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Scottish Wildlife in late Autumn

Highland specialities and late Autumn migrants on the East and West coast

2024 Dates
  • 19 Oct - 26 Oct 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1295 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 18 Oct - 25 Oct 2025
  • 25 Oct - 01 Nov 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1395 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

Late Autumn is an exciting time in the Highlands, as key resident species are augmented by winter visitors and large numbers of birds are on the move on our coasts. Following the breeding season, local birds are at their highest densities and with incoming geese, seaduck, waders and passerines all settling in for the winter, or pausing on their southward journeys, it is a busy time of year! On this tour we target all of these birds including any rarities within reach, finding time to enjoy mammals including rutting Red Deer in the hills, and Otter and dolphins on the coast.

Flexibility is key, and we make the best use of available daylight to build a high bird-list. On shorter autumn days, Highland specialities can be easier to see. Black Grouse return to their lekking grounds and Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill are active in the forest. Ptarmigan are moulting in quiet mountain corries and eagles patrol winter territories, with younger, wandering birds also in evidence. Golden and White-tailed Eagle are both possible and we have every chance of Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Merlin as well as owls at dusk.

On the Black Isle, Moray and Aberdeenshire coasts, goose flocks are a feature with Pink-footed and Greylag Goose both numerous. Glaucous and Iceland Gull may be found in the harbours, and after northernly storms Little Auk, Grey Phalarope and other seabirds may be encountered too. In sheltered bays, building flocks of Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Eider may also contain a rarity, with Surf Scoter and King Eider both seen by Heatherlea groups at this time of year. Rarities are possible from the east too, and in the right conditions falls of passerines may include Waxwing, Yellow-browed Warbler or something even rarer among their number. Anything is possible at this great time of year!

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

  • Golden and White-tailed Eagle soaring above West coast mountains, perhaps with Otter on the shore below.
  • Vast numbers of wildfowl, fresh in for the winter.
  • Black Grouse returning to the lek and Ptarmigan moulting into winter plumage in the hills. 
  • Discovering a rarity on the Moray or Aberdeenshire coast.

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

Day 2: Local Forest and Moorland
Our first day is focused on the birds which make this wonderful part of the country so special. An early start for Black Grouse at the lek will get us off to a fine start, and you may see Red Grouse too. In the Caledonian pine forest we look for Crested Tit and other woodland birds including Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. Scottish Crossbill are also found in the forests, and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, 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 visit remote Highland glens to look for Golden Eagle and other raptors. You may also hear Red Deer stags bellowing at the rut, with Red Squirrel, Roe and Sika Deer, Brown and Mountain Hare also possible on this first day.

Day 3: The Wild West Coast
Today we travel to the west coast, where mountains rise from the sea in one of the most rugged and beautiful regions of Scotland! In sheltered bays, we enjoy winter gatherings of Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Diver. Also likely are Black Guillemot, Raven, Hooded Crow, 'real' Rock Dove and migrating flocks of thrushes, pipits and finches, perhaps including Twite and Brambling. Waders and wildfowl will be on the move, including Whooper Swan, Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle Geese, Purple Sandpiper with chances of Little Auk, Iceland and Glaucous Gull following northerly storms. With the possibility of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier plus Otter, seals and cetaceans too, it is always an exciting day exploring the west!

Day 4: Cairngorm Mountain
Today we visit the mountains to look for Ptarmigan, often seen in small groups as they moult into white, winter plumage. Your guides will select the best location to search for birds based upon recent sightings, and before any significant snowfall there are good options available. Snow Bunting are also possible, and we may see Peregrine, Raven, Red Grouse and Mountain Hare as we walk. Remaining time will be used to look for forest species and flocks of geese, thrushes and finches in local farmland. It is a good time of year for owls, and as the sun sets we look out for Barn, Tawny and Long-eared Owl, plus Woodcock and mammals including Brown Hare. 

Day 5: The Crown Estate and Moray Coast
On the Crown Estate at Glenlivet we have good chances for raptors, and with private, vehicle access you will see a beautiful part of Scotland rarely visited by other birders. Scanning the Ladder Hills, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin and Goshawk are all possible, as are commoner Buzzard, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Later we drive to the Moray Coast, where birding is excellent in late autumn. Offshore rafts of Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser can often contain rarities, and we have seen rarities including King Eider and Surf Scoter on recent late-autumn tours. Iceland and Glaucous Gull are both regular, as are many wader species. In the fields, Whooper Swan and goose flocks are worth checking for scarcer species, and farmland birds may include Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer.

Day 6: Coastal Aberdeenshire
On the Aberdeenshire coast we have lots of options, and your guide will choose the best area to explore depending on tides, weather conditions and recent sightings. We may visit the Ythan Estuary, an important site for waders, wildfowl and Grey Seal, or head further north to Fraserburgh and Loch of Strathbeg RSPB. With many great sites in-between we will be sure of a great day, and previous visits at this time have produced rarities including Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Smew, Snow Goose, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and White-rumped Sandpiper. Sea-watching from headlands can prove rewarding, with Little Auk, Grey Phalarope, Leach's Petrel, Pomarine Skua, Little Gull and Sooty Shearwater possible after autumn storms. In fabled easterly winds we focus more on migrant passerines, and checks of scrubby cover and plantations may give us warblers, flycatchers, pipits, chats, thrushes and finches in good numbers. In the right conditions we may get lucky, unearthing a Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart or perhaps something rarer like a Yellow-browed or Palla's Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher or even a Red-flanked Bluetail! A mouth-watering prospect and a great day's autumn birding!

Day 7: Black Isle and local round-up
Late Autumn on the Black Isle is always rewarding with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese often joined by uncommon Tundra or Taiga Bean, White-fronted or perhaps a 'small race' Canada or Snow Goose. Waders and seaduck can be expected and we often see Scaup and Slavonian Grebe here. Flocks of wintering finches can hold Brambling, and Waxwing are also regular at this time. We also round up any Speyside specialities we may have missed earlier, and will plan to look for Bottlenose Dolphin and Otter on this day too.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highland Autumn Birding, Solway Firth, Birders Blast in Autumn

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 may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • All estate entrance fees
  • 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.
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 mainly light 1-3 miles daily, though sometimes extra effort and a tougher walk may be needed to get to special birds such as Ptarmigan in the Mountains. All such walks are of course optional.
Travel is by comfortable nine-seater minibus.
Weather - expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine, wind and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing.
Biting insects are unlikely to be encountered
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!

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