High Season Across the Highlands
May and June are traditionally the most popular wildlife watching months in the Highlands. Summer visitors have all arrived, breeding is in full swing, and the weather is warm and pleasant. On this two-centred holiday we spend time enjoying all the species which make Scotland so special. We combine the tranquil Caledonian pinewoods and the vast Cairngorm mountain plateau with an overnight stay to soak up the rugged beauty and desolate vistas of the West Coast, as we visit every habitat in search of birds, including the glorious skua and seabird colony of Handa Island. It really is time to enjoy High Season ACROSS the Highlands.
KEY MOMENTS at our Friday round-up - which will be yours?
- Glorious Handa, with breeding skuas and thousands of auks
- Dotterel and Ptarmigan on the high plateau
- Hen Capercaillie with chicks from the safe vantage of our mobile hide
- Golden and White-tailed Eagles wheeling overhead in the clear blue sky
Day 1 (Saturday) - Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
Day 2 (Sunday) - A morning in the Abernethy to look for Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill. We often see adults with fledged young at this time. Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland. Your list may include, including perhaps Osprey, Dipper, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Redpoll, Peregrine, a host of breeding waders and Slavonian Grebe. Often over fifty species are seen on this day. The beauty of divers and grebes in breeding plumage spellbinds many of our guests, and during this holiday we make time to find them at close quarters to admire them. Obviously this will be done in a sensitive and responsible way, and our mobile hide minibuses will be invaluable!
Days 3&4 (Monday & Tuesday) GLORIOUS HANDA ISLAND & THE NORTH WEST COAST
A major thrill, we go to Handa for a real birding treat. Great and Arctic Skua announce their presence by dive-bombing as we walk along the duckboard pathways, occasionally making contact if we are too close. Thousands of birds breed here, and Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill mingle with Fulmar, Kittiwake and Shag on the cliffs. Gannet fish close to the island, and with Black Guillemot, Raven, Red Grouse, ‘real’ Rock Dove, Snipe, Redpoll, Sedge Warbler, Eider, Hooded Crow and Great Northern and Red-throated Diver around to keep us interested, every minute on Handa is completely absorbing. A full day, rounded off with an overnight stay in a picturesque West Coast location.
The following morning, we explore the many hidden and under-explored treasures of the north-west coastline. Black-throated Divers, Common Scoters, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers are found on the sea, Twite, Wheatear and Whinchat can be found in roadside bushes, though our main priority is to find Golden and White-tailed Eagles soaring over the imposing, steep crags, and deep blue freshwater lochs. We meander our way along the stunning coastline at a leisurely pace before returning back to Nethybridge in time for dinner on Tuesday evening.
Day 5 (Wednesday) – Day 7 (Friday) - Capercaillie! We visit our exclusive private estate woodlands in our large minibus. In June hen birds are more likely, perhaps with chicks. We have plenty of Capercaillie spots, many unknown to others, so you have every chance with Heatherlea. Later we seek out secluded locations with Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Twite, Red Kite and Ring Ouzel as our targets. At this time of year we often see eagles wheeling over cliff tops with prey, and this can be a good time to enjoy close views. Stonechat, Common Sandpiper and a host of Scottish moorland specialities complete a lovely day.
We spend a full day on the plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in May and June is very good, and once Dotterel are ‘in’ by early May only bad weather can stop us seeing them. We carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, and we also take care not to disturb the birds. Look out also for Snow Bunting (often singing). Brilliant birding in a very special habitat.
An optional early start to see Black Grouse at the lek is a great start one day – the birds are more active in May than June. After breakfast we may head north to explore coastal haunts, and could expect to see a range of breeding birds including Osprey fishing, Common Eider, Goosander, Merganser, Stonechat, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern, Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill are also likely. We may also round up any species we have missed during the week, and search for any rarities within reach.
Day 8 (Saturday) - Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.
Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and even snow are possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing. Walking will be easy/moderate, although mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is strenuous. See 'Easy Walking' for holidays with less walking. Telescopes will be useful, and you should bring binoculars. A camera would be useful too! You don't need flasks for hot drinks or wellies. Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, though not as a serious problem.
What's included in your holiday price
Six nights comfortable accommodation at The Mountview Hotel, VisitScotland rated 3 Star. All rooms are en-suite, with colour TV and hospitality tray. There is no single supplement, and guests are never expected to share. Single guests may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge. One night (Monday) comfortable accommodation on the west coast of Scotland.
Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
Six full days birdwatching.
All transport by comfortable PCV minibus. All access and boat fee to Handa.
Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
What's not included in your holiday price
Transport to The Mountview Hotel.
Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
Make the most of your birding time in Scotland by joining another Heatherlea holiday. Combine our 'High Season across the Highlands' holiday with 'Mull and the Treshnish Isles' or 'Orkney Islands Adventure'
Enjoy an excellent wildlife holiday with mainland Scotland's only 5 star Wildlife Experience.
