Reindeer impressions

A few weeks back we asked on social media for short stories from visitors about special memories of meeting the reindeer, or perhaps what the reindeer mean to them. When you work with them daily, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how special meeting them can be, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that! Here’s a few contributions, with more to follow in the future.

D’Cruz family – Wirral: As a family we have had many memorable treks (9!), but the one in 2015 was extra special. Our herder that year was Mel who had been hand rearing orphaned calf Fergus, so not only did we all get to lead our own reindeer but Fergus decided to join us too. He just trotted along by our sides mingling in and out of the other reindeer for the whole trek which made our memorable experience even more special and we even got to give him his bottle as we rejoined the rest of the herd.

Trekking with (left to right) Atlantic, Balmoral, Laptev, Grunter and wee Fergus leading the way!

Rebecca – Oxfordshire: Deer and reindeer have always been my favourite animals. So, when I discovered the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd existed, I vowed to myself I would visit. A year and a half later, in August 2019, my wish came true! I arrived at the Centre nearly two hours early to make sure I got a place on the Hill Trip – and it was worth the wait! Definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my Scottish Highlands visit. (I have since adopted Origami the reindeer – looks like a return trip is inevitable…)

Up in the hill enclosure on the Hill Trip

Clare – Kettering: My first proper Hill Trip was in April 2013 with Deborah. I enjoyed it so much that we went again in September 2013 and that’s when it all started! I met and then adopted Svalbard!  After posting a photo on the Herd’s Facebook page, Carola commented, saying she adopted him too. We then became friends on FB which was lovely. Then through Carola I became friends with Candice after chatting about reindeer on FB too. Candice came up with the idea of having a ‘Group’ meet up in October 2014 and that’s when I met Michelle, Graham, Maggie, Steve, Beth, Brody, Gwenda and Gordon. Since then the gang has grown, Deborah joined in the fun and then we met Belinda and Martin too. It’s been great to meet up on various Hill Trips and events together and share our love for the reindeer. We have a really special friendship and it’s all thanks to the reindeer and herders.

Meeting Svalbard for the first time!
At the start of our group Hill Trip a couple of years back. Complete with guide Dave dressed for the occasion!

JessicaOntario, Canada
Best day of my life! We stopped on the way to Skye to feed the Reindeer Herd. The hill was snowy, windy, we were soaking wet from head to toe, but it was GORGEOUS! None of it mattered. We had never met reindeer before and it was life changing. To feel so connected with nature and we felt a mutual respect between us and the Reindeer. It was beautiful and we will never forget the experience.

Female reindeer Jenga

If you’d like to be involved in a future blog, please email/message us (FAO Hen) with your contribution of a small bit of text and preferably a photo too!

Memorable Reindeer of the past: Indigo

This week’s blog is written by long-term volunteer and reindeer adopter, Sharon. She got so fed up of us never having getting around to featuring Indigo in a ‘Memorable Reindeer’ blog that she decided to write one herself! Other blogs about well-loved reindeer of the past can be found by typing ‘memorable reindeer’ in to the search box to the right.

We started visiting the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre when our two boys, David and Mathew, were 9 and 6 years old in 1996. They have many memories of hand feeding the reindeer and Mathew particularly often recalls being knocked over by a reindeer when he was trying to get out of it’s way! How impatient was that he says?

In 2003 we had a particularly enjoyable and very snowy visit just before Christmas and my husband paid for an adoption of Indigo for my birthday.

Me and Indigo in December 2003
What a pretty girl Indigo was.

Indigo had followed me around on the Hill Trip and had numerous handfuls of feed from me. She constantly searched my hands and my pouch pocket for hand feed and I fell in love with her instantly. I always claim in reality she adopted me! She was such a friendly reindeer, particularly if you had hand-feed, a bit like my current adoptees – cheeky and greedy!

Regularly the owner of a bizarre set of antlers…
…swept back style…
…bonsai style…

We visited as many times as we could, usually at Easter or in December when we came up for two weeks in our caravan for Christmas and to ski at the Lecht which was always popular with our boys. The Christmas Eve torchlight procession through Aviemore was so magical with the reindeer leading. There was always plenty of snow around, not like the rain in more recent years!

Aviemore Christmas parade back in around 2012 or so. It was -12 degrees C during this parade, hence the grimace on Hen’s face – also shaking hands are possibly the reason why the photo is blurry!

