Autumn in the Cairngorm Mountains

Mammals

Reindeer

 

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…)

 

Birds

 

Osprey

 

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.

 

Ptarmigans

 

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.

Izzy

Our awesome 2019 volunteers!

We have a huge network (well, by our standards) of staff members who work at least part of the year for us, ranging from those full-time year round, through seasonal staff right down to the odd ex-herder roped in for literally just a day or two a year. Our job is made far easier however, by the epic efforts of a constant stream of volunteers, and 2019 has been no exception. So this is just a wee blog to say thank you to everyone!

 

We have, over the years, built up quite a collection of regular, long-standing volunteers, some of whom visit annually, and some just every now and then. The top dog of this crew has to be retired joiner Paul, who first came to help for a couple of weeks back in May 1999. Twenty years on and he’s still coming for a fortnight twice a year to ‘mend, bend, and fix’ and while he may be 80 now, age hasn’t slowed him down too much yet!

Paul with Olympic

Emm is another very regular volunteer, having settled into a regular pattern in the last couple of years of 4 separate weeks of volunteering throughout the year. She’s a great help to us with everything reindeer related, and the kitchen table is never short of cake while she’s around… You can read more about one of her stints in her blog here. We also have Sharon and Colin who come once or twice a year too – always bringing a good supply of crafting materials for the Paddocks, and – socks! Their blog is here:

Emm with her adopted reindeer Mo, braving the weather at a very cold and wet local Christmas event.

Our other type of regular volunteer is the lovely Anna who’s been helping us out once a week throughout the summer and autumn, and we hope will continue to do so in the future. Stella fits into this category too but is a bit elusive of late – she’s always off volunteering for all sorts of different organisations or visiting far-flung parts of the world. Having far too much fun! Stella – if you’re reading this, will we ever see you again?!

 

Long-standing volunteers have the luxury of picking and choosing what season they want to come in, but otherwise we are helped out by a steady stream of helpers from the last week of May until the end of October. This year has been great, and I think I’ve remarked to everyone here at some point just how lucky we’ve been with the 2019 vols! Once upon a time we used to get mainly vet students wanting to volunteer in order to gain experience, but nowadays we seem to get a much wider range of people from all walks of life, which suits us nicely as it’s lovely to meet so many interesting people! This year they included a chocolatier, an Olympic physiotherapist, a costume designer and a goat milker, with all sorts in between! So HUGE thanks for all their willing and tireless help to Arianne, Cathy, Becks, Katy, Rowena, Katie F, Sally, Laura F, Amy, Ida, Mary, Hannah, Christine, Kathleen, Helen K, Laura W, Helen A, Heather, Katie D, Kimberley, Mhairi, Lou and Joanne. But no thanks whatsoever to the volunteer who booked in for a week and then never turned up, having not thought to mention to us that her plans had changed…

Volunteer Amy finding time for a selfie with Olympic. Or possibly just being a head-rest for him!

 

Special thanks and recognition go to Cathy, who downed tools with 3 days’ notice to drive to the opposite end of the country to help us out after another volunteer cancelled on us; and to Rowena, Sally, Mary and Katie D who all came in 2018 and had such a good time they gave up another spell of their precious time to come back this year. And another special mention (and possibly a round of applause!) has to go to Helen A, who managed to break her wrist on the third day of her week with us but still soldiered on for the next 4 days! And finally Nell, who managed to time her volunteering stint just at the point that we decided we needed an extra staff member for the summer, so she ended up with two months’ paid work afterwards.

Laura with Fly. Looking the part!

Thank you all SO much – we’ve loved having you all here and hope you all had a great time! And I expect we’ll see quite a few of you again in the future 😊

Hen

Family Ties

A frequent questions from visitors is whether reindeer retain a bond with their mother. Whilst we often see female calves stay strongly bonded with their mum throughout their life, we see it less often with the males. Male calves tend to be seeking their independence from about 8 months old, and we start seeing them grazing away from their mother more and more. We tend to split them at a year old, and it’s rare that either cow or male calf seem to notice the absence of the other. When they come back into contact with each other at a later date, there rarely seems to be any recognition of their relationship.

