A Recovery Mission

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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 the Cromdale mountains (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.

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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…).

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Fern and Clootie couldn’t quite believe what their greed had done to them

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Fiona delighted that we’d been prepared and brought food

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

 

 

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A Visitor’s View

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Once or twice each day, we take a group of people up the hill to see the reindeer in their natural habitat. Many people cannot believe how friendly and inquisitive (and often greedy!) they are, and it can be wonderful for us to see visitors’ reactions to these wonderful creatures.

Its interesting for us to hear how our visitors percieve the hill trip, and so this week, our blog post comes not from us, but from a blog written by a couple of our visitors. Click on this link to view the post on the ‘Find Yourself Lost’ blog by John and Holly.

The photos capture incredibly well the natural beauty and wildness of the Cairngorms, and we thank John and Holly for their willingness for us to share their post.

 

 

Memorable reindeer of the past: Minstrel

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Having been brought up with the reindeer I have had numerous favourites during that time, one of which was Minstrel. He was a dark coloured male and born in 1998 into the sweetie and chocolates theme. I was 11 when he was born. I remember when he was just 1-2 years old he became quite unwell but with lots of TLC and extra lichen he pulled through and made a full recovery. I think having spent this time with him getting better I grew a soft spot for him.

He was a very greedy reindeer which meant he was also super tame… especially as he had the extra handling when he was unwell. If he ever got his head in the bag of food it was an absolute mission to get it back out again! When he got to the age of 4 he became a Christmas reindeer and from the moment we trained him to harness and pulling the sleigh he was an absolute pro! For many years we would call on his expertise to help train new Christmas reindeer who were learning the ropes.

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Minstrel taking a wee rest amid the rest of the herd, probably digesting all that food…

Minstrel went from being young to old, there never seemed to be a middle part. So even though he was middle aged for a long time he was always referred to as an ‘old boy’! On Christmas events he would take part in a parade, whether it be pulling the sleigh or walking at the back being the perfect role model, then as soon as the team went into a display pen Minstrel would eat his food (or mainly all the lichen off the top of all the food bowls) then take position right in the middle of the bed of straw for the next couple of hours. He has even been known to completely fall asleep, mid event, out on his side even with a potential snore in there!

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Look at all the lichen under his feet!

He had a lovely nature and lived to a good age. He would eat anything offered to him, even a banana flapjack as someone once witnessed. He is one of those legend reindeer we will always talk fondly and forever compare other reindeer if they are misbehaving, wishing they would be more like him.

Fiona

How does a reindeer see the world?

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We always encourage questions on our Hill Trips; some are simple to answer whilst others get us thinking more and this particular question even inspired me to write a blog!

“Are reindeer colour blind?”

The simple answer is… no. Reindeer, like other species of deer, are not colour blind, although they do see the world in a different way to us humans.

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How does Baffin see the world?

If you take a look at the visible spectrum below, reindeer can only see the colours at one end of it. They only see the short (blue) and middle (green) wavelength colours. This means they can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red. Therefore, their vision is thought to be similar to a human with red-green colour blindness.

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The visible spectrum – the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Image taken from Wikimedia.

So, when us Reindeer Herders go out for a Hill Trip wearing our bright red waterproof jackets, the reindeer would think we were camouflaged with the green hillside behind us. And there was I thinking we stand out!

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Lotti the Reindeer Herder taking a rest! To a reindeer our red jackets would not be distinguishable from the green grass.

To get a little bit more scientific this is because humans have three different kinds of cone cells in the retina which can detect the entire visible light spectrum. However, deer only have two sets of cones meaning that they cannot distinguish the longer wavelengths.

However, as I discovered this is not the end of the story of how a reindeer sees the world…. fascinatingly, they are one of only a tiny number of mammals which can also see ultraviolet!

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On the electromagnetic spectrum, ultraviolet fits in right between visible light and X-rays. Image from NOAA.

Humans can’t see UV light but it is in sunlight so we are exposed to it every day; suntans (or in my case freckling and sunburn!) are familiar effects of our exposure to it!

So this led me to ponder the question “why have reindeer evolved to have UV vision?”

Researchers think that reindeer have adapted to see in UV as they live in a very UV-rich world. It’s thought that snow reflects around 90% of the UV light that hits it, compared to snow-free land which usually only reflects a few per cent.

Therefore, reindeer have adapted to their white world and have taken full advantage of it! Their special ability to see in UV allows them to spot things that other mammals would miss and helps them to find food and stay safe.

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A reindeer in a white, UV-rich world.

