This is a very flexible tour, so please consider the itinerary below as a guide only to our daily activities. The plan could well change at short notice if an exciting rarity is available!
Day 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
Day 2: Sunday – Moray Coast
The bird-filled Moray coast is a great place to start, and here we can expect to see a range of species from waders, seaduck, gulls and terns to farmland birds. At this time of year wader passage is in full swing and among commoner migrants we look for Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greenshank, Little Stint, Curlew, Wood and Green Sandpiper. Nearctic vagrants can turn up; Pectoral, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpiper all having been seen on recent Heatherlea tours. Osprey find the area to their liking, especially immature birds, and several may be present as they learn to fish. Likely too are moulting Goosander, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Shag and perhaps early returning Common and Velvet Scoter. Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern may be seen, while rich farmland boasts Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. A great first day to get our birdlists moving in the right direction!
Day 3: Monday – Aberdeenshire Pelagic trip
An exciting day, with a new boat trip planned off the Aberdeenshire coast targeting migrant seabirds. On this special pelagic charter, we travel into deeper water and by ‘chumming’ hope to attract species less regularly seen from land. Commoner seabirds are likely to include Shag, Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Guillemot, Puffin and Black Guillemot. No one pelagic trip is the same and there are lots of other possibilities, including European Storm Petrel, Manx and Sooty Shearwater. It is a great time of year for skuas with all four possible, and we may enjoy close encounters with Great, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua. And with increasing sea temperatures bringing a number of rarer, ‘southern’ seabirds into UK waters, species such as Balearic, Cory’s and Great Shearwater are sighted annually in the North Sea, while Sabine’s Gull and Grey Phalarope are possible after westerly storms. And while the west coast is known to be better for cetaceans, we may get lucky with Minke Whale, Harbour Porpoise or the semi-resident pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin. A fabulous exploratory sea trip, and after we return to land we continue birdwatching at lesser-known headlands, valleys and coastal bays for migrant birds.
Please note our boat trip is a dedicated 4-5 hour pelagic, heading several miles offshore followed by long periods of idling. By chumming (deploying fish and oil) we attract the birds in close and the views can be excellent, with good photography opportunities of less regularly seen species. Our local skipper knows these waters well, and while we can be flexible to choose a day with the best conditions, it may still be choppy in open water. Such trips are of course optional and you may remain ashore if you prefer.
Day 4: Tuesday - Black Isle or Tarbat Peninsula
Today we head north of Inverness, choosing to visit either Black Isle or the Tarbat Peninsula. The Black Isle needs no introduction especially at this time of year, when waders are on the move en-masse and seaduck including Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider plus Slavonian Grebe begin returning to their winter haunts. Lesser known is the Tarbat Peninsula, a rarely visited narrow headland protruding out into the North Sea. With the Dornoch Firth on one side and the wider Moray Firth on the other, it is a sea-watching hotspot and also positioned perfectly to ‘catch’ migrants after easterly winds. With a reputation for attracting rarities and unusual birds, in the right conditions a walk around the scrubby cover and plantations may produce warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear or perhaps something scarcer such as a Red-breasted Flycatcher or Red-backed Shrike. Nearby estuarine and coastal sites also offer good birding for migrant waders and wildfowl, including scoter flocks. Whatever we do or see, we will enjoy a great day.
Day 5: Wednesday - Local forests and moors
In a break from the migration hotspots on the coast, we change habitats to inland forests and moorland for resident Highland specialities. Our Mountview hotel is well placed and a local drive before breakfast should produce Black Grouse as they return to their lekking grounds. Red Grouse are usually abundant too and later we look for Crested Tit in the forests. Scottish Crossbill are found in our forests too and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real ID challenge! A few Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart or Tree Pipit may be lingering, and we visit local lochs and rivers to look for Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye and Goosander. It is also a good time of year for dispersing raptors, and Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Red Kite, Osprey, Goshawk, Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin are all possible, the latter often hunting Meadow Pipit flocks which pass through at this time.
Day 6: Thursday – Exploring the Minch
Today we travel north-west, perhaps seeing Raven and Hooded Crow on the way, to join the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry for our second boat trip. The ferry is a large ship and we take both outbound and return sailings to/from the Isle of Lewis doubling our chances of migrant seabirds. Leaving Loch Broom, Black Guillemot, Red-throated Diver and even eagles over the hills are possible, and entering more open water, locally bred seabirds can be abundant. The Minch is a great stretch of water to see Arctic and Great Skua, European Storm Petrel and Manx and Sooty Shearwater. It also a great time of year for rarer possibilities after storms with Leach’s Petrel a real possibility, alongside Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua or perhaps Sabine’s Gull. This stretch of water also has a superb reputation for cetaceans and in calm seas we have good chances. Risso’s and Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale are the most likely, while in recent years larger species such as Humpback and Fin Whale and Orca have been sighted more frequently.
Day 7: Thursday - Aberdeenshire coast or round up day
Our final day and one with many options! Migrants will be at the forefront of our thinking and travelling for known rarities may dictate which area we visit. Travelling to Scotland’s east coast is one such option, giving us another opportunity to add to our ever-growing bird-lists. With habitats ranging from the coastal scrub, plantations, hedgerows to estuarine, freshwater lochs, sand dunes and the sea itself all at our disposal. Out in the fields the first few Pink-footed Geese may be returning, and Marsh and Hen Harrier can move goose flocks around. Wildfowl, waders, terns, passing seabirds are likely as are migrant passerines in the bushes, especially if the wind is from the east! Common Crane are now breeding in Scotland and are increasingly recorded in autumn, as are Spoonbill, Little and Great Egret. Aberdeenshire has a great reputation for rarities, and recent examples from this time of year have included Surf and Black Scoter, King Eider, Red-necked Grebe, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Greater Sand Plover, Bee-eater, Wryneck, Icterine, Greenish and Barred Warbler. Another day where anything is possible!
Day 8: Saturday -Departure
Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.
This holiday can be combined with:
Autumn in the Highlands with Easy Walking, Autumn Migration in the Highlands, Twenty Scottish Specials, Raptors and Grouse
SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURES
North Ronaldsay in Early Autumn, Outer Hebrides in Early Autumn