'Exceptional' Visit Scotland
High Season in the Highlands, - guest comments at our Friday round-up
"I was told that my target of a Pine Marten for this week was unlikely to be achieved, so to see one minutes into my holiday was my greatest highlight! All the rest was a bonus. A fantastic week." JT
"I had up to twenty-one lifers this week, which included Golden Eagle. But the highlight of my week was the really close up Wood Warblers with their beaks full of insects." SL
"Climbing the Cairngorms was a great feat, but to see that Ptarmigan on its rock was my highlight. Couldn't help thinking that Jonny had some kind of remote, whereby he was moving it ever so slightly. I could hardly believe my eyes; it was such a stunning bird. I saw four lifers." JB
"I am probably the only person here who is not a birder, but I thoroughly enjoyed the week. However, seeing the Pine Marten, Dotterel, and the baby Red Squirrel were my wildlife highlights. But it was great to experience the outdoors, most especially the mountain and Handa." LC
"Seeing the Dotterel run up so close to the chap who was sitting on the ground was so amazing!" MC
"The company on this holiday has been so good, and everyone has been so helpful to each other. The guides have been great too. I have had four lifers. The Dotterel and Ptarmigan were my highlights." DH
"This is the first time I have been on a group holiday and the company has been really good, but I can't say the same about the jokes! I have had four lifers this week and it has been thoroughly enjoyable." BS
"My highlights were the baby Dippers seen from Dulsie Bridge and the Red Squirrel, which was a lifer with Crested Tit. Even though I had worked as a volunteer for the RSPB up here many years ago, I did not get to see them. Now I know where to come when I want to see any wildlife! Mountview Hotel has been an absolutely brilliant place to stay. It's so laid-back and relaxed. When we have come back up here we have tried to find some of the places that are good for birding, but kept getting lost. Now that we have been with you we are so grateful to you for showing us so many excellent places to go." MH
"The exquisite plumage of the baby Dippers." OL
"We have been with Heatherlea before, but I have never had such excellent sustained views of Ring Ouzel as we have had on this holiday. Neither have I ever seen Scottish Crossbill so stunningly well in his orange burnished livery." RL
"It was a great achievement to see Ptarmigan again after twenty years. My other highlight has to be such excellent views of the Black Throated Divers." RJ
"I would have to agree that my highlights were the Ptarmigan and Black Throated Divers. However, I should like to add, that it was with some apprehension, that I came on holiday with Heatherlea, not having been on a group holiday before, and after having come through quite a rough time personally, but Ican honestly say that this holiday has done me a power of good." PS
"My son, being a Munro bagger has been giving me a really hard time, telling me that I should climb mountains so that I could see Ptarmigan and Dotterel. It is with an air of great satisfaction that I can now tell him that I have at last seen them!" MW
"I had many birds that I very much enjoyed seeing, but Dotterel was right up there at the top, the Crossbills, Mealy Redpoll, the Goldeneye with ducklings, the young Dippers from Dulsie Bridge, and also the Divers right up at the top too." JC
"The Ptarmigan was a great achievement after the toil up the mountain to get to them. I so much enjoyed the historical interludes which helped to introduce us to the area and enrich the experience. It is the first time we have been on a group holiday and it won't be the last. We will be back." RB
"Thank-you so much for encouraging me to go that little bit further to see the Dotterel. It was really worth it. The cock Ptarmigan was really beautiful and so were the Slavonian Grebes." BS
"The Ptarmigan was a lifer for us. Thank-you for helping Betty and I up the mountain." GS
High Season in the Highlands
“My highlight was spotting the Dotterel, because they were so elusive. And my high day was seeing Caper and Dotterel on the same day!” SM
“The Caper day was my favourite with lots of different places that we went to, great weather, two different kinds of Hare and a fishing Osprey.” AS
“I really appreciated the Slavonian Grebes, their beautiful colours and more prolonged views than usual. My best day was on Handa with the fun of the boat trip over there. The whole holiday had so much variety.” TH
“The Dotterel was my special bird, but the best day was on Handa, with the thrill of the Great Skuas flying above our heads.” RP
“The Osprey just is! The Caper/Dotterel day 15th June all day, fantastic!” SP
“I just had to tie Red throated and Black throated Divers in first place. The day we saw the Dotterel on the mountain was glorious.” AP
“I have wanted to see Dotterel all my life, and it was so unique to observe them in that very special habitat.” TB
“The Dotterel and the Cairngorms re-visited.” GM
“It was very satisfying to see Ptarmigan. Handa was really special, but I enjoyed every day.” AL
“My favourite bird was the Osprey, followed closely by Crested Tit. I really enjoyed the rest of the day after seeing the Capers in the estate, with flat, easy walking in varied woodland settings.” PD
“Birds of prey were our favourites with Golden Eagle in particular. And the best day was Handa Island.” BS and LE
“My bird was the Caper, and the best day was today on Handa. The best night we had was last night, when we celebrated Roy and Sheila’s 49th wedding anniversary. And the best part of the holiday has been the excellent company that I have been sharing this week in a first rate hotel and expert guides.” JM
Guides:- Dave Pullen and Jonny Pott