Dressed for Winter

‘There is no such thing as bad weather, merely unsuitable clothing’. It’s a great phrase this and one that is on display in the Reindeer Centre, to warn people to be well prepared for the hill visit to the reindeer (even in summer sometimes!).

In the animal kingdom, a number of the arctic animals change their coats in winter and in the case of reindeer they not only grow thicker coats but also their coats turn lighter in colour, in some cases pure white.

Reindeer on snow
Reindeer snoozing comfortably in the snow – Lilac (right) is currently our oldest reindeer at nearly 17 years old

The change in colour is associated with shortening day length and there are obvious benefits from being white or very light coloured when it comes to camouflage in snow. But it is also the case that white hair is more insulating than dark hair. White hair lacks pigmentation and nothing replaces this, leaving pockets of air, a very good insulator. So I suppose that means that when the reindeer grow their winter coats they have more airy hair! Indeed the reindeer never cease to amaze me, on the coldest of days, they are high up in the snow, on the exposed ridges, lying around, resting, ruminating and I suspect positively enjoying the weather which we shelter from in our warm houses.

Harry, Minto and Bajaan Dec 08
White reindeer – this photo was taken back in 2008 of male reindeer Harry, Minto and Bajaan

In the herd we do have a few reindeer who are actually pure white: Blondie, Lego and Blue to name just three of them. Knowing that white hair has more insulation does that mean they have the warmest coats? They certainly always look very comfortable in the snow.

Mountain hare
A mountain hare in its winter coat, spotted whilst I was completing my 146th munro!

Over the last few weeks I have regularly seen mountain hares, which live in a similar habitat to our reindeer but are also quite widespread across many of the Scottish hills. They too turn white in winter and like the reindeer have relatively large feet which act as snowshoes making running seem effortless as they hurry across snowfields.

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Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). Photo by Boaworm [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are two other animals found in Scotland that also turn white: the ptarmigan, an arctic grouse that is found in many of the Scottish mountains above 2,000 – 2,500ft, and the stoat, which depending on how far north it lives also turns white, when it is then called stoat in ermine.

Stoat in ermine
Stoat in ermine – white with a black tail tip. Photo by Steven Hint [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Like the reindeer and mountain hare, the reason the ptarmigan plumage turns white is for camouflage and warmth but I do sometimes wonder about the stoat in ermine. Although I have seen them in snow around the farm, all too often there is not a flake of snow to be found and they ‘stick out like a sore thumb’. But they are a very clever predator, predating mainly on rabbits. They are incredibly quick, will catch and kill prey 10 times bigger than themselves and appear to be completely fearless. They are sometimes thought to ‘hypnotise’ their prey, maybe the white coat and black tip to their tail somehow confuses the rabbit!

Tilly

‘Snow deer’

Snowdeer
Snow deer in their element

It has often amused me that the most arctic living of the deer species, i.e. reindeer and caribou are not called ‘snow deer’. Apart from the obvious and appropriate descriptive title of an animal so ‘at home’ in the snow, I have always thought it would have been a rather attractive name for them as well!

There are plenty of occasions over the winter when our reindeer experience truly arctic conditions and so for me anyway in winter they become our ‘snow deer’. Part of the Cairngorm herd spends the winter on the Cromdale hills, which are situated to the north east of the Cairngorm mountain massif. Despite not being as high as the Cairngorms and so not quite the same exposure to wintry weather, the Cromdales still get their fair share of snow and so our ’snow deer’ here can experience pretty wild conditions.
These are a few photos taken a couple of years ago when in blizzard conditions our snow deer were quite at home. Not sure the same can be said for me!
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A coating of snow on their coats
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Us humans feel the cold even when completely wrapped up!
There are no winter conditions that drive these animals off the hill. They have incredible soft thick coat which provide all the insulation they need against the cold. Their broad flat feet make it both easy for them to walk across the snow and dig down through the snow to their favourite winter food, lichen and in blizzard conditions they face the prevailing wind which keeps their coats ‘flat’ and so trapping air between the hairs to create another insulating layer. It does mean though that they end up with ‘ice packs’ on their foreheads.
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Whilst they don’t worry about the snow, the reindeer will close their eyes to stop it swirling in.
Knowing how well adapted they are to snow, many people ask me whether reindeer like the milder weather we have come to experience more of in recent years. Indeed as I write this today, the 24th January 2016 the day is decidedly ‘spring like’, there’s no snow, no wind or rain, the grass is looking quite green and I can wander around outside without a jacket on. As far as our reindeer are concerned I suspect it just makes it easier for them, as they don’t need to expend energy digging down through the snow to find food. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t prefer to be lying on a soft bed of snow.
Tilly 

River Stars Reindeer

We’re pleased to tell you about an exhibition we’re helping to host up here in Glenmore.

Riverstars
“Reindeer with pack & crib held by Kardin & Nikolaevich Buldotovsky.” Baramakan Camp, Inner Mongolia

Life in the snow forests: 100-year-old photographs displayed for the first time

Indigenous people from the snow forests of Inner Mongolia and Siberia have been reunited with century-old photographs of their family and communities as part of a research project and exhibition at the University of Cambridge.

Previously unseen photographs capturing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will now be displayed in Glenmore, following the River Stars Reindeer first unveiling at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

The photographs record the indigenous Evenki and Orochen communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.