In the frozen white Arctic where the vast majority of the landscape would reflect the UV light, there are a few things which would absorb it. Predators, such as wolves, who to us would appear camouflaged actually stand out to a reindeer as their fur (and also their urine – a sign of a potential predator!) absorbs the UV light making them appear dark grey/black against the white, snowy background. Clever!

Similarly lichen, a major food source for reindeer in the winter months, also absorbs UV light. So if there was a tuft of lichen sticking up above the snow it would also appears very dark allowing the reindeer to see it clearly, in stark contrast to the UV-reflecting snow.

Therefore, they can avoid animals which might want to eat them and instead find lots of delicious lichen to devour for themselves!

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Winter coats, huge feet and the ability to see in UV… perfectly adapted animals for their snowy, cold world.

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A close up of Bovril’s beautiful eyes… Just because!

We’re always getting lots of interesting questions and I look forward to the next one which gets me hitting the books… and maybe even writing another blog!

Ruth

 

A Pied Wagtail story

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Up on the hill in our 1200 acre enclosure there is a shed. We use the shed to house sick reindeer, catch the wild ones, and store all our hill-working tools and materials.

For the last couple of months we have had a visitor in our shed on the hill. A little female Pied Wagtail decided that the shed made an excellent house to hold her nest, and it even came supplied with a renewing source of insulation – reindeer hair!

Tucked neatly out of the way, hidden behind some spare fencing wire, Mrs Pied Wagtail laid her second-of-the-year clutch of four teeny-tiny Pied Wagtail eggs. With the reindeer hair lining, and her body warmth for much of the day, the eggs were kept nice and toasty through the variable Scottish summer.

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Can you spot the nest?

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Mrs Pied Wagtail has used her initiative and used all the spare winter-coat reindeer hair to line her nest. Each reindeer hair is hollow, making it an excellent insulator.

On the morning of the 18th of July, we walked into the shed to the shed to find four little chicks huddled up against the nest. A couple of days later we were greeted by the sound of cheeping, and were delighted to find 4 yellow open beaks hungrily competing for food. It is of course incredibly important not to disturb the mother on her nest, or the chicks whilst they are alone, so these photos were taken quickly whilst the mother was already away.

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The newly hatched chicks, huddled up keeping warm whilst Mamma Wagtail is away.

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Four little chicks on the 24th July, hungrily asking for food.

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After 2 weeks in the nest, the chicks are noticably bigger and ready to fledge!

Pied Wagtails are a common British bird, often known by slightly unusual nicknames such as ‘Polly Washdish’, or ‘Dishwasher’. These names are thought to come from olden days when women would wash dishes in streams where Pied Wagtails were common. They are lovely, sprightly birds that appear very cheerful and eager with their wagging tails and chirping call.

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A fully gown Pied Wagtail. Photo by Albert Bridge.

By the 31st of July, the chicks had fledged, and are now off in the big bad world, where we wish them all the best. We are always happy to see birds and beasts using our shed for shelter, and hope to see our little female Pied Wagtail back next year!

Morna

Identifying reindeer: A summer guide

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Every reindeer has their own name, based on a different theme every year. Last year the theme was ancient civilisations but we have also had more ridiculous themes such as pop stars (Elvis, Marley, Blondie) and cheeses (Feta, Mozzarella, Brie). However, with almost 160 reindeer in the herd, there is a lot of reindeer to identify and name! I work as a herder during the summer which is a bit easier for identifying the reindeer, so this blog will describe how I go about naming them.

In the summer the reindeer’s antlers are nearly fully grown and most have distinctive shapes which grow back the same every year. The big breeding bulls usually have huge antlers that stand out amongst the crowd, for example Bovril, who has large dark antlers with two big blades at the front (the blade is the part of the antler witch grows downwards over their face to protect it). The Christmas reindeer (those who have been castrated to control the breeding) usually grow smaller but more ‘messy’ antlers that go off in all directions. This year Nutkins, a very friendly five year old, has small antlers that have parts growing in around seven directions!

 

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Bovril has huge dark antlers when covered in velvet. He is also one of the biggest and darkest reindeer in the herd.

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Nutkins searching over my shoulder for some food.

Another main difference for the reindeer at this time is they have moulted their thick winter coats to reveal their much thinner and darker summer coats. There is a lot more variety in colours between these, some being very dark, such as Orkney, or much lighter like Origami. A few also have interesting facial markings such as Laptev who has a pink nose. These reindeer are all so distinctive that they can be identified from a distance.

