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Birding the Highlands in May

A fantastic week of birding across the Highlands, from the Cairngorm mountains to both coasts

2025 Dates
  • 03 May - 10 May 2025
  • 17 May - 24 May 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

Birding the wonderful Scottish Highlands in May is one of the greatest pleasures available in the UK. With summer visitors arriving in good numbers, and key speciality birds still displaying or breeding, there is so much going on. We enjoy six tremendous days of wildlife watching, and all within striking distance of our hotel here in Nethy Bridge. All the special birds of the Scottish Highlands are in our sights, and this is a perfect option to make the most of this wonderful time of year.

An ideal tour for the first-time visitor or the seasoned expert, 'Birding the Highlands in May' offers a wealth of variety. On local days we look for forest specialities including Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill, plus Slavonian Grebe on moorland lochans. Raptors including White-tailed Eagle will be at the fore on a day touring the stunning west with summer-plumaged Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Diver and Otter likely too. Our Troup Head boat trip, scouring cliffs busy with seabirds will be another highlight, while time spent exploring estuaries, coastal bays and farmland on the Moray coast and Black Isle help amass a high bird-list!

And, just when you thought you had been everywhere with Heatherlea....

Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
.....we came up with a brilliant addition to our spring itinerary! This brand-new day takes you eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. The Black Grouse lek here is a great start to our day, and we watch for Goshawk nearby. Travelling through fields of waders we reach Royal Deeside to have a chance of Ptarmigan without walking too far, before pausing at watchpoints to look for raptors. White-tailed and Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite are among the possibilities - we have seen 10 species on this day before! On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive vehicle access to secluded spots. You won’t see many other birders, and from these we are well placed to look for Golden Eagle and Merlin, Raven, Ring Ouzel, Red Grouse and a range of other woodland and moorland species make a truly special day.

KEY MOMENTS at our Friday round-up – which will be yours?

  • Black Grouse and other forest specialities.
  • Newly arriving Dotterel joining Ptarmigan on the mountains.
  • Wonderful coastal birding, including a visit to the west coast.
  • Divers and Slavonian Grebe in fresh spring plumage.

Day 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.

Day 2: Sunday - Local Specialities
We begin with a local day, and our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats. After breakfast we head to nearby Abernethy Forest, to look for Crested Tit, other local breeding birds and Red Squirrel. Scottish Crossbill are found in the pine forests and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Tree Pipit and Redstart often return to the woods at this time, and later we seek out secluded locations with Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Cuckoo and Slavonian Grebe as our targets. We may visit a number of moorland spots on this lovely day, including a drive which may give views of Red Grouse and Black-throated Diver in breeding finery.

Day 3: Monday - The Wild West Coast
Today we head across the Highlands to the West Coast, where our key target is White-tailed Eagle. We have excellent chances of Golden Eagle too, and other western birds of interest include Hen Harrier, Merlin, Hooded Crow, Twite and Cuckoo. On the sea, Black Guillemot, Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Diver will be in full breeding plumage, while Otter, Grey and Common Seal plus cetaceans may also be seen on this fantastic day amidst fabulous scenery.

Day 4: Tuesday - Black Isle
The Black Isle to the north of Inverness is a great birding location, with the added advantage of being small enough to be explored in less than a full day. Red Kite are well-established now, and usually give excellent views and at Udale Bay the last remaining Wigeon and Teal will be joined by waders including Curlew, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Ringed Plover. Migrating Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Greenshank, Ruff and Knot pass through at this time and are often in summer plumage, and there are chances of a scarcer wader such as a Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper. Iceland and Glaucous Gull might still be around, and we search favoured spots for Tree Sparrow, Grey Partridge and other farmland birds. We also may visit favourite nearby sites east of Inverness, to search for arriving Whimbrel or if the tides are right, the semi-resident pod of Bottlenose Dolphin.

Day 5: Wednesday - The Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
Just when you thought you had been everywhere with Heatherlea, we came up with a brand-new day! We travel eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. A visit to a Black Grouse lek is a great start to our day, and we watch for breeding Goshawk and crossbills at nearby woods. Travelling to Royal Deeside, in the mountains we have a chance of Ptarmigan, Red Grouse and Mountain Hare perhaps without any, or very little walking. Later we scan from viewpoints for raptors which might include Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite among other species. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots where you won’t see many other birders, with further chances of Golden Eagle and perhaps Merlin too. The stunning surrounding scenery, less known among birders with Raven, Ring Ouzel and other moorland species all contribute to a truly special day.

Day 6: Thursday - Cairngorm Mountain
We spend most of the day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we search for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in May is good, with Ptarmigan pairs settling on territory and Dotterel just arriving from Africa. We carefully choose the best time to visit for your comfort and safety, and of course take care not to disturb the birds. During our time in the hills we also look out for Snow Bunting, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel, enjoying a brilliant days birding in a very special habitat.

