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Hogmanay Birding Extravaganza!

A brilliant start to birding in 2024

Many of you are looking for special birding at this time, and this holiday is a real cracker! Come to the beautiful Highlands for a wonderful Hogmanay (we usually have snow on the mountains), and enjoy a bird-filled end to 2023, followed by a five days of birding to begin 2024 in style.

We aim to see as many species as possible, and this tour is ideal for all birders who want an exciting winter holiday, as well as those who keep lists. During the last birding days of 2023, we spend time inland looking for Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill and Crested Tit, mingling our efforts with exciting coastal birding, which could produce a big range of wintering specialities, uncommon or rare vagrants.

Hogmanay is a time of great celebration in the Highlands, and on the night itself guests might have the opportunity to visit a nearby party, which could typically involve live music and dancing. Held in the open air, this is entirely subject to vagaries of the weather, so wrap up well! For those who prefer to stay indoors we will celebrate ‘The Bells’ in the warmth, toasting the old year list with a variety of local malt whiskies!

We begin New Year's Day full of anticipation, and with a full week at our disposal, Scottish specialities will be high on the itinerary again to round-up as many key Highland species as we can! By the end of the holiday, you should have seen many 'difficult' Highland birds you might otherwise miss without a guide, or which rarely turn up further south in the UK. Locally we could find Waxwing, Brambling, Merlin, Jack Snipe, both Golden and White-tailed Eagle, and of course Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan and even Capercaillie.

We spend at least one full day birding the Moray Coast, with options to venture further north to the 'Black Isle' or Sutherland, east into Aberdeenshire or out to the stunning west coast. Keen to accumulate a high bird-list, with our finger on the pulse we search for known rarities on coastal days such as Snow Goose, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Surf Scoter, King Eider, Iceland, Glaucous and Little Gull, Little and Great White Egret, Waxwing, and Great Grey Shrike – all of which have occurred in the last two years!

Holidays are based here at Mountview Hotel, with all transport and expert guidance from our resident team. Your Guides will closely monitor weather, tides and local bird news to make sure we maximise our birding as we use all the available daylight (up to eight hours per day). We anticipate that the whole Hotel will be given over to our holiday, meaning a great birding atmosphere as the entire week is run BY birders FOR birders, a very enjoyable prospect!

Key birds:
Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Golden and White-tailed Eagle.   

Likely for your list:
Whooper Swan, Pink-footed and Greylag Goose, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Goosander, Red Grouse, Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Red Kite, Golden Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Iceland Gull, Dipper, Hooded Crow, Raven, Tree Sparrow, Common Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll, Snow Bunting and Peregrine.

Highly possible:
Black-throated Diver, Barnacle, Greenland White-fronted and Brent Goose, Pintail, King Eider, Surf Scoter, Green-winged Teal, Grey Partridge, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Merlin, Glaucous Gull, Little Auk, Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Brambling, Twite, Corn Bunting.

Outside chance/rarities:
(by no means a definitive list as anything is possible, though all these have been seen at this time in the past few years). Capercaillie, Great White Egret, Cackling, Snow, Red-breasted, Tundra Bean Goose, Harlequin, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, White-billed Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Bittern, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte's, Ring-billed, Ross's and Ivory Gull, Brünnich’s Guillemot, American Coot, Parrot Crossbill and even Humpback Whale!

Plus of course many commoner species – expect around 120 in total.

Day 1: Thursday 28 December 2023
Arrival, welcome, briefing and dinner. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.

Days 2 - 4: Friday 29 – Sunday 31 December 2023
In these three days we concentrate on finding as many Scottish specialities as we can before the year ends! Black and Red Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Crested Tit, Common and Scottish Crossbill and (weather permitting!) Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting are the main species in local habitats. Highland birding can be surprisingly varied, and we divide our time between the mountains and high hills, the pine forests and moors. PLEASE NOTE! We always go birding with the interests of wildlife foremost in mind. Capercaillie are particularly sensitive, read more here.

In winter local fields support finch flocks often including Brambling, Linnet and Lesser Redpoll. Twite too if conditions are harsh on higher ground. Dipper, Goosander and Goldeneye may be found on Highland rivers and if it is a ‘Waxwing winter’ we will be sure to search for them. We also make at least one visit to the nearest coastal areas, using these days to work out the best sites for sea-duck, feeding geese and swans, roosting waders, gathering gulls and farmland birds before the turn of the new year. Any end of year rarities will be targeted too, and flexibility is a key factor on this tour, our plans perhaps changing quickly if news of a special bird becomes known. 

New Year's Eve  Dinner will be a little bit special, informal as always. Later we celebrate the New Year with mulled wine. Hopefully the weather will allow village fireworks to entertain us. If local villages are throwing a party, we will give the option of attending.
Click here to view our Hogmanay Menu!

Days 5 – 9: Monday 1 – Friday 5 January 2024
There is nothing quite like the thrill of waking to the start of a brand new bird-list on 1st January! Some years we have Crested Tit on the hotel feeders, and Black Grouse are usually counted early on the first day. With no fixed itinerary we have numerous options daily, and we choose our activities depending on weather conditions, tides, reports of rarities and the state of our list! We round-up the Scottish specialities again, maybe adding some new species in the same habitats. In the mountains we hope for suitable weather to search for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, and out on the moors Red Grouse and raptors including Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Peregrine, Goshawk and Merlin may feature.

The bird rich Moray coast is always a firm favourite with guests and with upwards of 50 species possible on these days, it is easy to see why! Sea-duck including Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Eider and red-breasted Merganser are all likely plus divers, auks and Slavonian Grebe. Waders might include Knot, Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper and gull flocks can harbor a Glaucous or Iceland Gull. Good quality farmland and winter stubbles are attractive feeding grounds for geese and Whooper Swan, supporting healthy populations of Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow at the same time.    

On our other days we may visit coastal sites further afield, perhaps taking advantage of fine weather to tour a section of the rugged west coast. Over high peaks Golden and White-tailed Eagle are likely, with Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, Black Guillemot and perhaps Otter offshore. A day trip to the Aberdeenshire or the Sutherland coasts can help boost our weekly bird-list, offering chances to add species less often seen in the Highlands such as wintering Shoveler, Pochard, Ruff or scarcer species such as Tundra or Taiga Bean Geese, Smew, Marsh Harrier, Little Gull, Bearded Tit or Common Crane. Whatever we do and wherever the birds take us, for serious birders there can surely be no better start to the year!

Day 10: Saturday 6 January 2024
Breakfast and depart. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.

This holiday can be combined with:

New Year Birdlist Booster

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

* Nine 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 each day. Plus a special evening meal on New Years Eve and New Years Day! 

* Nine full days wildlife watching.

* Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

* All transport by comfortable minibus. Access to estate grounds.

* A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

* Courtesy bus service to and from public 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.
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 moderate, although mountain walking for Ptarmigan is strenuous depending on the snow level.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions, though cold winds and snow are likely. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing. Wellies not needed!
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