 

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Orkney can be easily identified by his dark coat and greedy personality!

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Origami saving some energy walking on the board walk. He has completely moulted his winter coat in this picture, which is almost pure white in places, unusual for a summer coat on a reindeer.

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Laptev with his very distinct pink nose.

All the reindeer have different personalities. On hill trips it is usually the same group of four or five reindeer that come up for hand feeding and don’t leave until all the food is gone! This means that all us herders can easily identify the greediest reindeer in the herd (such as Orkney as mentioned before).

If the reindeer is normal coloured with ordinary antlers and a shy personality, identifying them can be harder. In this case we can get a bit closer to the reindeer and look at their left ear which will have a coloured ear tag. Every year has a different colour of tag and a different theme for naming (eg. 2013 was a yellow tag and the theme was cheeses). There is usually only three or four reindeer from each year so it is easier to narrow it down and work out the differences between them in each year.

If all else fails, we can cheat! Every ear tag has a different number and each herder has a herds list so we can easily look up who it is we are struggling to identify.

Most of the reindeer mentioned in this blog are currently up in our hill enclosure so if you’re planning a visit soon why not try and identify one for yourself!

Julia

 

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

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Hello, my name is Olly; I’ve been working at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for about 3 years now. I first came up volunteering for work experience when I was studying Countryside conservation and Wildlife management at Sparsholt College. I started once more this season in May and since being here there hasn’t been a dull moment.

I keep on being badgered to write a blog but I have never been sure what to say. I am also dyslexic and so unfortunately writing is not one of my favourite things to do, but… I do like to take pictures! So here are some photos of mine that I have taken since I have been back with my perspective on them. And as they say, “a picture paints a thousand words”..

Picture 1: May time is calving time, which means its time for 5am starts, in our search for the newborns out on the hill. I often like an early start (as long as I have a strong coffee) as you’re seizing the day. What a day it was, not a cloud in sight and just a soft cooling breeze with the hill alight with the morning sun. I was also excited to see Black Grouse lekking in the enclosure. We eventually found the new mother Gazelle and her wee one, who was a strong healthy male.

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Black Loch looking out to Creag Chalamein

 

Picture 2: One thing I love about it here are all the lochs and rivers, as a few of us at the Reindeer Centre made a New Year’s resolution to jump in a fresh body of water once a month or week. Trying to do this down south was rather difficult and I had to go to the coast to achieve it. But now in Scotland there’s somewhere to swim around every corner. Since being back I have been in 5 different lochs and a couple of rivers. It may be cold at times but you’re surprisingly warm once you’re out, athough I’m usually on a run when I do jump in so the blood is pumping. But I highly recommend an occasional dip.

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Nothing like a quick dip to warm (or cool) the cockles of your heart.

 

Picture 3 and 4: The long socks and trainers were on, my belly was full of stew and the calf was well rested…. It was time for the cows and calves to head out on the free range. We headed out late in the evening to lessen the chances of us bumping into dogs and as we came over the brow of the hill the hills were looking fierce, but the show must go on.

With Tilly leading one of the females (Fern) on a halter; myself, Fiona, Morna, and Ceris followed from the sides and the back in case the reindeer decide to go their own way. At one point they did, but we managed to get them on the right path in the end.

Pushing them out wasn’t so bad. All you had to do was keep the right distance – far enough not to scare them but close enough to keep them moving. Apart from almost falling off the edge of a scree at one point it was just a case of getting them far out in to the hills. As we let them run off, it was rewarding to see calves running up in to the hills alongside their mothers.

Now came the race against the light! We were lucky and just as it became pitch black we made it back to the van, although going through the trees past Utsi’s bridge was rather eerie. We eventually got back to Reindeer House and celebrated with a wee dram.

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The clouds looming low over the hills as we set off.

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The cows and calves silhouetted against the low cloud.

 

Picture 5: The woman in this photo herding the reindeer is called Sally. She often wears a shirt with a sunflower design on it which suits her personality to a T. She brings sunshine to Reindeer House as she is a true pleasure to work with, and has to be one of the jolliest people I have ever met.

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Sally closely followed by the herd.

 

Picture 6: Though our days are busy and the hills and forestry tracks are a hive of activity, once the clock reaches 5:30pm Glenmore turns into a ghost town. With the sun setting late in the evening, we go to the hills. It is treat to have this on your doorstep and is a grand way to end the day, by gazing into the distance of this colossal landscape. It really makes you think how small we all are.

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The hills shining and bright as the sun goes down. We feel like the only ones alive.

Olly