The exhibition, was the culmination of a painstaking curatorial process, which involved choosing 70 images from more than 26,000 photographs. A process further complicated by the research team coming from ten different institutes located in three different countries.

One of the curators of the Cambridge exhibition, Jocelyne Dudding said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the very best of their images together for the very first time. The photographs are not only a wonderful record of the ways of life for Evenki and Orochen, but they also speak of the more personal stories behind every image.

“Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.

The conversations Dudding and her fellow researchers from Aberdeen, St Petersburg and Hohhot had with the indigenous communities directly influenced the selection process for the exhibition. As the project developed and word spread, more and more communities from other areas came forward and asked to be included.

River Stars Reindeer comes about from a digital sharing project to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs, and thereby their histories and their cultural heritage,” added Dudding. “We are now in the process of digitally sharing our photographs with them – having spent the last 18 months digitising 16,000 images so far.

“A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers.”
“A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers.”

The exhibition title River Stars Reindeer speaks of the cosmologies and realities of the lives of Evenkis and Orochens in an area known as the three rivers region.

Many of the photographs to be displayed at the exhibition were gathered by anthropologist Dr Ethel Lindgren and photographer Oscar Mamen. Lindgren went on to continue her studies and immersion with reindeer husbandry and in later years married her second husband Mikel Utsi, Swedish Sami reindeer herder. In 1952 Lindgren and Utsi successfully re-introduced reindeer to Scotland. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd still thrive today and exist freely within the Cairngorm mountains.

River Stars Reindeers exhibition runs from 26 November 2015 until 3 January 2016 and will be displayed at Glenmore Visitor Centre. The exhibition is on loan from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge where it has recently been shown.

Tilly

Tales from Glenlivet: Another Muckle Spate (Doric for “a big flood”)

Since Minute terrified himself and the curlew chick  a lot of water has quite literally ‘gone under the bridge’. About 4 weeks ago there was tremendous heavy rainfall in the Cairngorm Mountains which resulted in the River Avon (pronounced locally “A’an”) beside our Glenlivet farm rising 6 feet in just a matter of hours.

Loch A'an
The beautiful Loch A’an

The source of the River Avon is Loch Avon at the back of Cairngorm Mountain, a long slender loch with a beautiful sandy beach and crystal clear water. It is not a popular beach for the family because to get to it you have to climb up on to the Cairngorm Plateau ( about 2,500 ft of climb ) followed by a similar drop down the other side.

The sudden rise in water levels caught out one fisherman on the river who had crossed onto one of the islands to improve his fishing chances. When the river rose so rapidly he hollered for help and luckily one of our neighbours realised the gravity of the situation and called mountain rescue. The first we knew about it was a mountain rescue helicopter arriving and plucking him off to safety.

River A'an in spate
The damage caused by last year’s flood – Moskki the terrier surveying the missing section of road

Just a year ago a similar flood happened in August. Once again heavy rain in the Cairngorms brought havoc to many of the rivers and tributaries and the A’an got its fair share of water with the levels this time rising by about 12 feet. In a space of just 12 hours the heightened water washed trees and debris down and ‘ate away’ at the river bank near our farm before the bank finally gave way, washing 40 metres of the A’anside road downstream. It was six weeks before the road was repaired and re-opened.

If you look back in history there is the famously recorded “muckle spate” of August 2nd to 4th 1829 where heavy rain and thunderstorms in the Cairngorm produced floods which claimed 8 lives, numerous buildings and many cattle and sheep. It would seem that summertime is when these spates occur and it does make you wonder if two floods in the last two years says something about climate change and global warming.

Weather is extremely topical just now with record low temperatures being recorded here. The number of sunny days could almost be counted on one hand during July and there have been times at night when the temperature has dropped to nigh on zero. Not good for the farmer needing his crops to grow, but great for reindeer who struggle in the heat of the day and get frustrated by the buzzing insects that come out in force on warm sunny days.

Summer reindeer
Boys enjoying the cooler summer weather this year

So there is a silver lining in every cloud, whether it be rain, sun or overcast conditions, someone or something will benefit from the topsy turvy weather we seem to get these days.

Tilly

Tales from Glenlivet: Minute and the Curlew Chick

Minute
Minute with some of the Glenlivet herd

Here at our Glenlivet farm one of the best times of day is the evening, when the reindeer are herded back out onto the hill for the night. As they slowly walk up through the birch wood, clicking as they go, the wood is alive with songbirds singing as they flit from tree to tree.

The birch wood is rich with young leaves to browse, moist tree lichens to nibble and underfoot fresh herbs and grasses to graze on. So the reindeer take a while to wend their way up to the top of the wood.

Yesterday evening as I reached the open hill with the reindeer in front of me, a pair of curlew were circling above us, madly calling and quite upset that we had disturbed them. Their calls became agitated and one of them landed in front of the reindeer and scuttled ahead trying to lead the reindeer away. It’s at this point that I realised why there is such a commotion. Minute, our biggest three year old bull with very long velvet antlers, was looking inquisitive with his nose close to the ground. Right in front of him was a brown and creamy white fluffy ball of young feathers, a curlew chick, probably only hatched the day before. Minute looked as surprised as the chick at their encounter and turned to join the herd while the wee chick scuttled into the rushes.

Peace returned as the reindeer headed for the hills and the parents of the chick realised the danger had gone. I walked back down through the wood, the sun setting and the songbirds still calling.

A great way to finish a spring day on our farm.

Tilly

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