Boomerang reindeer

After all summer wandering out on the free range, the females come back to the enclosure and we check them and separate who we need for the rut and who can go back out. This year, three of the girls going back out were Sambar, Okapi, and Cailin. They have been known to return occasionally, and this is the story of one time where the toublesome trio turned up almost daily and would be outside the enclosure and need to be pushed out..

Take 1: 30th September 12:30pm ish

Morna and I had just finished the hill trip and were checking the reindeer in the other enclosures, where there were bulls and cows.

“Silver mount – fine, top corridor – fine, bottom corridor – three extra?”

Okapi, Sambar, and Cailin had waited outside the gate used their big brown eyes and fluttered their eyelashes to trick an unsuspecting visitor to let them in, much to Bandy’s delight. We separated them and pushed them back out on the hill.

2
Bandy and his herd of girls

Take 2: 3rd October  08:20am

Hen, Andi, and myself  checked the roads in the morning as we always do, and found Okapi and Cailin standing at the side of the road staring down in to the enclosure like a golden eagle on a levrit, scheming.  Sambar was found the day before alone outside the enclosure and so we took her in until we could find her some company out on the free range. Maybe they were scheming, taking turns going in to the enclosure a day at a time! So we lead the two girls into the enclosure, reunited them with Sambar, and once again pushed them out.

3
Okapi looking moody in the mist

Take 3: 4th October 16:3pm

RTC (reindeer traffic control) were called out as the troublesome trio were causing a blockage on the Cairngorm road. Morna and I headed out to move them, and after a small discussion of the question we seem to be asking a lot recently “take them up or down?”, we moved them up on to windy-ridge. There was a glimmer of hope as they walked over the summit, that they were finally heading into the hills.

4
Sambar, happy to be back?

Take 4: 5th October 08:10am

The three girls are once again found below Cairngorm road and I volunteered to take them out to ‘the flats’ (that is the plateau area below the northern corries) and I was determined to take them out where they wouldn’t come back. I had a bucket of feed, wellies and flat cap, but unfortunately no gloves, which I soon regretted as my hands felt as if they were being pierced by shards of dry ice. We walked through a glen, over a river, dodged the bogs (which are always deeper than your wellies). Eventually I stumbled onto a deer track that was poached with Roe deer, Red deer, and now Reindeer tracks. We eventually stopped at the base of Lurcher’s crag, I scanned my surroundings to see if there was a road, footpaths or anything else nearby where the reindeer could be a nuisance. But we were enclosed by the over-towering hills. I gave them some feed and after a one-to-one with them about why they should head in to the hills, I headed back.

5
A good shot of Cailin, with her characteristic hair tuft between her antlers!

“I hope that’s the last I see of them for a while”, I thought to myself as I left…… but I doubt it!

Olly

A Recovery Mission

Whilst many of our visitors come and meet some of our reindeer, mostly the males, in our hill enclosure, it’s great to remember that our herd all get to free-range for part of the year. The males, who are a little lazy at times and can’t be relied on to actually go and ‘be’ reindeer, rather than hanging out on the car parks, do most of their free-ranging on  mountains over on the Glenlivet Estate (which are a little more isolated) over the winter months – December-May. The females, however, are out and about for most of the year on the Cairngorms. Their range is vast, with our leased land covering thousands of acres on the high ground.

When they reach the boundary though, there is no fence, nothing to stop them, so on occasion a small group of reindeer will wander a little further than they should. Thankfully most of our neighbours are pretty understanding, and we do our best to retrieve any “wanderers” as soon as possible. So it was that Fiona and I set off on a showery morning across to Glen Feshie, where we’d received a report of some of our girls hanging out on one of the hills. Glen Feshie is perhaps eight miles away from the hill enclosure, as the crow flies – a thirty minute drive by road.

image4
The beautiful rolling hills at Glen Feshie

First up, we spied at the hills using a telescope from a good vantage point, and it was only a minute before Fiona spotted a reindeer, then two, then three. Fantastic! It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack at times, so we were off to a good start! We then drove to the car park and set off walking up the track through the woods, an easy trail to follow but all uphill. Fiona has been keeping pretty fit with lots of running recently, whereas I have not, so I was certainly feeling my inferior fitness! We had Tiree with us, Fiona’s dog, who we can use to push the reindeer in the right direction if necessary. She was bouncing around, full of energy and excited about being somewhere new!

