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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.