Emmental
Olmec

When we recently brought Emmental and her new calf into the hill enclosure from the summer free-range however, she met up with her three-year-old son Olmec. He clearly recognised her as his mum, going over to her, having a sniff and grunting, like he would have back when he was a calf. I’m not sure that Emmental really returned the affection – once a cow has a new calf, they become the centre of their world and their main priority.

Olmec and Emmental

A few days later, Olmec was in the same part of the enclosure as Emmental and her calf Oslo, and he was definitely fascinated by this new addition to the family – following him around and having a good sniff! Perhaps he realised how similar they all looked!

Brothers

Olmec and Oslo

Little Oslo is one of the most confident calves this year, and was the first calf to be brave enough to come and eat out of the feed bag.

Oslo feeding

Hopefully he will follow in the hooves of big brother Olmec and grow into a confident friendly and handsome lad. He’s already learned to walk on a headcollar and is very sweet.

Andi

Reindeer Retrieval Mission

As part of the only UK herd of reindeer that live in their natural habitat, our herd are lucky enough to spend a good portion of each year roaming completely free on the mountains. We have an area of leased land which we have grazing permission for, but the boundary of this land isn’t fenced, so occasionally a few of our females do wander a little further than they’re allowed to. We then have to make a plan to bring them back – usually this entails walking out, finding the group (no easy task at times!), catching what we can and leading them back on headcollars. Missions like this are why we feel we can call ourselves “Reindeer herders”.

This autumn, we received reports of a small group of females who were enjoying the perfect grazing and peaceful setting in a glen several miles east of our normal grazing land. After a few recces to see who was there, myself and Dave headed out on a breezy Saturday morning, equipped with binoculars, reindeer feed, human food and plenty of headcollars. Lotti was able to give us a ride part way in the landrover, shaving about 3 miles off our walk, which was much appreciated! From there, it was a case of hiking, uphill, for an hour or so before we caught sight of the reindeer, having a lovely time grazing with a beautiful view. They were nearly at the top of one of the local munros (not many jobs where you do tick off a few munros from time to time!).

Dixie and Camembert

 

We had a quick scan of the group to see who was there and if we’d be able to catch them. Dixie and Camembert: great, both easy to catch and lead. Malawi and Joni: hmm, catchable if we’re lucky. Puzzle: will hopefully follow mum Dixie. Rain and her calf: one of the wilder, more independent reindeer in the herd, not a chance, let’s hope she follows us! We offered out the food and good ol’ Dixie and Camembert cheerfully let us put headcollars on.

Camembert on halter

Dave set off in the lead, and I started out as “herding dog” – walking quietly at the back providing gentle pressure to encourage the rest of the group to follow. This is how we usually move the herd, but there is a bit of a knack to knowing how far ahead to walk with the lead reindeer, and how much pressure to put on if you’re at the back – push too hard and wilder reindeer will try to double back, and they’re faster than us!

Plateau

For the first 10 minutes all was well, Dave leading the way with the small group following happily enough. But as soon as Dave started heading downhill, Malawi and Joni decided that they weren’t so keen to leave their quiet idyll. They started breaking away, dodging among the peat hags, and as older, dominant reindeer, the rest of the herd were keener to follow their lead than Dave’s. And my fielding skills were not quite going to cut it, they could outrun me, however much I waved my arms! So we needed a different plan. The ringleaders were definitely the old lasses Joni and Malawi, both of which were also old enough to be suspicious about whether they wanted to be captured or not! But without them on head collars, we weren’t going to manage our mission.

Malawi doing her best to lead the group astray amongst the peat hags

Malawi was first up – I held out our wee bag of bribery, and thankfully all of the preferential feeding of the older reindeer we did last winter helped as Malawi’s greed overcame her suspicion, and she started guzzling. The tricky thing with her is that she’s one of the few reindeer in the herd who doesn’t grow antlers, so she has no ‘handles’ to aid with catching her, so I slipped my arm round her neck hoping she wouldn’t try to break away. Greed won out and she agreed to stand whilst I popped a headcollar on.