Day 7: Friday  Troup Head Boat Trip
Today we take an exciting cruise to the foot of Troup Head, mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry to see the nesting birds. Auks on the sea will include, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and Black Guillemot, and the first Great and Arctic Skua of the season may be seen too. Kittiwake breed on the cliffs in good numbers, with Fulmar, Shag and Cormorant also likely while there is a chance of summer plumage Great Northern Diver and even cetaceans on this exciting boat trip!

Spring birding along the Moray/Aberdeenshire coast is particularly enjoyable and we have lots of birding options for the rest of this day. Osprey are often seen, and rafts of sea-duck often include Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, and a few late-staying Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck. Gatherings of Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern are likely, as are spring waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Sanderling and Dunlin - many of them in bright summer plumage. Summer warblers such as Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler will be in full song, and farmland specialities including Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. A final day full of rewards!

Day 8: Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.

This holiday can be combined with:

Spring Migration in the HighlandsHighlands and Corncrake, High Season across the Highlands 

North Ronaldsay & Orkney in Spring for birdersOuter Hebrides in Spring, Birding the North Coast 500Mull, Iona & Treshnish IslesIslands on the Edge, Orkney Island Explorer

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price

  • Seven nights comfortable accommodation at The Mountview Hotel, VisitScotland rated 3 Star. All rooms are en-suite, with TV and hospitality tray. There is no single supplement, and guests are never expected to share. Single guests might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days birdwatching.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus during six full days' birding. All access and ferry fees.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • Saturday courtesy pick-up and return service to Aviemore.
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

What's not included in your holiday price

  • Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

More holiday information

Accommodation at Mountview Hotel can be seen here. All accommodation is en-suite unless otherwise advised before your booking is confirmed.
Food There is a choice of evening meal, and vegetarian, vegan and other diets are welcome. Breakfast may be chosen from a full Scottish menu. You don't need flasks for hot drinks.
Walking will be light, although the optional mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is strenuous.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing. Even hardened Heatherlea guides will have hat and gloves in their bag at this time of year!
Biting insects could possibly be encountered, but still unlikely in early May.
Group size maximum 7 clients per guide.
Optics Telescopes will be useful, and you should bring binoculars. We have a limited number of top quality Swarovski binoculars, which you may borrow at no charge (subject to availability). A camera would be useful too!

Getting here is easy!

BY CAR Travel north to Perth. Take A9 signposted Inverness to the exit north of Aviemore for the A95. Follow signs northeast through Boat of Garten to Nethy Bridge (ten miles). In Nethy Bridge, drive through the village, over the River Nethy, and you will see our sign 200 metres ahead on the right.

BY RAIL Don't forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore on Saturdays at 16:30 and 19:30, but please let us know at least 48 hours in advance! The best train to Aviemore is the ‘Highland Chieftain’ on the East Coast Line. This leaves London Kings Cross at 11:00, arriving Aviemore at 19:22. We recommend you connect with this service if possible. Our pickup also works well with the 16:26 arrival from Edinburgh. In general, rail travel via Edinburgh is easier than via Glasgow, where a trip across the city between stations is needed, often followed by a change at Perth. Return trains leave Aviemore at 08:32 (fast train to London – recommended), 09:26. 10:31 and 11:30. However we can only make 2 journeys to Aviemore on Saturday morning, so you may be taken to Aviemore a little earlier.  Rail enquiries: 0845 7484950, www.nationalrail.co.uk

BY AIR Flights to Inverness are becoming available all the time, for latest info call our office. Currently direct flights to Inverness are available from: Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham, Manchester (all Loganair), London Gatwick, London Luton, Bristol (all easyJet) and London Heathrow (British Airways). Guests arriving in Inverness airport can then take a taxi to Nethy Bridge, or take the Airport Flyer bus to Inverness, from there they can take the train to Aviemore where we can collect you. Our courtesy collection service is on Saturdays at 16:30 and 19:30, but please let us know at least 48 hours in advance if you wish to be collected! We will be able to meet the 15:44 and 18:53 trains departing from Inverness that arrive at 16:25 and 19:26 respectively.

Other birdwatching holidays in Highlands

Why choose Heatherlea for your Scottish birding holiday?

Heatherlea is THE place for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Stay in our own three star Small Hotel, and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team. Relax and enjoy yourself, as we do all the planning! Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you. Our fully inclusive guided holidays concentrate on the real experience, and we take time to ensure that each of our guests enjoys everything we do.

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Our ‘Mainland Scotland’ holidays based at Mountview Hotel have a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • We are a small company, run BY birders FOR birders. Come and see!
  • Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
  • There is no single supplement. Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance loan of Swarovski binoculars, packed lunch and tips to hotels.
  • We offer a courtesy transfer between our Hotel and Aviemore rail/bus links on Saturdays.
  • Heatherlea hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland. We are also registered to pay VAT, which is included in your holiday price as quoted on this page.
  • Once your holiday is confirmed in writing by us, we promise not to surcharge the price for any reason.

Enjoy an excellent birding and wildlife holiday with Heatherlea.
Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’

Visit Scotland - 5 star wildlife experience

Visit Scotland

Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248