Filming reindeer

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They say you should avoid filming with children and animals and there is no doubt that both can be unpredictable. However in the case of our reindeer I think there is an exception to the rule and whether we are filming with celebrities or for natural history our reindeer are always very amenable, willing and predictable. As long as there is a reward – food.

A couple of years ago we were approached by a TV company, Maramedia with a view to filming our reindeer as part of a four part series on the natural world of the Highlands – Scotland’s Wild Heart. We were really pleased to be considered as part of the Highland fauna because our reindeer are a re-introduced species to Scotland and so ‘purists’ may feel reindeer should not have been included. But the Cairngorm reindeer are truly living in their natural habitat and as the filming showed, highly adapted to the Cairngorms, Britain’s only arctic environment.

The film crew decided to focus on our reindeer in the autumn and winter, seasons when reindeer are looking at their very best. The rutting season in autumn is always a spectacular affair and every year we have a number of breeding bulls who sometimes ‘fight it out’ to decide who will be ‘top dog’.

In 2014 the two main bulls were Bovril and Gandi and they were very evenly matched. They were also quite different colouring and so in the narration Ewan McGregor referred to them as the pale bull ( Gandi ) and the dark bull ( Bovril ). It made me smile because it sounded like something out of a western!

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Fiona starring in Highlands Book

 

When reindeer bulls fight it is head on and locked antlers and a trial of strength, a bit like arm wrestling but with more action! Size, strength and experience (which comes with age) all come into the equation.

The film crew then returned a few more times over the winter to film reindeer living in arctic conditions. Of course reindeer are past masters at this and a bed of snow is extremely comfortable for a reindeer, who have such a dense insulating coat they don’t even melt the snow they are lying on! At a preview night where the makers of the series showcased the series to a local audience the camera man who came to film mentioned it was the coldest he had been when filming the reindeer in winter. He should have had a reindeer coat on.

Tilly

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The “Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart” book

We currently have the beautiful book which accompanies the Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart series in stock in our shop. You can pop into the shop in Glenmore and pick it up for only £25, or order by emailing or telephoning us here at the centre. P+P on request.

 

 

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Fergus

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Well, he stole the hearts of many a visitor last year and we are often asked for updates on the boy, so I thought I’d do a quick blog about the naughty man. I am, of course, talking about the darling little Fergus!

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Fergus looking angelic on the hill

In June 2015, Foil gave birth to a baby boy. She was a relatively old mother at 13 and unfortunately became ill only a few days after having her calf. We did our best to look after her, but sadly she passed away. The average life span of a reindeer is around 12-14 years, and the vet thinks that Foil had a heart problem, probably linked to old age. This left us with a baby reindeer to hand rear and the prospect of it both excited and dismayed us. Looking after a little reindeer is great, but when they need constant feeding and they decide to poo in your living room, sometimes it can be a little trying. I’m sure you parents out there are scoffing at our patheticness but none of us herders here at the centre have babies, and after this experience I’m sure it will be a while before any of us are having our own!

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Fergus sleeping in a feed bowl, inside reindeer house.

So, from 10 days old, Fergus lived at the Centre with a few of the herders. Luckily for them he spent most of his time in the paddocks, but herder Mel took a real shine to him and he was often found napping in her room on her rare days off. Fergus needed feeding 5 times a day, and he soon got to know the times to expect a bottle. He would often be found at the end of the paddocks closest to the house, grunting his little heart out for 5 minutes before his goat milk and growth powder formula arrived. It was always fun for our visitors to see him getting his bottle.

Fergus grew up with dogs around him so is not too worried by the resident reindeer house dogs – Tiree, Murdo and Sookie – who used to cuddle up with him. Murdo always loved to lick Fergus, making it look like Murdo had adopted the little reindeer! Fergus loved to sleep in the dog beds too.

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Fergus and Tiree guarding the door

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Murdo and Fergus on a ride up to the hill

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Trying some different beds out for size

Fergus was quite the star last year, ending up in the Press and Journal, our local newspaper. He was even on the front page!

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Fergus in the news and up on the hill

In the autumn, Fergus spent more time up in our hill enclosure, eventually living up there full time and just getting a few bottles a day whilst we were doing visits and feeding the other reindeer. Our other calves came back off the free-range and we started to train them to wear a headcollar. Fergus was already adept at this as we had been leading him on and off the hill earlier in the year, and he was a good role model for some of the other calves who were a little shyer around us.

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Little Fergus ‘helping out’ on a trek in 2015

Fergus then went off on Christmas tour and of course, he went in Mel’s team. He is pretty naughty and managed to steal mince pies on one of his events, and was trying to nab some Celebrations chocolate on his posh Windsor event as well!

