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Highland Autumn Birding

An exciting birding adventure across the Highlands, including two nights in bird-rich Aberdeenshire!

2024 Dates
  • 12 Oct - 19 Oct 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1495 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 11 Oct - 18 Oct 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1495 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

An exciting holiday incorporating special, local birding from our Mountview Hotel with a two night adventure to remotest Aberdeenshire, one of the best yet most under-watched birding counties in the UK!

This holiday will cover all habitats from mountain to the sea, giving you a full flavour of how good birding can be in the Highlands in Autumn.

Particular focus will be given to building numbers of wildfowl, a real spectacle having recently arrived from their northern breeding grounds. We enjoy the numbers, but also look closely to find the rarities hidden amongst the commoner species! With big rafts of seaduck, fields full of geese and a good range of migrant and resident birds it promises to be an unforgettable week.

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

  • Ptarmigan in winter moult on the hills
  • Vast numbers of wildfowl, fresh in for the winter.
  • Raptors galore, with up to ten species possible and including both eagles.
  • Discovering a rarity in a quiet, rarely birded location in Aberdeenshire

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

Day 2: Sunday – Strathspey and the local area
Black Grouse are returning to traditional lekking sites, and an early morning visit will get our tour off to a great start. Walking in the nearby Abernethy Forest we look for Red Squirrel, Roe Deer and Crested Tit. Scottish Crossbill are also found in this habitat and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill present too, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Capercaillie also occur in these forests though are increasingly scarce and we no longer actively look for them. Any sightings should be seen as incidental. Later we search for moorland specialities including Peregrine, Red Grouse, Merlin, Hen Harrier and travel to a local glen for Golden Eagle. This is a good time for them, with Mountain Hare, Raven and wandering White-tailed Eagle frequently seen in local hills in autumn too.

Days 3 - 5: Monday - Wednesday - Aberdeenshire Adventure
Today we head east for the area around the Ythan estuary, a very promising place at this time of year. Geese flocks can be present in the thousands and amongst the commoner species we have our best chances of rarities such as Snow, Ross's or Red-breasted Goose. Flocks of seaduck will be here too, and this may be a good place to look for King Eider, which will be close if found inside the mouth of the River Ythan. At times, vast rafts of Common Scoter are found along this coast, though they are very mobile. If we locate them we have good chances of Velvet Scoter or something rarer, with Surf Scoter, or perhaps even a Black or White-winged Scoter as has been recorded in previous years! Expected are Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, plus lingering seabirds which may be chased by a late Pomarine or Arctic Skua. Waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover are among the species scattered along the shore and just about anything can turn up, particularly in easterlies.

We stay for two nights in Aberdeenshire at a central location to give us options for our adventure, depending on the weather, tide and recent sightings.

The next day we work the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve carefully. Its remote location makes this one of the most underwatched reserves in the country. Birding here is always rewarding, and the unexpected can often turn up! Scarce wildfowl are often found, and we will spend time looking through the ducks in particular.

Next we move along the coast, paying attention to arable farmland where we hope to find Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Stock Dove and Tree Sparrow. This coastline has a strong track record of High Arctic gulls, and our route takes us through several harbours to look for any Glaucous or Iceland Gull which may have followed the white-fish trawlers into port.

Our last day will see us wrap up any coastal species before heading inland to Royal Deeside, famous for Balmoral Castle, but a great birding site too! Birding in the Glenlivet Estate, within which Heatherlea has exclusive vehicle access is another great option as we return to our base. Both are good areas for crossbills, Goshawk and Golden Eagle,  and we plan to enjoy several hours of birding in wonderful scenery before heading back over the moors, packed with Red Grouse and Mountain Hare. We arrive back at the Mountview in time for dinner on Wednesday evening.

Day 6: Thursday – Cairngorms and Strathspey
A complete contrast as we head for the hills to find Ptarmigan. We rarely fail to find the birds, and although the mountains support few other species at this time, we watch out for Snow Bunting and Mountain Hare. We stay inland to round up anything we might have missed, and local birding around beautiful autumnal woodlands may produce Lesser and Common Redpoll, Fieldfare, Redwing and much more.

Day 7: Friday – Round up day
We keep our last day flexible so that we have the opportunity to catch up on species missed or to target any exciting rarities within reach. We will keep a close eye on the weather and tides too, and if conditions allow we may go to the Black Isle, Moray Coast or even the West Coast, or perhaps stay locally to have another shot at any elusive local species.

Day 8:  Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don't forget our courtesy bus service to Aviemore station!

This holiday can be combined with:

Raptors and Grouse, Scottish Wildlife in Late Autumn

Islay and Jura

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

  • Five 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 may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge. Two nights in a comfortable hotel in Aberdeenshire, all rooms en-suite.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus.
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.
  • Courtesy bus service to and from transport in Aviemore.

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. 2 nights away in en-suite accommodation in Aberdeenshire.
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 is strenuous. Guests can opt out of this excursion.
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. Hat and gloves are essential for the mountain and exposed coastal locations.
Biting insects are not expected. 
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