In the summer of 2012 I received a letter from Hen asking if I wanted to buy one of Indigo’s antlers. I was on the phone to say yes before I had even read who had written the letter! As a very special treat my husband cut a piece of the antler off and made a pair of earrings for me out of it, another Indigo birthday present. I know now whenever I wear them she is still with me.

My antler – when still on Indigo’s head!

In February 2014 I received a letter from Andi saying that Indigo couldn’t be found and had probably died. I was distraught but continued to adopt. I now adopt Svalbard and Celt who are both very enthusiastic reindeer when it comes to hand feed and my husband adopts Olympic, who is a favourite with all adopters. My adoption certificates are kept neatly in a file with all correspondence from Reindeer House and we have even been to Finland to meet reindeer, although we haven’t found any as well cared for as the Cairngorm herd. So 24 years of visiting the reindeer, 18 years of adopting, 4 years of volunteering and my own ‘reindeer herd’ on the back seat of my car (soft toys only) my addiction continues.  But then it is not the worst addiction in the world to have – is it?

A classic photo of Indigo!

Sharon

 

My top 5 calving memories!

This year was the very first time I had work during calving season, as until now, calving season had always been exactly the same time as exam season. I can very easily say that calving season this year was the happiest month of my life so far, so it has been very difficult to think of just 5 highlights. But here we go, these are my five favourite memories from calving season this year.

Finding the first calf of the year

On Saturday the 25th of April, me and Fiona headed off around the enclosure to look for Galilee who was the first reindeer who had headed away from the herd to calve. It was much earlier in the year than the previous year, so I didn’t get my hopes up too much in case she was just ill or being a loner – Galilee can definitely be known to wander from the group. As me and Fi rounded the top of Silver Mount we caught a glimpse of Galilee, licking the ground. Fiona told me that this was a sure sign of her having calved, and as we got closer I could see the tiny calf on the ground. A new-born calf is barely recognisable compared to the calves I had seen previously in the summer and I can honestly say that Galilee’s calf is the most perfect thing I have ever seen. Galilee let us catch the calf and Fi show me how to treat the calf with an insecticide and some antibiotic spray on her navel. Galilee was very good but she clearly want us to leave her to bond with her calf uninterrupted. So we then fed Galilee and left them too it. The weather was even warm enough to cool off (and calm down from the excitement) with a quick dip in our own ‘private’ loch in the reindeer enclosure.

A quick dip in Black Loch!

Watching Brie calving

My second favourite calving memory has got to be watching Brie calve. One morning Brie was missing from the herd, from spying through binoculars we  saw her but couldn’t tell if she had calved yet or not so I headed out to go and check. Once I got closer I realised that she had legs actually coming out of her back end – she was midway through calving. I sat down a little way away from her and watched the whole thing through binoculars. I watched the calf take his very first, incredibly wobbly steps and have his first milk.

First time up on his feet!

Finding Gloriana’s calf

Another favourite calving moment for me was finding Gloriana’s calf. Gloriana is an 8-year-old female who had previously never had a calf. I really fell in love with her during the 2015 rut. She was amongst a group of reindeer on Silver Mount however she was a bit of a loner from the group and used to sometimes follow me away from the herd once I had finished feeding them. Having never had a calf, we thought that she was infertile so imagine my delight when she started to develop an udder, the first sure sign that a reindeer is almost ready to calve. On one very wet and rainy day, Gloriana was missing from the herd. Andi and I headed out around the enclosure and found her on Silver Mount with a beautiful big male calf. Gloriana was a wee bit nervous but let us treat the calf with no problems. The next day however when we tried to bring Gloriana and her calf to a closer section of the enclosure, I couldn’t get anywhere near her. I think having a calf for the first time at 8 years old made her a bit of an overbearing mum, so it took us a couple of days to get near her again. She did eventually settle down and both her and her calf became more and more confident during the time they were in the enclosure.

Gloriana’s calf with the white nose, with his cousin, Fly’s calf.

Hanging out with an experienced mum

Okay so this calving favourite is not just one moment. A couple of times during calving I got to go out and find a cow and calf from a very tame and experienced mum. Usually once we find the calf we will catch it and treat it and then leave the cow and calf as soon as possible to make sure that we don’t upset the mum. However, some of the cows have had so many calves and are so used to people that they are perfectly happy to lie down with you and their new-born calf. The new-born calves are incredibly inquisitive and totally unafraid of humans. It is a really wonderful experience just hanging out with the new-born calves and their very relaxed mums.