Leaving me holding three reindeer, Dave then managed to entice Joni into the feed bag, and we had our ringleaders on head collars! Knowing Dixie would follow along, we then let her off again, and poor Dave set off downhill leading three reindeer, of which Joni was definitely the most stubborn! I had to do about five minutes of epic fielding to convince the rest of the reindeer to follow Dave, then they gave in and settled in to pottering along in single file.

Over the mountain, the enclosure in sight in the far distance.
Flats

Down we went, to the valley floor, crossed the river, and up the other side. The hours passed as we meandered our way along (nothing happens quickly with reindeer). We both regretted not taking more snacks, and I hugely regretted not taking a bottle of water… the reindeer had no such problems as they were snacking on blaeberry, lichen and heather as we walked along, and drinking at pools.

Plodding across the Ciste, heading for the ridge above the road.

As we approached the Ciste car park, after about 4 miles of walking with our wee herd of miscreants, Dave was seriously flagging. Joni was not the best behaved on a head collar and would much rather have stayed trespassing on our neighbour’s land, so was putting the brakes on most of the way. She may be 13 but is still plenty strong enough! It was also 2pm and way past our lunchtime, so I called for reinforcements and Tilly and Lotti came up to meet us and take over from Dave. Relieved of responsibility, Dave lay down on the car park for a few minutes of recovery before heading down for some food!

Relief team

I carried on following at the back of the group on the last leg home, and our now-well-behaved reindeer followed obediently over one more hill, down and across the ski road, over Utsi Bridge and into the enclosure. They got a well-earned feed before joining our group in the enclosure – for Camembert and Puzzle they went to join handsome breeding bulls Kota and Houdini respectively, in the hope that they’ll have a calf next year. The others joined our non-breeding group, where they’re enjoying plenty of hand feed from our visitors, and Rain’s wee calf Vienna is getting used to be around people. All will head back out to free-range soon, hopefully with fewer thoughts of wandering on land where they’re not meant to be!

Vienna and Rain

Andi

Jonas

Jonas joined our herd from Sweden in 2011 when we brought over a contingent of bulls to boost the genetics in our own herd. We had to make a decision the next year to which reindeer we would keep as bulls and breed from and which ones we would geld/castrate and have as Christmas reindeer. Jonas never made it to being a bull, which maybe in hindsight is a shame cos he has got a lovely nature. However we cant live off hindsight and to be completely honest he has just made the most wonderful Christmas reindeer… Possibly the perfect Christmas reindeer in his own right.

Jonas in Sweden 2011

Although the first couple of years he was still very much learning the ropes alongside our already trained reindeer he took to wearing a harness, taking part in events across the country and settling back into herd life here on the mountain like a duck to water. When we are away from home at Christmas time it is really important the reindeer travel together and do events as a mini herd. Therefore our teams consist of no less than 4 reindeer. They take comfort in numbers so to take 2 reindeer away on their own means they would have little guidance and therefore uncomfortable in their surroundings. The handlers who work with them all year round know these reindeer very well and also become part of the ‘herd’ on Christmas tour.

Jonas one year into Scottish life

After about 2-3 years of taking part in Christmas events Jonas became the role model to younger, less experienced reindeer going out for their first year. Jonas isn’t one to be petted or molly coddled and to be honest most reindeer aren’t. They enjoy company however they don’t want to be fussed. There are exceptions within this of course, however I would say only a handful of reindeer in our herd actually want to be fussed, petted or stroked. Putting on harness and working them is completely different, they treat it as a job and do it with the upmost patience and expertise as long as they get their bowl of food and have the company from the other reindeer they really are fantastic at it. I would sooner take any of our reindeer into a busy event in a city than my dog, their behaviour remains consistent as does their appetite!