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Fergus having a cuddle with ‘mum’ Mel

Then the day came when Mel had to say bye to Fergus, at least for a little while. He had tried bonding with the females way back in autumn, but didn’t really have any success, so had to go onto the Cromdale hills with our other boys to free-range for winter. Fergus had been living in the hill enclosure for a while before we took him and the last remaining boys from the enclosure over to the farm to be led onto the free-range. Mel was upset to see her baby boy head off, but it was the best thing for him.

Soon enough the winter was over and Fergus came off the free-range with the other boys, not a care in the world and ready to get fat over summer. He’s grown a lot since he was a calf, so has spent most of the year over at the farm as he has a tendency to jump on unsuspecting children and give them a fright.

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Cheeky devil!

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Fergus looking great at 1.5 years old

He has been to the Centre for a couple of flying visits, staying in the paddocks, and delighting our visitors. In April, Mel ran the Paris marathon and as a surprise Fergus was brought over here as a well done for her. We made him a little paper collar, congratulating Mel on her run and I’m sure she enjoyed having him round again! He’s been in the house a couple of times over the summer, but he is now far too big for the dog beds he used to sleep in. It’s also not quite so cute anymore when he does his business in the house!

Now Fergus is a cheeky reindeer as you know. His level of foolishness was put up a notch a few weeks ago while we were out painting. Dave was out in the paddocks painting the posts a new and shiny coat of red. Well, you guessed it; he turned his back for only a few moments and Fergus is rubbing his big nose up and down a freshly painted post. And sure enough he turns his face, proudly exhibiting a bright red nose. Though apparently, even with a red nose, Fergus cannot fly. Thanks for the entertainment Ferg!

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He’s a hilarious little reindeer who will no doubt make us laugh for many a year to come. Hopefully he’ll get to come up on the hill in a few years, once he’s learnt some manners!

Imogen

Summer solstice and reindeer herding!

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For me the summer solstice always fell on June 21st and I never knew otherwise however apparently this year it was on the 20th… Something to do with being a leap year?!? Anyway to mark the occasion it’s always quite nice to do something, whether we get a group of folk together and have a game of rounders or go for a nice ‘summery’ walk. This year we decided to take a wander up into the Northern Coire’s – Coire an Lochain in particular! Looking up from Glenmore and Loch Morlich this is the furthest right Coire with a large patch of snow on the right hand side of it. Mid-summer here always seems to be fairly awful weather, I even recall wearing my waterproof ski trousers for this about 4-5 years ago and in true Scottish Highlands style this year was no different. However, it wasn’t raining so we were already up on other years!

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So we set off up the path into the Coire and it took us about an hour of which we chit chatted the whole way, of course putting the world to rights! Right in the back of Coire An Lochain there is, as stated in its name, a wee loch. We arrived with bags filled with tea and cake (very important for us reindeer herders), my bagpipes and four fairly hyper dogs (3 of them being under the age of two). As we arrived into the Coire something caught my eye… 4 reindeer behind the loch. Straight away dogs were called in and put on a leads, just in case, and I scooted over towards them to see if I could see who it was. Malawi, one of our older females in the herd at the age of 11 now was leading them away from us and she was followed by Okapi and two younger females (who I didn’t get close enough to, to ID). A three year old and a two year old, I got that much! They obviously weren’t too keen on coming up to us as we had the dogs but they did stop in their tracks when I started calling them, it was just unfortunate I didn’t any food as a bit of bribery to come a bit closer, then I would have definitely worked out the other two. Malawi is easy to identify because she has never grown any antlers which is pretty unusual.

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Like I said the reindeer didn’t hang around as they don’t like dogs so we got onto what was also very important after our walk in – tea, cake and a quick blast on the bagpipes. I’m not really in practice at the moment so any wee slip up with notes I blamed on the cold weather and my fingers weren’t working properly but they sounded pretty awesome in the Coire getting good acoustics bouncing off the head wall. At this time of year it is light until about midnight and light again in the morning round 3.30am. Such a lovely time of year which is why we try to make the most of it by being outside. It’s a bit different in the winter months when it isn’t light until 9am and dark by 3.30pm but it’s also nice to have that comparison throughout the year too. Of course in the far north and Scandinavia they have the midnight sun… I shall have to go and see that one year for sure!

Tea in Coire An Lochain

Fiona

Always be prepared…

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At the beginning of March an event occurred in the Cairngorms which only happens once every three years… El Nino or meteor showers you may ask, no, the Reindeer Herders got our First Aid training! On a snowy morning we all headed down to our local village of Kincraig to meet our wonderful trainer Pete from Outwardly Mobile First Aid in Newtonmore (Look them up if you need training local folks!).

