This holiday is great birding fun, so get your yearlist off to a cracking start! We aim to see as many birds as possible, and this exciting holiday is suitable for birders who want to see Scotland’s birds in winter, as well as those who keep lists.
Top priorities will be resident special birds, so we spend time inland looking for Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill and Crested Tit, our key targets. Next we seek a host of northern winter visitors, and finally round-up rarities and anything we might have missed. By the end, you should have seen around 120 species including many 'difficult' birds you might miss without a Guide, or struggle to locate further south in the UK.
Holidays are based here at Mountview Hotel, with all transport and expert guidance from our resident team. 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!
During the holiday we spend time inland in the adjacent Caledonian pinewoods of Abernethy Forest for speciality birds, visit the Cairngorm Mountains to see Ptarmigan, and explore remote glens for eagles and other raptors. Northern coastal habitats provide great birding in winter, and with the Moray Firth, Aberdeenshire, the West Coast and secluded bays north of Inverness all within reach, our prospects are excellent. We will spend a lot of time at the coast, particularly targeting rarities. King Eider and Surf Scoter are regular, others more than possible (read below about 'our' Brunnich's Guillemot!). 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 (around eight hours per day).
Four gull species in a row! Soon have that list over 100 ....
Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Crested Tit, Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle
Probables for your list:
Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Red Grouse, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Red Kite, Purple Sandpiper, Iceland Gull, Dipper, Hooded Crow, Raven, Tree Sparrow, Lesser Redpoll, Snow Bunting, Peregrine.
Black-throated Diver, Bean Goose, Barnacle Goose, Brent Goose, Pintail, King Eider, Surf Scoter, Grey Partridge, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Merlin, Golden Plover, Glaucous Gull, Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Brambling, Twite, Corn Bunting.
Lots of white-winged gulls occur over winter, including rarities like the Kumlien's Gull pictured here (centre, with Iceland and Herring Gulls).
(by no means a definitive list, though all these have been seen at this time in the past few years)
Ross’s Goose, Red-breasted Goose, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Black Scoter, White-billed Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Bittern, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Ross's Gull, Ivory Gull, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Little Auk, American Coot, Snow Goose.
Plus of course many commoner species – expect around 120 in total.
The holiday runs Saturday - Saturday, and we begin by trying to find all the ‘key species’. We will continue to maximise our list during the rest of the week, with all nights at the Mountview Hotel giving us the maximum flexibility - perfect when an Ivory Gull turns up! We treat you as an individual, meaning your personal sightings are important to us, and we will try to make sure everyone sees everything, particularly the 'Key Target' species.
An example of the unexpected here in northern Scotland!
Some years ago, one of our Capercaillie Short Break holiday groups visited the Moray Firth to look for a rather flighty King Eider. Whilst checking the sea on both sides of Burghead, we also had a quick look around the harbour area itself. Many Heatherlea friends will know that there are often nice surprises here, maybe a close-up seal, sometimes a stray Black Guillemot or Long-tailed Duck, with cracking close-up views of any bird or mammal loitering among the small boats. On this day, not much doing …. Just a Common Guillemot in winter plumage. Oops! Big mistake! Some time after the holiday ended and the Trip Report was written and published, a photo caught the eagle-eye of another Heatherlea guide going through our computer records over Hogmanay. ‘What’s this Brunnich’s pic doing mixed in with a Scottish holiday?’ was the inevitable question. We like to think we don’t miss much, but unfortunately we missed this one. The bird is now confirmed as mainland Scotland’s first Brunnich’s Guillemot since one found at Girdle Ness in 2007, and our three-day list was altered from 97 species to 98. The lesson is obvious, check everything! We certainly weren’t expecting a Brunnich’s, but that’s the beauty of birding! On these special 'listing' holidays in winter, anything is possible!
The famous Heatherlea Brunnich’s Guillemot!
This holiday can be combined with:
Hogmanay Birding Festival, Short Breaks
Accommodation at Mountview Hotel can be seen here. www.mountviewhotel.co.uk . 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 exit north of Aviemore. 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 12.00, arriving Aviemore at 19.28. We recommend you connect with this service if possible. Our pickup also works well with the 16:19 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 07.25, 08.29 (fast train to London –recommended), 09.24. 10:27 and 11.23. 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, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Jersey (all Flybe), London Gatwick, London Luton and Bristol (all Easyjet). A new service has just been launched with daily service to London Heathrow with British Airways. Guests arriving in Inverness airport can then take a taxi to Nethy Bridge, or take the Airport Flyer bus to Inverness, from where they can take the train to Aviemore where we can collect you. Our courtesy collection service is at Saturdays at 16:30 and 19:30, but please let us know which at least 48 hours in advance! We will be able to meet the 15:51 and 18:46 trains departing from Inverness that arrive at 16:34 and 19:24 respectively.
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.
* 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.