A wee chin rub for Ryvita’s calf (not a strangling!!!)
Ibex and calf!
Kipling and calf with Joe

Sending the calves onto the free-range for the summer.

My final favourite calving memory was letting the calves onto the free-range for the summer. We walked out of the enclosure with some of the cows on halters and the rest following towards the hills. Having spent every day of the last 6 weeks or so with the cows and then the calves, letting them go onto the free-range for the summer where we would likely see them every couple of weeks at the most was both sad and wonderful. Definitely sad to not be seeing them every day but also very wonderful to know that they would spend the next few months of their lives in the very best place for them, the mountains.

 

Leading the herd out of the enclosure
Off they go…
Lotti, Joe, Fiona and a socially distanced Andi after a busy morning!

Lotti

My memories of the reindeer (part one)

Beth has been visiting us for most of her life, and has now become a valued occasional volunteer. Here’s her account of her involvement with the reindeer, in her own words.

It all started when mum and dad booked a toddler break to Aviemore back in 2001. I was 2 years old. I can barely remember it. But all I know is this toddler break has a lot to answer for! My first memory of the reindeer was actually being at home here in Harrogate. Sat in my mum and dads bedroom one
morning asking for a “Biscuit”. However back then I would call it a “bissy”. The reason this relates to the reindeer is the first reindeer we adopted as a family was called Biscuit, all because I used to call biscuits ‘bissy’s’.

Feeding Biscuit in later years

Fast forward to May 2008 and we went up to Aviemore for my birthday. By this time we had the two time-shares at the Coylumbridge, my brother Brody had been born and we had many memories made at what was the Hilton Hotel (now owned by a different company but still The Coylumbridge Hotel). It’s the
23rd May, my 9th birthday and we head up onto the hillside for a hill trip. Staying till the very end Fiona and Emily invited me into the smaller enclosure by the hut at the top. That was when I met the reindeer Elvis. That is a day I will never forget.

Now this is where my dates and times get all muddled up, cause I can’t quite remember what order things happened or what years they took place. But I’ll try my best to keep the events in order and try remember some years they happened! Now, I have always loved the reindeer and the species has
fascinated me. However I wasn’t always so confident around them. If it wasn’t for Tilly Smith being up on one of the hill trips one day I’m not sure how long after it would’ve taken me to feed a reindeer from my hands. I can quite honestly remember Tilly grabbing my hands and putting me in front of a reindeer with her still holding me and letting the reindeer eat the food we had for it. From that point on, you had a hard task getting me off the hillside! We went up to celebrate Christmas one year, I think it was 2005. It was magical. Christmas Eve was spectacular. The crowds down in Aviemore watching the parade go through the town and then the morning of Christmas Day… watching Father Christmas arrive at the hotel with reindeer pulling his sleigh.
The morning was great. We queued up to see Father Christmas and meet the reindeer. Once that had finished we all went outside to wave goodbye to Father Christmas as he left. That’s when Tilly pulled me up and sat me on the sleigh next to Father Christmas. I was one very lucky little girl. One very spectacular Christmas with memories I cherish.

Christmas in Aviemore!

Our first Christmas Event seeing the Reindeer was over in Scarborough. I can’t remember much of it but I remember being on my dads shoulders with my mum next to him with my little brother in the pushchair. We looked over the wall at the back of the Boyes store and saw the reindeer getting ready for the parade. I can’t remember who was there and what we did after. But I remember loving every moment of it. I have so many happy memories, and so much to tell! It’s like I’m telling my life through the reindeer. I remember in about 2007 we went to Tilly’s farm for our first farm visit. It was amazing! I loved seeing all the animals and what made the day for me was Tilly allowed me to ride on the back of the quad bike… I can tell you now – I did not get off it till the end of the visit! It also brings back a sad memory as it’s the last time we saw our adopted reindeer Biscuit before he sadly passed away.

The reindeer have brought so many good things my way. Aviemore is my favourite place to visit. During lockdown I have dreamed about being up there and when I’m not having a good day, I think of the happy memories and I instantly smile. I have made so many good friendships from the holidays I have had up in Aviemore and not just through the reindeer… but if I went into detail about all those lovely people you’d never hear the end of it! I am holding on to hope that I get to go up to Aviemore in October and share the memories and introduce my partner and his daughter to the staff at the Reindeer Centre and share the reindeer experience with them. Two years too long and I miss the place dearly!