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Pete, our trainer, prepared for every situation

You’ll be glad to know that our course was aimed specifically at Outdoor Emergency First Aid, rather handy seeing as we spend lots of time out on the mountains. However, although we can theoretically now deal with almost any eventuality whilst on the hill with our lovely visitors, please don’t throw yourself off the path to test it…

As you can imagine we turned up in true reindeer herder style (slightly shambolic… but still classy I think..). Our first, or rather my (Abby) first faux pas was failing to find the ‘Meeting Room’ we were using… apparently it said it on the door… who knew! After setting up in what was basically a spare cupboard, the keeper of the hall turned up and set us right! We also had one special reindeer herder on-site to make sure we were taking things mega seriously…

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Tip brushing up on her skills

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Tip standing in as a casualty

She valiantly guarded us and made sure we practiced our First Aid to our full abilities!

While learning the finer arts of CPR we were all granted our own CPR dummy faces (for hygiene) although they were a tad creepy…

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Pete despairing at his class of dummies

After going through all the basics, recovery positions, CPR and Defibrillator training it was time for the fun stuff… the scenarios! This was AWESOME! We got to dress up AND behave like idiots – in my case, my job on one scenario was to be a stressed out bystander to a cardiac arrest… there was even a prop chainsaw involved… EPIC! (We did also learn a lot of useful stuff too – like how to prioritise your patients and keep people calm).

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Checking for danger (village halls can be dodgy places)

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Check for a response, airway and breathing

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No response – call for help (note Imogen – “I have an unresponsive casualty, not breathing, who appear to have lost all of its limbs, clothes and hair”)

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Commence CPR

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Recovery position and recovering Imogen on a stretcher made from a bivvy bag

After two intense and riotous days we all successfully passed (woohoo!) but Imogen was so super serious she got two certificates to prove her dedication to the First Aid cause!

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So whilst we sincerely hope that our skills won’t be called upon, if the worst happens at least we’re all up to speed and well rehearsed on what we need to do.

Abby

The Cairngorm Dog Centre

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As many of you may know, the Reindeer Centre is not only home to many reindeer, but also several dogs. They are all perfectly unique in their look and personality, and don’t usually get in the way too much when we’re doing ‘reindeer stuff’.

There are three dogs here full time: Tiree, Sookie, and Murdoch. Sookie is a little older than the other two, but she can still rough and tumble like the best of them when she’s gone “wild” (by which we mean, she has a little bark and gets excited, but that’s about it). Tiree and Murdoch are the best of pals, and really enjoy having play fights. Sometimes these play fights sound vicious, but they’re all bark and no bite.

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Broc, Murdoch and Sookie at the summit of Meall ‘a Bhuacaille

There are a couple of other regular visitors, Tip and Moskki. They are both ‘farm dogs’ and are full of energy. Although Moskki is small, she is always up for playing with the other, much larger dogs, and usually wins! She is also a complete sook and will climb onto your shoulder if you’re in the office for a cuddle and a perusal out the window at what’s going on. Tip is very much a ‘one man dog’ and adores Alex. She usually sleeps the day away when he’s not here, but when he is here, Tip is the most vocal of dogs. Ask her to “speak up” and she has a frighteningly loud bark!

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Murdoch looking majestic on the way down Meall ’a Bhuachaille

And then there’s my pooch. He doesn’t often visit the Centre, but when he does, he’s a little overwhelmed by the madness. Broc is a Heinz 57 of a dog, and is middle aged at least. He loves to cuddle and sleep, and eat and sleep, and chase a ball and sleep. Basically, he is a sleeping machine, and can spend hours in bed quite happily. Here at the Centre, he doesn’t get much chance to sleep, and he disapproves of the young ones and their playing. He usually hangs around with me in the office and then will sit at the door and wait for me to come back if I dare to leave him. He is just a lot quieter than these dogs, but is usually fine after a few hours and after telling the other dogs to leave him alone.

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Broc and Murdoch enjoying a walk

He recently came on his ‘holidays’ to the Centre when my partner and I attended a wedding in Dundee. I filled a huge box of food for him (as every protective mother likes to feed up their babies), left a whole load of Dentasticks, gave him a cuddle and left. I knew he would be well taken care of, and this was confirmed when I got a late night message from Abby, proclaiming Broc as the King of Reindeer House dogs. Now, you need to understand, in Reindeer House, the dogs don’t get on the furniture. Not for any reason other than if all the dogs were on the seats, there’d be no room for people. The picture I received of Broc defied this rule. Broc was cuddled up on a seat, looking down on his minions. His minions were the three Reindeer House dogs, Tiree, Sookie and Murdoch. They were all sat on the floor, waiting for instructions from their King. I was pleased to see that Broc was making himself at home, but thought it a little unfair for the other three to be upstaged by their visitor. Upon my return, Mel also explained that when Broc had the stick, the stick belonged to him, and everyone knew that. Usually Sookie, Tiree and Murdoch will fight over sticks, chasing each other, playing a game. But Broc was different. The other dogs did not dare challenge him, and he was happy.

Broc might not be the best dog for obedience or sharing, but I’ll forgive him for being so cute.

Imogen

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King Broc with his minions, and the joy of a stick!