despite being a late born calf and coming back after the summer at 5 months old without his elderly mum Arnish (who must have died), Svalbard has matured into a really fine reindeer with, dare I say it, attitude.

Svalbard comes from a fine family of reindeer. His great-uncle was one of our favourite reindeer of years gone by, Gustav. His mother Arnish was a real character in the herd, who despite being antlerless all her life was certainly not disadvantaged by her lack of weapons on her head. She often took the initiative when it came to confrontations with antlered reindeer and invariably won!

Svalbard as a yearling

Although a dark reindeer Arnish was prone to producing light coloured calves and in particular white faced calves like Svalbard. Her daughter born in 2008, Addax, has a white face and has gone on to produce calf Parmesan, who has white markings too.

And finally Svalbard reminds many of us of Sven, the reindeer in the Disney film ‘Frozen’ and that says it all.

Tilly

What a handsome chap!

The extraordinary antlers of Pera

The extraordinary antlers of Pera

Pera’s antlers really are worth writing about. As a calf he grew short simple antlers, which would not have given us any idea of their shape and form three years later.  As a two-year-old, Pera’s antlers were slightly strange – very wide and ‘flattened’ but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. However, by 2014 his antlers are completely bizarre.

Pera 2014

As a general rule reindeer grow antlers of a similar basic pattern, with long brow tines, including the front blade pointing forward low down above the base of the antler. Then as the main beam elongates, the later tines grow pointing backwards. Sometimes the tines can be flattened with extra points coming off them too.

Pera’s antlers, however, look like they are completely the wrong way round with the tines higher up literally pointing the wrong way. Also his antlers are incredibly wide apart at the top with very long splayed tines at the bottom. Apart from looking extraordinary it’s actually quite difficult to get a halter on him!

Antler shape and form is basically inherited – must have been an interesting combination of antlers from his mother and father to come up with Pera’s! However, we will never know exactly what they were because Pera was born in Swedish Lapland and finding out his parentage from a herd of 5,000+ reindeer would obviously be impossible. In 2014 he was one of our breeding bulls and so one of the calves he fathered was Aonach. Now Aonach is 3 1/2 you can certainly see the influence of his father on the shape of his antlers!

Tilly

Stripped antlers, ready to rut!

Reindeer Facts

Reindeer are incredibly interesting animals. Many people that come on a hill trip or visit the paddocks conclude this after learning a wee bit about them. I thought so too, when I first came here, and it’s one of the reasons I kept coming back, as a visitor, then volunteer, and now member of staff. What I didn’t know then was that the more I would learn, the more fascinating the reindeer would become!

 

I’m currently finishing reading Tilly’s second book (The Real Rudolph) after having read her first (Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses). I am fascinated by all the new things I learn and try to share as much of that fascination I can with people during tours and paddocks talks. I look forward to starting on Tilly’s third book (Reindeer: An Arctic Life) which has just been published. Below I’ve listed some of the amazing facts I’ve only recently discovered:

 

– Reindeer are omnivorous: they eat what they can find and in the harsh conditions they live in this does mean that the amount of shrubbery can be limited, which can result in them eating birds!

 

  • A mighty rutting bull, strong as they look, is actually weaker than his female or castrated counterparts. I’ve learned the hard way, unfortunately, as we lost one of our beloved breeding bulls to a disease that sometimes can be cured if we spot it early. Even before the rut they will have spent a lot of energy in growing antlers, and their rutting behaviour is also very energy-consuming. This leaves them often exhausted by the end of it, makes them less effective in fighting off diseases, and causes them to go into winter with less energy reserves, which makes it harder for them to cope with the harsh winter conditions.
Breeding bull Sargasso

 

  • White reindeer that have leucisim (partial loss of pigmentation) can get sunburned in summer. We sometimes put sunscreen on their faces to prevent this from happening!
Mozarella, a leucistic reindeer

 

 

  • Even when we let a female reindeer in with several breeding bulls, we can still figure out which of the bulls was the father if she gets a calf later on. The simple reason for this is that they come in season for one day only, and this is then repeated in cycles of 3 weeks. A reindeer’s pregnancy lasts 221 days so when the calf gets born, it’s a simple calculation of with whom she was that many weeks ago when she was in season, and then we know the dad!