Feeding Crowdie in 2018

Now I can’t remember when I started volunteering for the Reindeer Centre but I can not thank the staff there enough. My confidence would not be half as good as it is today if it wasn’t for experiences they offered me and the memories I made with them.

First time I helped out at a reindeer event at Christmas time was at Stockeld Park in Wetherby. They were there for a Saturday and Sunday. We went to see them on Saturday and I’m pretty sure it was Fiona and Heather. My face lit up the moment Fiona asked me to help. I couldn’t wait. I remember having the biggest grin on my face as I walked round at the back of the sleigh. I also remember being very nervous and scared when people asked me questions about reindeer! But as time went on my knowledge grew ( I am pretty sure if there were an exam about reindeer I’d get 100%). I can remember that weekend well. I was asked if I would like to go back and help them on them on the Sunday and of course I said yes! However… the morning of the Sunday I was representing my school at Stonefall Cemetery, laying red roses down on the graves of our fallen soldiers as it was Remembrance Sunday. So I ended up doing the reindeer parade in my school uniform!

Hamish pulling the sleigh, and Moose accompanying me at the back!

When I tell you, the first time I worked two full days with the reindeer in Scotland one year, it was a downpour of rain, gale-force winds and hailstones… it’s no lie! But it did not put me off! I loved every moment of it. I was scared at first and being so young I can remember not knowing much of what to say or do. But that was just the beginning… After that every holiday I went on I volunteered for two of the days we were up there during the week. It was usually an October we went so the weather was not always the best. But it
never put me off. I just threw on my waterproofs and wellies and got on with it!

Beth will be back for another blog later in the year with more of her story about why the reindeer herd mean so much to her 😀

Lockdown (reindeer) hairstyles!

With lockdown measures having eased gradually to some extent, first in England and now in Scotland, various people I know have headed to the hairdressers to get their hair cut for the first time in a few months. One or two friends and family were looking forward to this day for a while!

A herd of very scruffy reindeer!

Well for reindeer outrageous hair-do’s is an annual affair! Reindeer have an amazing thick winter coat. As an arctic animal reindeer needs to be really well insulated and their winter coat is just that. Quoting from my last book ‘Reindeer: An Arctic Life’ I describe their coat as follows:

The two-layered coat of reindeer is incredibly dense: 670 hairs per sq cm for the longer hollow hair and 2,000 hairs per sq cm for the woolly undercoat”

I am not a mathematician, but I below I have roughly calculated the number of hairs on an individual reindeer. Firstly in my recent blog about social distancing I measured the length of Beastie, as an averagely sized male reindeer, to be roughly 1.8 metres.

An average reindeer is probably about 1 metre tall and their average width is probably 40cm. So the surface area of a fully grown reindeer (ignoring their legs and head) is probably about 720,000 sq cm.

If you multiple 720,000 by 2,670 (hairs per sq cm) the total number of hairs on the body of a reindeer in winter coat is a staggering 1,922,400,000. I may of course have got my maths wrong, but either way that is a serious number of hairs that a reindeer has to moult (and grow) each year!!

So unsurprisingly it takes a long time ( a good few weeks ) for a reindeer to lose its winter coat and they look incredibly shabby when this happens. Hence the series of photos to follow!!

Moulting starts around the eyes and nose, creating an ‘eye-liner’ effect when seen from afar!
And then the layers of the coat moult away all over the body…
…leaving clumps of hair all over the hill sides!
Some reindeer always moult earlier than others, namely Beastie (above) and LX. This often leaves them looking quite lean for a while, as they haven’t yet had time to put on heaps of weight through the summer months, and the short, thin coat makes the ribs quite obvious.

But once they have lost that winter coat they look amazingly sleek and dark with the short summer coats and long velvet antlers, just that stage they are at now. So this year most of the shabby moulting stage has been during the latter weeks of lockdown and with the Centre now open the visitors (pre-booking essential) the reindeer are looking particularly glamorous!

But once the moulting is finished the sleek, darker (Caddis here was normally a light grey colour for most of each year) summer coat is revealing in all it’s glory.

So there’s no excuse. Pick up the phone and ring the Reindeer Centre to book a trip on the hill to see our glamorous reindeer in their natural environment!