Becoming a reliable Christmas Reindeer by 2017

So at the age of 9 I wouldn’t hesitate to take Jonas out on tour as one of my most experienced Christmas reindeer. He is pale in colour which makes him very striking within the team. He grows nice, shapely compact antlers suiting travelling in our livestock trucks and pulling the sleigh alongside another Christmas reindeer and he just has the best nature but isn’t a pest by being super tame, in your face and pushy which can come with the nature of a very tame reindeer. All in all I think he’s one of my favourite and definitely understated Christmas reindeer in the herd so here’s hoping I get to work with him again this year!

Fiona

Jonas 2019

Ben’s reindeer herder interviews (Part 2 of 3)

  1. Which reindeer would you most/least like to go on a night out with?

 

Fiona = Probably Grunter again, for his same social and fun reasons. But Bovril would be my pick for ‘least like to” as he keeps himself to himself and gets all grumpy at Christmas events. I could have said the same about Paintpot to be fair. I feel like my hyper-ness would not be compatible with their grumpiness.

Emily bottle feeding Hippo and Grunter

Hen = I’ll say Puddock because I’m 36 going on 65 and Puddock strikes me as the kind of guy who would just like to stay at home and relax, which is my idea of a great night out! On Friday night we could watch gardener’s world together!! Saying that, I reckon Puddock was wild in his day, so I’d take Puddock in his older age.

 

Andi = I’d least like to go on a night out with the late Dragonfly because he was so unsociable. In my mind he’d have been the old man lurking in a dark corner, nursing a pint, and answering only in grunts.

 

Manouk = I’d definitely like to most go out with Ochil because she would keep away any unwanted intruders to my personal space. She has actually been known to kick people in their ‘personal space’. Just ask Bobby…

 

Chris = Kipling because she’s nice around people and good in big crowds. Unless I wanted to have a fight, then I wouldn’t take Camus with me. He seems to like walking into large crowds then batting people away with his antlers as if they chose to surround him!

Kipling is getting bored of Chris picking her for every other answer

Lotti = I think I’d want to go on a night out with Fly. I think she’d be pretty sassy and have some great dance moves on her. I also think she wouldn’t take any grief from creepy men in clubs.

 

Ben = Boris would be great, he’d be able to look around corners for any potential hotties/spaces in the bar queue.

 

Dave = *sniggers to himself*. Well, definitely not Camus, he’d be a total maniac in the pub.

 

Izzy = One of the boys. However, I don’t reckon I’d be able to keep up with some of the younger boys like Celt, Roman or Dr Seuss. They look like they’d drink a lot. Also, I think they’d probably enjoy their mushrooms a bit too much for me as well. Svalbard strikes me as a classic “pub go-er”. I reckon I’d have a good night in the pub with him.

 

Bobby = Svalbard, he’d be a good wing man.

 

Nell = Spike. He’s the reindeer who I’ve seen jump the most. I think it’d be quite fun going on a night out with a springy reindeer because that means more dancing.

 

 

  1. Who’s the cheekiest/naughtiest reindeer?

Fiona = Well, there used to be a reindeer called Revel who had a habit of sticking his head under ladies skirts and then lifting them up…the skirts not the ladies.

 

Hen = Oh Celt!!! Surely everyone said Celt?! Celt hasn’t learnt his manners yet. His mum, Camembert, is very polite so I’m not quite sure what happened there! He’s such a wayward son.

 

Andi = Pagan is certainly a contender. She’s completely unabashed in coming into your personal space and demanding your full attention whether you’re busy or not.

 

Manouk = Dr. Seuss as I had to wrestle him in front of a whole hill trip when his hormones were the first to kick in during last year’s rut.

 

Chris = In my first winter it was definitely Dr. Seuss. But now…Olympic may have taken over, cheeky but not overstepping the mark.

Dr Seuss as a calf. Cheeky boy!

Lotti = Ooooo. Probably Dr. Seuss. He’s not too naughty but he’s definitely cheeky.