It took us about 45 minutes to get clear of the trees, but once we were, we quickly spotted the naughty reindeer just a few hundred metres ahead. They were loving the good grazing and plentiful lichen – no wonder they’d decided it was a good spot to hang out. Time for a plan of action! We left Tiree waiting off to one side, blending perfectly into the hillside, and I skirted round towards the females, shaking a small bag of feed and calling. Three heads shot up in the air, suspicious, but it wasn’t long before one decided I was friend not foe and started making her way over, swiftly followed by the others. Peering at each, we identified them as Fern, Cailin and Clootie. Fiona was close behind me with three headcollars tucked into her jacket, and it was perhaps the easiest time either of us had ever had catching females: offer bag of food, reindeer nose goes in, arm round neck, headcollar on. Within 2 minutes we had our three lassies on headcollars, looking slightly betrayed by their greed! Of course when we got back we told a slightly different tale to the other herders, about how they were only captured due to our extreme skill and herding prowess (which wasn’t believed for a second…).

image3
Fern and Clootie couldn’t quite believe what their greed had done to them
image1
Fiona delighted that we’d been prepared and brought food
DSC_2234
Lunch with a view!

Before starting down, we sat and had a spot of lunch (the reindeer too), admiring the view, then Fiona went on ahead with Tiree back to the car park (reindeer and dogs not being a good mix as they resemble wolves, their natural predator) and I pottered along behind with the reindeer.

DSC_2239

Fiona then ran back up to join me and help with the girls, who didn’t seem too fussed by the unexpected change to their day, and were enjoying all of the mushrooms alongside the track – especially Cailin!

image6
Cailin tucking in to a path-side mushroom

With only one quick detour off the path to avoid a hillwalker with a dog, we soon reached the car park, and about two minutes later Tilly arrived with the cattle truck to transport the reindeer back to the right side of the mountains.

DSC_2241
Retrieved!

Thirty minutes later, we pulled up beside the road, led the girls back out and up to our hill enclosure for the night, where they enjoyed a good feed (hopefully reminding them that it’s a good area to stay near!), before going back out to free range the next day. Hopefully they’ll now stay in the area they are meant to be in!

Andi

Winter Holidays

As the schools go back, and the Christmas decorations, sleighs and harness are packed away at the end of another busy but successful season, the Reindeer Centre closes its doors to the public for a wee break. Of course we don’t get an actual holiday, the reindeer still like to be fed, but we put every single member of the herd out to free-range on the mountains. The boys head on over to the Cromdale mountains (where their lazy habit of hanging out on car parks can be prevented!) whilst most of the cows and calves go onto the Cairngorm range. The enclosure, and paddocks down in Glenmore, stand empty.

Okapi Lace Ciste
Lace and Okapi posing!

Every day we still drive up the mountain road early, spying for reindeer. Sometimes they make our job easy, like when the herd decide to get our attention and wait on the car park. It’s a bit of a giveaway when we see a traffic jam in an unusual place – you can guarantee there are a few females hanging out at the front of it, with excited tourists abandoning their cars to take photos!

Returning Escapees
The herd appears up the hill, completing their transformation from dots into reindeer

Other times we spot the reindeer a long way away, and on a good day they’ll hear you calling and run a mile or more to reach you. One of my favourite moments is when you see the distant dots on a faraway mountainside suddenly start streaming down towards you, looking alarmingly similar to ants until they transform into reindeer!

Cailin
Beautiful Cailin, one of our older reindeer, waits for the rest of the herd to join us

Winter is when the reindeer are in their element and whilst they’re always delighted to see us, if the weather prevents us finding them for a few days, or they decide to not be found, it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t need us. Their metabolisms slow right down in the winter months, and with shovel-like feet they have no difficulty digging through the snow for food.

Lilac
Lilac, a bit of a legend at an incredible 16 1/2 years old, has a stretch after a nap. We often leave the top part of the hill enclosure open so the free-ranging reindeer can join us to ‘request’ food, whilst safely out of the way of hill-walkers and dogs.

Whilst it makes life fairly unpredictable (Will we find the reindeer? Will they come to call? Will I have to hike up a mountain in the snow and wind with a massive sack of feed on my back???) it’s a really fun time of the year, and great to see the reindeer loving life in their natural habitat.

Nepal Merrick
“Mum, you’re embarrassing me…” Merrick looking sheepish as mum Nepal gives him a good wash round the ears.

Andi

Book Now