Tilly

 

 

My time as a Reindeer Herder 2014 – now

I love Reindeer herding. And what’s not to love? Fantastic animals in a beautiful environment, surrounded by lovely people. But it wasn’t always this way for me. I came up for my first taste of herding in 2014. Now, a lot has changed in the world since 2014. But a lot has also changed in my personal life …I have qualified as a Physiotherapist, ran the Everest marathon and told many, MANY bad jokes (Editor’s note: Oh my god…the jokes…) . I have lived in multiple places in England since 2014, but this part of the world holds a special place in my heart. I love being up here.

Ost and friends back in 2014

Fortunately, since 2014, there has not been as much change in the splendour of the Reindeer Centre. The reindeer have obviously changed but the Centre itself remains as fantastic as ever. Recently I came across my photos of 2014 and thought this a good opportunity to show off some of my favourites:

Cows free-ranging up on the mountains

The opportunity to be a Reindeer Herder came about from a fellow Herder, Sally, and I’m very glad to be back. I’m not sure whether the future will take me down the Reindeer herding route, the Physio route or maybe a mixture of the two. However, I’d be surprised if it takes me away from this beautiful location with these beautiful animals and people in my life.

I hope to see you all, in good health and spirit, as soon as it is safe to do so.

Ben

 

 

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part Two)

Emm volunteers with us several times a year usually, and has been doing so for years now. Here’s her story of working in the summer and autumn seasons! Her recent blog about the winter and spring can be found here.

Summer

In summer I have been up in both July and August. The visitors are meeting the male reindeer in the hill enclosure. The female reindeer and the calves are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains.

The reindeer’s antlers have done the majority of their growth and the velvet is getting ready to strip away at the end of August. The reindeer are looking smart in their dark summer coats.

Dr Seuss and Pratchett in the hill enclosure

The weather can be hot in the summer. The flies bother the reindeer by flying noisily around them, sometimes the reindeer rush around to try to get away from the flies which tend to sit on their antlers as they can sense the blood supply in their growing antlers. We spray the reindeer’s antlers with citronella spray to protect them from the flies. Midges are also a problem in the summer for both reindeer and humans.

Monopoly in his summer coat

In one part of the enclosure, the reindeer have access to a shed for shade. One time when we got up there with the visitors, the reindeer were nowhere in sight. All 41 of them had gone into the small shed. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it is does, it is like a Doctor Who’s Tardis. One Hill Trip, I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue – I found him in a small part of the shed asleep. Blue, who was deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on. The reason Blue was deaf is because he was leucistic (pure white with blue eyes). Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation.  Leucistic reindeer are camouflaged in the snow.

Selfie with Glenshee, back in 2016

There are three Hill Trips a day (during the week) in the hill enclosure and last year we did ‘Summer Fun’ in the Paddocks which involved feeling the weight of antlers, feeling the weight of a feed sack, Paddock reindeer talks and much more fun (N.B. This will return in 2021!). Reindeer House is busier as the seasonal summer staff are working as there is a lot going on with three Hill Trips a day and Summer Fun in the Paddocks.

One of the jobs in the summer is to water the garden as it is hot.

Last July, Olympic would stand by the gate like he was guarding it and wouldn’t let visitors out of hill enclosure. I kept having to go over to him and move him on.

Olympic

Autumn

In the Autumn, I normally come in October half term. The scenery is changing with leaves changing colour and leaves falling off the trees.

The reindeer’s winter coat is growing and most of the velvet has stripped off revealing the hard bone antler underneath.

It is the rutting and breeding season. Normally in different areas of the hill enclosure there is a bull with his girls. My two favourite breeding bulls are Houdini and Kota as they have massive magnificent antlers. When we feed the breeding bulls with their girls we have to be careful as they can be protective over their girls. We don’t take the visitors in with the bulls and their girls.

Breeding bull Kota

We do one Hill Trip a day in the hill enclosure. Normally in the afternoons we do sleigh training with the ‘Christmas reindeer’. We put the harnesses on them and harness them up to the sleigh. The reindeer pull the sleigh around Glenmore (where the Reindeer Centre is based). They even go on the road. It is so funny to see people’s faces when they drive past reindeer pulling a sleigh.

Sleigh training

We also get to handle the calves to get them used to people. We sometimes take them on a walk around Glenmore in the morning.

Calves Athens and Helsinki in October 2019

I am busy learning the calves names and if I hadn’t been up in May, I am learning which calf belongs to who and meeting all of them. The calves are also getting their new ear tags.