 

Ben = Ah man, there’s some definite contenders from the young boys here. But for pure naughtiness it’s gotta be Bond. He’s got little man syndrome. I’ve seen him kick young children, adults and reindeer herders. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in mischievousness.

 

Dave = Calves seem to be the cheekiest ay. I’ve seen calves full on try to jump and roll over their mums as if they were doing the long jump.

 

Izzy = Celt, he kicked my water bottle. I had to get Dave to fix it for me, before that the spout didn’t work and I had to drink out of it at such a weird angle.

 

Sheena = BOBBY! Oh wait what? We need to choose an actual reindeer and not a reindeer herder?

 

Bobby = Celt, he has absolutely no boundaries.

 

Nell = Bond, definitely! He’s having a time out from hill trips in the enclosure because he’s been a bit too naughty…so definitely Bond.

 

 

  1. Which reindeer would make the best husband/wife?

Fiona = Right, well, I think if you’re going for looks then the best hubby would have been Fergus. That’s Fergus in his prime, not as a calf! I think the best wife would be Caddis, actually nah, she could be pretty brutal. Hippo was probably the most beautiful. But this all sounds so shallow thus far doesn’t it. Right, for personality and reliability it’d be Topi for hubby and Dixie for wifey. They’re the attributes that really matter! I can’t think of any reindeer that has the full package mind.

Dixie getting special treatment from Fi as usual

Hen = Probably Olympic, he’s just sooooo friendly. I can imagine that he’d definitely do his share of the washing up. The Svalbard’s and Stenoa’s of this world, you know that they’d be the ones who would just sit in front of the T.V. with a beer.

 

Andi = Olympic…he’s steadfast, loyal and genial. And for an added bonus, his breeding days are far behind him.

 

Manouk = Ryvita. She’s such a loyal mother so I think she’d be such a loyal wife.

 

Chris = Definitely not Kota if you were after a monogamous relationship.

Kota, August 2019

Lotti = I think that Cheese would make a good wife. I think she’s got a strong sense of family, which is very important. She’s always seen hanging around with her family so she’s obviously quite loyal. She’s also a bit cheeky and fun which would be good as a life partner.

 

Ben = Compatible personalities are everything in a relationship, and Lace has such great character. But she’s also so beautiful. I’d like to think that if I was a reindeer and I woke up with Lace next to me every morning I’d be pretty chuffed.

Beautiful Lace

Dave = If I was a reindeer I would marry Fly because she’s awesome, she’s a reindeer pioneer, she’s super sexy and she has child-bearing hips.

 

Izzy = Olympic, he’s just so sweet. He’d give me so much attention that I wouldn’t even care about him eating ALL of the food. Tosca would be my contingency; he’s such a handsome boy.

 

Bobby = Bond – strong, handsome, financially stable, good moral character. He’d be the best.

Husband material?

Nell = Hamish would make the easiest husband because he’d be so easy to please. Just give him food and he’d be your number one fan. Plus, he’s quite cuddly.

Okapi – a photo shoot

I was sorting through some free range photos taken by Manouk’s friend, Lidowij Meijer, from back in March and realised Okapi look liked she was having her own personalised photo shoot. What a perfect opportunity for a blog I thought!

Okapi is one of the more popular reindeer amongst us herders. Whenever we meet up with her on the free range she is always happy to put her head in a bag of food and help lead the rest of the herd to wherever we need to be. Although she is getting on a little, currently 11, she was in fantastic condition over last winter and so made a fantastic model.

When I first arrived here, however, Okapi wasn’t always at the top of my favourite reindeer list. On a few occasions I caught her walking up behind people and giving them a good poke with her antlers. Initially this was a bit stressful when leading large groups of people in amongst the herd but later on whenever I did catch Okapi shaking her head at anyone it always seemed to be the visitors who don’t listen to our clear instructions about how to behave around the reindeer that were told off by Okapi!

Anyway, enjoy the first part of Lidowij’s free range photo blog.