 

  • How long reindeer keep their antlers for is affected by hormones. It is for this reason that Christmas reindeer (who are all castrated) keep their antlers longer than breeding bulls. If we contracept females for that year it may cause them to loose their antlers early too!

Manouk

How I became a reindeer herder. 20 years in the making

I first visited the Cairngorms and the reindeer centre around Easter 1998 on a family holiday. There was a foot of snow on the ground in Glenmore and it was beautiful. This started a 20 year journey which resulted in me moving here to work full time last year.

The memory I have from my first ever hill trip was wading through deep snow to a reindeer sat on his own, his name was Kola. I ended up adopting him for the next decade and would return to visit him on hill trips and at the farm when Tilly would show us around on a few occasions.

First ever hill trip
Reindeer herder Liz took us on another hill trip when we returned to Aviemore
Happy to be around reindeer

 

Kola
Kola in 2009, aged 13

In 2008 I came for some work experience that really helped me take a step forward into becoming a future reindeer herder as I got to know the reindeer and staff a little better. It was the summer when Hippo and Grunter were hand reared so taking them up and down the hill every day was a great experience. I will always remember having to encourage and push them down the path at night to the van as they were tired and did not want to leave the hill enclosure from having so much fun it seemed. Bottle feeding them wasn’t much of a chore either!

Emily bottle feeding Hippo and Grunter

The following few years through my late teenage years I did not visit Scotland or the reindeer much as we had moved down South and all my focus was on racing my bike in Belgium at any opportunity. Through my years during and after University in my early 20s I gradually started to return to Scotland and to see the reindeer once again. Whenever in the area I would always try and help out for a day or two mixing and carrying feed up and down the hill, as I wasn’t much use other than as a mule/poo picker.

The stunning autumn of 2016 confirmed that I would have to move and work here permanently at some point!

In the autumn of 2016 I came to Glenmore for a few days of camping and somehow ended up moving into reindeer house for almost a month and trying to make myself useful. Fiona and Mel were living at the centre at the time and it gave me my first taste of the fantastic lifestyle we have as staff living in here at Reindeer House: have a great day of work on the hill with the reindeer, go running, swimming or cycling after work and then come home to a delicious meal cooked by one of your housemates. I had known for years that I would like to come and work here for a while but that month really confirmed this to me. Fiona also threw one of the greatest parties ever seen over at the farm that year with hill races, tough mudders and bike races during the day followed by some fantastic food and a big ol’ ceilidh in the evening!

Leading Caddis and Viking up to the enclosure, two reindeer who are very well known to me nowadays!
After work runs with Sookie helped tempt me back as much as the reindeer did

 

So to autumn 2017. I had spent the previous 2 ½ years travelling all over the UK, Europe and other parts of the world working for a professional cycling team which gave me some fantastic adventures, but I missed the mountains. I spent 6 weeks travelling around the west coast of Canada and the USA trying to spend a bit more time in the hills. I arrived back in Scotland as my parents were coming up for the adopters weekend so I tagged along to say hello to Fiona and the others before she then offered me a job. Fiona asked me to work for a month or so up to Christmas. Needless to say I had a brilliant time working here. When I realised Morna, Ruth and Olly were all looking to move on in the early part of 2019 I decided I would stay on for a year or so and settle down for a while in the mountains after a hectic few years of driving and flying all over the place to bike races. Whilst I miss the riders and staff plus some of the travelling of the cycling team I could not be happier here at Reindeer House and may well end up here a little longer than planned once again!

Special mentions to Joe and Rob for making the first 6 weeks of Christmas Fun very fun!

Chris

Six months of being a reindeer herder, it’s a pretty good job to have!

Joe <3 Baffin. Taking a break from running with Joe to herd some reindeer one evening!

With a snowy winter we were lucky to have big strong Rob keeping our paths clear of snow and ice!