One year, I was lucky enough to help out at a early Christmas parade at the very start of November which was very special. It was at The Cairngorm Mountain. We wore red Christmas jumpers and woolly hats with reindeer on them. The reindeer team were Mo, Spike, Sooty, Aonach and calves Morse and Poirot. Mo and Spike pulled the sleigh with Santa in it. It was so wet and so windy. The wind was 60 miles per hour. Santa was holding his hat on in the sleigh. Not many people turned up. We had to tie things on to the pen railings otherwise they would have flown away.

Holding Mo and Spike after the parade

One of the other jobs in the autumn is to sweep up the leaves. At 4 o’clock it is starting to get dark. So we put the Paddock light on in the Paddocks so the visitors can still see the reindeer. When we put the reindeer to ‘bed’ in the woods and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

My 2 Favourite Seasons

I have two favourite seasons which are autumn and spring.

Sleigh training with Slioch and North

In the autumn, I love doing the Christmas sleigh training, helping the calves get used to being handled, learning the calves names and seeing the reindeer with their newly formed antlers.

With the cows and calves

In the spring, I love seeing the newly born calves, seeing the reindeer being mums and hearing the grunts between mum and calf.

Emm

 

Social distancing- reindeer style!

Well, we all know what is meant by ‘social distancing’ now after 3 months of lockdown and continued measures for the foreseeable future.

Here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we will be applying the government guidelines to both protect ourselves and our visitors when we re-open next week.

Turns out the reindeer have been enforcing social distancing all along!

Luckily for us we have helpers, the reindeer themselves, as you can see from the photo above, reindeer are very good at slipping in between groups when we are heading out on to the hill for feed time. The perfect animal to social distance with!

With our own little helpers I decided to ‘measure’ the length of an average-sized adult male reindeer from nose to tail (Beastie ticked all the boxes here)  and that comes out on average at 1.8 metres (give or take a little!). And if he (or she) puts her head down the antlers add a little bit more! Ideal for helping people keep the right distance apart when walking along the boardwalk in the hill enclosure.

Beastie being very patient but it wasn’t too easy with a tape measure…
…but a marked stick was easier! Celt muscled in on the action too.

In fact reindeer as a social herding animal are a very good example of how social distancing can be achieved. Unlike many social animals, reindeer do respect a modicum of social distance. They don’t huddle together; they like their space when they lie down and if another reindeer encroaches into their grazing area, they push them away, with antlers (if they are bony) or feet if their antlers are still growing.

It might be well below zero but no need for huddling!

The only close contact between reindeer is usually between close relations, ie a cow and calf. Indeed this close relationship can extend through into their adult lives particularly among females. However last winter that close bond became apparent between an old female and her grown up son. When 9 year old Rubiks joined the Cairngorm herd in January 2020 he ‘found’ his 16 year old mother Fonn and they have been inseparable ever since!

Rubiks with mum Fonn to his left this spring

Unfortunately the downside to social distancing for ourselves and our visitors will be that the normal hand feeding that takes place out on the open hillside will not happen. Not only will our visitors be disappointed, but the reindeer will be too. I can think of many of the friendly male reindeer like Olympic, Dr Suess and Aztec who will be extremely confused by the lack of yummy food from everyone!

However a visit to the reindeer will still be an amazing experience (hopefully at least!), with our lovely herd in their natural environment out on the mountainside. Experienced reindeer herders to guide you, answer questions and feed the reindeer, while you all get the opportunity to take photos and enjoy the moment with these gentle creatures.

Tilly

 

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part One)

Emm is one of our regular volunteers, and has sent us this lovely blog. Here’s part one, with another part to come later in the summer!

With my adopted reindeer, Mo

Over the years volunteering for the reindeer herd, I have experienced the different seasons. I decided to write a blog about it.

Winter

In the winter, I normally come up over New Year in the Christmas Holidays. The Reindeer Centre is very busy as people want to see reindeer after Christmas. The last time I was up over New Year which was this year 2020, we had at least 80 people queuing outside the door before we opened 10 o’clock. There is normally one Hill Trip a day. We had to do two trips a day because there were so many people and two trips-worth was selling out by about 10:30am.

In the hill enclosure the visitors are meeting both male and female reindeer. Most of the male reindeer in there are the ‘Christmas reindeer’ which have been to Christmas events and parades in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The reindeer are looking lovely in their winter coat and most of the reindeer have got antlers.