Feel free to check out her pages here, in the name of Jumping Jackdaw:

instagram.com/jumpingjackdaw

facebook.com/jjackdaw

 

Chris

 

 

What noise does a reindeer make?

What noise does a reindeer make?

A frequently asked question on the hill is what noises the reindeer make. Whilst they are mostly fairly quiet animals but there are a few fascinating reindeer noises.

 

Clicking Feet

For any of you who have been on the hill trip you will have heard the clicking noise coming from the back feet of the reindeer. Unlike the forest dwelling Roe deer, the reindeer do not have long enough legs to outrun their predators, instead they survive using safety in numbers. They are of course a herd animal. Whilst our reindeer no longer have any predators in the UK they have maintained the mechanism for staying together as a herd. The click is produced by the friction from a tendon slipping over a bone in their back feet. It happens with every single step that the reindeer take and cannot be switched off and on. The calves will have a very quiet click whereas the big bulls will have a quite a loud click, the noise of the whole herd moving is quite amazing. This means that even in the harshest of weather conditions, where they certainly wouldn’t want to open their eyes and wouldn’t be able to see through the blizzard if they did they can still hear where the rest of the herd are. If they were to grunt then opening their mouths would lose heat, the clicking doesn’t use energy or heat so is the perfect communication devise.

 

Grunting

Another important reindeer noise is grunting. There are two times of year where the reindeer grunt, the first is the calving season in the spring where the cows will grunt to their calves if they are not close by. The second time of year where the reindeer grunt is during the breeding season, the rutting bulls will grunt to the cows. The reindeer grunt is a bit less majestic than the famous Red deer roaring in the glens or the Roe deer barking in the woods. If you want to read a bit more about the noises of all the native deer species, Tilly wrote a wonderful blog about it last year. https://cairngormreindeer.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/calling-all-deer/

Crackle grunting during the rut. Photo by Laurie Campbell.

Yawning

I have saved the best reindeer noise till last, the reindeer yawn. When reindeer yawn they make a lovely creaking noise which is followed by a chin wiggle. Since I first started working with the reindeer I have been trying to record a reindeer yawning as I think it would be the best possible either alarm or text message tone. If anyone has managed to record this fantastic noise, please do get in touch! There seems to be much discussion over the purpose of a yawn. Popular opinion is that animals yawn to remind the rest of the group that they are tired and thus less alert for danger and this is why it is more common amongst social mammals. Recent research shows that the yawn may in fact be to cool down the brain, the long inhalation of air cools down the blood in the vessels close to the surface in the nose and mouth and the stretching of the jaw increases the blood flow to the brain. The blood then cools down the brain making it function better and the animal feel more alert. This would perhaps explain why the reindeer seem to yawn more than normal on a particularly hot day.

Spider mid-way through losing his winter coat, having a yawn. Photo by Julia Kenneth.

Lotti

Bog Blog

One day last summer I was leading Okapi and Ryvita from the Cas flats to the reindeer enclosure. I was just about to cross the burn that is crossed by Utsi bridge further down the hill when with one misplaced step I found myself thigh deep in bog. What followed consisted of much giggling (from both me and the reindeer), a serious struggle to get my leg out and a very wet arm having had to reach down into the bog to retrieve my welly. As a squelched my way to the reindeer enclosure I started thinking about the different plants that grow in a bog, especially the indicator plants that could have helped me avoid my rather soggy fate.

 

Stuck in a bog

Sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss is probably the most important plant to look out for. Also known as peat mosses, this group of plants can retain an incredible amount of water (up to 26 times their dry weight). It is so absorbent that it was even used by native North American babies in nappies. This means that standing on this bright green moss (notice it behind me in my bog selfie) will almost always leave you in a similar predicament as I was in. Sphagnum mosses have two types of cells that make up the plant; small living cells and large dead cells. It is the dead cells which have a large water holding capacity. (Disclaimer: if you have no interest in biochemistry then please skip the next sentence or two) Sphagnum mosses are very good at out competing the surrounding plants by carrying out a process called cation exchange, in which nutrients such as potassium and magnesium are taken up and hydrogen ions are released. The increase in concentration of hydrogen ions in the surrounding environment is responsible for making it more acidic and stopping other species from growing there. The acidic conditions along with the layering of the sphagnum produces the peat that we see on the mountains.

Sphagnum

Bog cotton

Bog cotton is a good indicator of a boggy area as its seed head stick up above the ground and warn you of the wet area beneath. Its white cotton-like seed heads can often be seen bobbing in the wind. Unlike regular cotton, bog cotton cannot be weaved into fabric, however in northern Europe it has been used to produce paper, pillows, candle wicks and wound dressings.

Bog Cotton

Bog asphodel

For those of you who have been on the hill trip, you may have seen the yellow spiky flowers of the bog asphodel plant. The Latin name for bog asphodel means ‘bone-breaker’ due to the belief that when sheep eat it then develop brittle bones. However it is more likely that it is correlation rather than causation as sheep eating a low calcium diet are prone to bone weakness and bog asphodel grows in calcium deficient soil. Our reindeer however have no problem getting calcium, as displayed by the wonderful antlers that they grow each year.

Bog Asphodel

Sundew and butterwort

The most vicious of all the plants I have described are these two carnivorous plants. They both survive the harsh environment that they live in by catching insects to eat. Sundew catches insects by sensing their movement and elongating the cells on one edge of the leaf and retracting the cells on the other surface of the leaf causing the leaf to curl around the unsuspecting fly. Butterwort uses a different hunting method, the insects stick to its sticky glandular leaves and are then digested by the plant. If you ask me, the plants up on the hill are not working nearly hard enough to catch the midges this summer.

Sundew and Butterwort

Lotti

Ben’s Reindeer Herder Interviews (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Which reindeer would make the best prime minister?

 

Fiona = Dragonfly! But not for the reasons that prime ministers become prime ministers…he thought about everything he did & he was very intelligent. I’ve trained a lot of reindeer but he did everything with precision and thought

 

Hen = Yeah I think Topi would have been a good candidate, he was quite…well, everyone liked him but he was also quite forthright and offered more hope of leading without dividing the country…unlike our current government.

 

Andi = Hmmm, it would have to be the late Topi. He was such a likeable character but certainly no pushover.

 

Manouk = Bovril because he’s been through so much in his life, and I think this has made him into someone who can make adequate decisions at the right time. And by a lot…I mean castration.

 

Chris = Kipling – she’s a woman of the people!

 

Lotti = Well Boris would make the worst prime minister. But politics aside…I think Kota would be the best. He seems quite wise and respected but not so showy-offy and the problem with politics at the moment is that it’s all turning so showy-offy.

 

Ben = Well I think what you need is intelligence, perception and a calm demeanour and Atlantic gives you that. He’s been through some hardships in his life, losing a toe early on, but he’s learnt to live with this, making him stronger, and he’s such a calm reindeer. Calm without being a push-over, even when he was a breeding bull he was pretty level-headed. Plus some of the current world leaders may recognise his impressive antlers as a sign of manliness which could give him a head start. Saying that, I definitely think that females generally best occupy positions of power but being summer staff I don’t really know the females as well as I’d like.

 

Dave = Fly because she knows how to lead.in an inclusive and respectful way.

Fly on the free range

Izzy = Kipling because she’d make sure everyone had food and housing. She’s friends with everyone and she’s young, so she could run for office twice. Although, she might neglect her duties if someone put lichen down in front of her.

 

Bobby = Fly because she establishes a nice dominance over the herd. She’s quick to take control and seems like a really good leader.

 

Nell = Galilee, she’s the one that often seems to lead the herd through. She’s very….well, she’s a leader.

 

 

  1. Which reindeer would be the best/worst reindeer herder?

Fiona = I think Olympic could make a great reindeer herder if he was human, but he definitely wouldn’t if he was still a reindeer. So he’s a bit of a loner which doesn’t quite fit the reindeer herding criteria, but he’s greedy and loves his food, which certainly does fit the reindeer herding criteria. He’s an overall good egg.