Fly and her grown-up son Anster

The weather is cold so my thermal hat, gloves and coat keeps me nice and warm. It is getting dark just before 5 o’clock so when we put the reindeer to bed and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

Pony and her calf Poirot in winter ’18-’19
Frost

The Reindeer Centre is closed on New Years Day, so I get a day off to explore the area with my mum and dad. This year on New Years Day we went on a long walk to explore An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch) and the Ryvoan Bothy. It was really nice and everyone we passed wished us a Happy New Year. On the way back, we walked down hill on the path behind the Reindeer Centre and I saw beautiful views of Glenmore and Loch Morlich.

Ibex posing for a selfie!

The Reindeer Centre is getting ready to close for a month and the reindeer are getting ready to go free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Cromdale Hills.

I help take the Christmas decorations down.

Spring

In the spring, I normally come up in April in the Easter Holidays or May or both.

April

Normally in April there is a Hill Trip once a day onto the free-range where some of the reindeer are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains. The hill enclosure is not normally in use. Every morning some of us go out to find the herd to give them their breakfast and to bring them down to a suitable place where we can do the Hill Trip as they are normally high up. It is a special feeling when you are leading the reindeer down to a suitable place for the trip. One time, I got to see the reindeer leap over a stream which I hadn’t seen before. They leapt over the stream well and they were very springy. That was spectacular to watch. It is magical and special seeing the herd on the free-range knowing they can go where ever they want with no fences stopping them. Reindeer can swim.

After one trip on the flats nelow the ski centre , the reindeer started to move towards the road heading for Windy Ridge which meant they were going to cross the road. Me and Dave parked by the road and he started calling them which they responded to. I stopped the traffic and was the “lollipop lady” in the middle of the road whilst the reindeer crossed and went onto Windy Ridge. Dave was leading them high up there. I went to find the stragglers who were coming up the hill in the ski car park and got them safely onto the ridge.

Most reindeer have lost their antlers and have started to grow new ones. Some reindeer have lost their antlers when I have been there. One year, I found Hopscotch’s antler in the Paddocks wood. The reindeer’s coats are very pale as the sun light over the winter has bleached them. The reindeer are hard to identify as most of them have no antlers and their unique markings have faded. The reindeer antlers are one of the key parts to identify a reindeer as each reindeer has their own unique antler shape. It is like their fingerprint.

Some of the female reindeer are heavily pregnant and their tummies look big. It is amazing to think there is a baby reindeer calf growing.

It is normally the time that the reindeer herders start to reseed the grass in the Paddocks. Sometimes I am in charge to move the sprinkler around the Paddocks. One April, Roman kept coming to the sprinkler and drinking from it or just stood by it like if he was cooling himself down. He even came to drink from the hose.

One April, I did the gardening in the Paddocks and Fergus (who was hand reared) kept following me around and kept kicking my bag thinking there was food inside.

With Ochil and Bumble in April 2018

The only time I have seen the reindeer in snow was in April 2018. I have never seen so much snow in my life. The snow was so deep. It was magical and special seeing them in the snow in their natural environment. It was such an exciting time. It was like being in Narnia.

The snow is not a problem for reindeer. The reindeer are at their happiest in the snow. It is their natural environment and their bodies are made for the it.

It was so special seeing their natural behaviours. Seeing them walking in a line one behind the other to save energy. Seeing them dig in the snow with their big splayed hooves to find heather and mosses to eat. The reindeer seemed more excited to see us with the feed sacks as it is an easy meal for them as they will have to work hard digging in the snow to find food. Following their hoof prints in the snow was very exciting.

Austen

At the Reindeer Centre, we had to shovel the snow to makes paths as it was very deep and put out grit. Before the Hill Trip, we put down grit on some of the icy parts. We offered people walking poles to help with walking in the snow and it was so lovely seeing visitors helping one another. Walking down hill, we had to dig our heels into the ground to stop us from sliding down the hill.

The frozen tarns and puddles looked spectacular. It was my first time seeing skiers skiing in the mountains.

In May, it’s calving time. I get to see the reindeer being mums to their calves which is lovely and special to see. The calves are so cute and adorable. I get to see the reindeer being more vocal as the mums and the calves grunt to each other to communicate. It is a lovely and special time.

Ibex and Clouseau in May 2018

I was very lucky to be up when the twins called Starsky and Hutch were calves. The Reindeer Centre had a lot of interest as a reindeer having twins surviving is a rare thing. There was only one other case in the world of reindeer twins surviving birth which was in Finland. In Finland, they took the reindeer twins away from their mum to hand rear them. Starsky and Hutch stayed with their mum Lulu and Lulu gave them as much milk as she could. We topped up the milk by bottle feeding them. It was special bottle feeding them but they are unfortunately no longer with us.