 

Hen = Sequin would have been an excellent reindeer herder because no one had a bad thing to say about her.

 

Andi = Blondie wouldn’t be the best seeing as a) she’s fairly ditsy and b) would struggle to hear where the rest of the herd are on account of her deafness.

 

Manouk = Dixie would make the best reindeer herder because all the reindeer already follow her, also, she LOVES her food, and that’s an important quality in a reindeer herder.

Dixie

Chris = Fly or Okapi would be the best – they’re often leading the girls when we’re with them. Plus, Okapi isn’t afraid to use her antlers if needed.

 

Lotti = Probably one of the Swede’s would be the worst aye. Because they’d be so terrible with a crowd. Spike’s a nervous nelly, he wouldn’t particularly thrive off of taking summer hill trips with 25 car loads of visitors.

Ben = Druid would be the worst; he’d just neglect his duties in favour of heading out ‘mushrooming’. He’d be far better placed as a café owner in Amsterdam.

 

Dave = Blondie would be the worst because she’s deaf.

 

Izzy = Inca would definitely be the worst because she’d end up running at the reindeer and completely scattering them. She just wouldn’t be good at getting reindeer from place to place, she’s too wild.

 

Bobby = Stuc would be the worst because he seems pretty shy and low on confidence.

 

Nell = Sherlock would be the worst because he kicks people and you couldn’t have a tour where the reindeer herder’s kicking people.

 

 

  1. Which reindeer would you most/least like to be stuck on a desert island with?

 

Fiona = For good chats, social drinking and fun times it’d be the late Grunter, but for practically reasons it’d have to be Stenoa and/or Scrabble – the fatties. Just because they’d make great burgers. Haha, it sounds like it’d be Grunter and I eating Stenoa and Scrabble doesn’t it?

 

Hen = Well, I better start naming some living reindeer now…can I name a reindeer who would feed me for the longest? I probably shouldn’t should I? I’ll name Olympic for the companionship and the chats…plus, he’s not too skinny either.

 

Andi = I’m going to say Strudel because he’s always the first one to locate and break in to a bag of food. So, that has the benefit of him being able to help in finding the food, however I’d then have the problem of trying to get him to share. But hey, at least he’s friendly.

 

Manouk = Svalbard because after looking at the size of his belly, I reckon he won’t need to eat for a while.

 

Chris = Svalbard or Scrabble because I mean, come on…look at those bellies.

Svalbard.
Photo courtesy of Jamie Isaacs Photography

Lotti = Ooo, these are great questions Ben (thanks Lotti).  Well, you’d want to be stuck with someone a little bit fun who you could interact with but not be a real pain. You’d want to be with someone who’s pretty bomb-proof so that they could deal with the situation. Hmmm…Olympic, he’d make me feel happy.

 

Ben = It’s gotta be Olympic, he’s very social which would be great and with that wagon that he’s dragging, an Olympic sized cuddle would provide me with a lot of warmth. But I think he’d be a popular choice, so if his diary was full then I’d opt for Crowdie. He’s such a sweet reindeer, plus my Dad adopts him so it’d be a nice reminder of my great family.

Crowdie

Dave = It would have to be a tame one. You wouldn’t wanna be stuck with a flighty one who wouldn’t come near you because how’s that for company? So, maybe…Scrabble.

 

Izzy = I would love to get stuck on a desert island with Olympic. I’d need to make sure he didn’t eat ALL of the food but I reckon we’d have some good conversations and he’d make an awesome spooning partner.

 

Bobby = Ochil. I would very much not like to be stuck on a desert island with Ochil because she always seems to give me a hard time….and has no mercy when she does so.

The extremely dangerous Ochil (to Bobby only)

Nell = I’d most like to be stuck with Hook because he runs away so often and I think it’d be great exercise chasing him around the island.