Bottle-feeding Starsky in the woods beside the Paddocks

The reindeer are continuing growing their antlers which are covered by velvet. The reindeer have scruffy coats as they are getting rid of their winter coat. Big clumps of fur come out of their winter coat.

There are two Hill Trips a day and they are in the hill enclosure.

Emm

There’ll be more from Emm in a future week, when she’ll tell us what she gets up to while volunteering in the summer and autumn seasons!

Then and now…

With all these photos of calves over the last few weeks on our social media pages, I thought I’d dig out some photos of adult reindeer in our herd when they were just a week or two old, as a way of demonstrating their colouration and it’s changes with time. Reindeer are born in an extremely warm winter coat to protect them from the elements, but this calf coat isn’t necessarily the same colour as they will end up.

There’s a very short window from when they are born in May, to when they first moult in July, when they have this lovely calf coat. By July they have a short, darker summer coat, although their legs often retain their calf coat for a few extra weeks, and then their adult winter coat grows in for the first time in early September. At this point onwards they look like mini adults, and have lost the ‘cute’ factor.

We’ll start with Aztec. He was the most common colour for a calf, a gingery brown that we just call ‘normal coloured’. As an adult he’s still ‘normal’ – as common as muck! (But only in colour, not character!).

Roman was also a ‘normal coloured’ calf, although a much richer red colour (NB. it’s not so noticeable in this photo as it was taken on a different camera to the other pics) than the gingery colour of many calves. The rich red look is one of my favourites amongst the calf coats!

Still ticking the ‘normal coloured’ box is Hamish, although you’ll notice the blacker back he had. This photo popped up on my Facebook ‘memories’ for 10 years ago recently – where has the time gone?! Hamish had to be pulled out by Fiona after getting stuck being born – hence the rather weak looking little calf knuckled over and two herders in attendance (trying to assess whether there’s any milk in that udder…).

‘Chocolate brown’ is the next category, darker all over than the others so far. Olympic has grown in to a dark coloured adult, but by no means as dark as they get….

….unlike Lace! Jet black as a calf, she’s always been one of the very darkest reindeer in the herd. Note how dark her bum is compared to Olympic above!

And at the other end of the scale is Mozzarella. If a calf is pure white, whether they are actually leucistic or literally just very white, they will stay that way their whole lives, regardless of the changing of the seasons. Their summer and winter coats are both pretty much the same. Mozzarella has a couple of dark markings on her, and these will change in darkness depending on the season, but not her white hairs.

Olmec and his mum Emmental are both ‘white’ reindeer too, or at least what we would refer to as a white or light coloured reindeer. In August, on the right, (and 3 years later!) they are much greyer, about halfway from summer to winter coats, but reindeer’s coats bleach in the light throughout the winter months, turning them much whiter by spring.

Many light coloured reindeer also have white face markings, as Svalbard demonstrates here. The darker markings on calf coats tend to be much less obvious as adults though – you have to peer closely to see Svalbard’s dark leg nowadays! While he’s not a light coloured reindeer as such now, he’s still on the pale side.

Not all light coloured adults start out light though, as LX and Diamond demonstrate here. White foreheads on a brown calf generally signify a calf will turn white in adulthood though! It’s not a particularly common colouration though – I think these are the only two I remember in my time here (or at least the only two who survived to adulthood – there may have been others).

Finally, there’s always one or two odd ones each year. Above is Brie, a sort of slate-grey colour as a calf with a little white nose, but generally she’s pretty much normal coloured now as an adult, albeit still rather greyish. She was a very pretty calf!

And finally Spartan, again slate grey as a calf but on the darker side as an adult. His pale eyes are a giveaway for his slightly odd colouration though, and as a breeding bull he’s thrown some equally unusual looking calves this spring!

There’s nothing more exciting than walking towards a cow who just calved, having eventually tracked them down – knowing you’re the very first human to lay eyes on that calf. At 8am when reporting from the hill down to Reindeer House, having been on the early shift and out for two or three hours already, I’ve squeaked “You’ll never guess what colour so-and-so’s calf is!” down a phone excitedly many times in the past. Freezing toes, soaked clothes and rumbling belly temporarily forgotten.

Hen