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New Year Birdlist Booster

Get your New Year birdlist off to a great start with a week of birding across the Highlands from coast to coast!

2025 Dates
  • 04 Jan - 11 Jan 2025
  • 11 Jan - 18 Jan 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1495 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide
Early Birder Offer - Book Now for 2025 and Save £100pp!

This holiday is great birding fun, so get your year-list off to a cracking start with a visit to Scotland! One of most flexible tours, based at the Mountview throughout your guide will closely monitor weather, tides and local bird news as we aim to see as many birds as possible. An exciting holiday run BY birders FOR birders, 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.

Targeting local specialities early is often key to our success on this fast pace tour, freeing up time for coastal rarities later in the week. Local habitats inland include the Caledonian pinewoods, upland moors, remote glens, lochans, rivers and the snow-covered Cairngorm Mountains. Top priorities will be Ptarmigan, Black and Red Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill and Crested Tit. We make the most of the available daylight, often travelling between locations in the dark – which in itself has added nocturnal species including Woodcock and Barn, Long-eared or Tawny Owl in the past!

Coastal habitats provide great birding in winter, with the Moray Firth, Aberdeenshire, the west coast and lesser watched sites north of Inverness all within reach. Likely are a wide variety of wildfowl from sea-duck including velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck to fields full of Whooper Swan and geese. Winter waders are abundant on tidal estuaries, often attracting hunting raptors such as Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier. At harbours we look out for Iceland and Glaucous Gull, as well as roosting Purple Sandpiper at high tide. Rich farmland offers even more variety and it is a great time of year for Waxwing and Brambling. By spending a lot of time at the coast our prospects are excellent, and we often have opportunities to target rarities such as Snow Goose, King Eider and Surf Scoter. We have seen many special birds on this exciting tour in the past, and ours plans can certainly change quickly should an Ivory Gull be found!

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

  • A sizeable bird list to start your birding year off in the best way possible
  • Difficult to find Highland specialities such as Ptarmigan
  • Superb coastal birding as we explore the Highlands thoroughly from east to west.
  • The big ‘twitch’ for a rarity or two - what will it be this year?

This is a very flexible tour, so please consider the itinerary below only as a guide to our daily activities. The plan could well change at short notice should the opportunity arise to add a number of new species to our bird-list, or an exciting rarity become available.

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

Day 2: Sunday – Local Birding
Our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats, and Black Grouse popping and cooing at the lek will be one of our early targets. Later we walk in Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit and other woodland birds, perhaps taking advantage of local feeding stations. Scottish Crossbill are found in these forests too, and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Capercaillie also occur though increasingly scarce, we no longer actively look for them. Any sightings should be seen as incidental. In the afternoon we change habitats, heading onto the moors or to a Highland Glen with raptors in mind. We have chances of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Red Kite, Peregrine and perhaps Merlin too. Raven and Red Grouse are both likely, the latter easier to see on snow covered hills and we should find Dipper and Goosander on fast flowing rivers. A great first day with plenty for our new year bird-lists!

Day 3: Monday - Moray Coast
January is a busy month on the Moray coast and we get straight into scanning through rafts of sea-duck for Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. Also likely offshore are Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Shag and Fulmar. After northerly storms, Black Guillemot and Little Auk may be pushed into the Moray Firth, and other coastal rarities have included King Eider and Surf Scoter. Waders can be expected including Purple Sandpiper, while Iceland and Glaucous Gull are both regular around the estuaries and harbours. In the fields, Whooper Swan herds and geese flocks are worth checking for scarcer species such as White-fronted, Barnacle and even Snow Geese. Historical rarities from this time of year include American Coot, Ring-billed Gull and Brunnich’s Guillemot and naturally we keep an eye on any bird news. And on a day where up to 70 species are possible, farmland birds including Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and winter thrushes add to our enjoyment.

Day 4: Tuesday – Cairngorm Mountain and local round up
Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting are our two main targets today, in a visit to Cairngorm Mountain. Snow depth plays a part in how easily the birds are found, and in the hardest winters we have seen both without leaving the car-park! Any unseen Speyside birds will form the basis of the rest of the day, and we can also target any inland rarities. These vary from year to year, Brambling and Twite latching onto winter finch flocks and if there is a Waxwing invasion, we check for them on berries around the towns. Time may be given to look for a Great Grey Shrike, if one is holding down a winter territory and we wouldn’t rule out a visit to the local dump should an Iceland or Glaucous Gull be present. On this fast-paced tour your guide will always be thinking one step ahead, so if local targets are ’in the bag’, there may be time for a few hours coastal birding around the Inner Moray Firth.

Day 5: Wednesday – Black Isle, Easter Ross and/or East Sutherland
The half way point and with a good number (perhaps all) Highland specialities safely seen, we spread our wings in search of new birds around the coasts. On the Black Isle and around the Inner Moray Firth, winter targets include (Pale-bellied) Brent Geese, Scaup and Slavonian Grebe. Waders are likely anywhere, and at tidal estuaries on the East Sutherland Coast, less regular Highland species include Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. We have seen Jack Snipe in saltmarsh habitats here too, with Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Eider likely offshore, and Little Gull possible after storms. Finch flocks including Twite and Snow Bunting occur on the beaches and past winter rarities have included Shorelark and Water Pipit. Raptors such as Hen Harrier and Merlin spend their winters hunting in these regions, while a Black Redstart has featured more than once on a visit to the Tarbet peninsula.

Day 6: Thursday – Aberdeenshire
Despite boasting so many great sites, Aberdeenshire often feels like an under-watched county. Rarely will we see any other birders, and there is always a chance of finding our own special birds as we explore. Whooper Swan and geese are abundant and we search through the flocks for scarcer species such as Bewick’s Swan, Taiga and Tundra Bean and White-fronted Geese. As well as supporting the geese, in farmland we look out for Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge, winter thrushes and flocks of Golden Plover. East coast harbours can often be the winter home to several Glaucous and Iceland Gull, with divers and sea-duck are likely offshore. With habitats unique to Northern Scotland, there is a chance of scarce Scottish birds including Great and Little Egret, Bittern, Water Rail, Common Crane, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit, most of these occurring in the hardest winters. A great region for rarities we have been lucky many times, enjoying the likes of Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Smew, Red-breasted, ’small race’ Canada and Snow Geese, Lesser Yellowlegs and Grey Phalarope in the past.

Day 7: Friday - West Coast
On the rugged west coast, mountains rise from the sea in some of the wildest yet beautiful landscapes in all of Scotland! There, we enjoy winter gatherings of Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Diver in sheltered bays with Black Guillemot likely too. Scanning higher ground, we look for Golden and White-tailed Eagle plus other raptors, and Raven, Hooded Crow and 'real' Rock Dove are all common in the west. Rock Pipit and Twite are regular around these coasts, and there are chances of seals, cetaceans and Otter as we explore.

Our last day and the last chance to ‘boost your bird-list’, so should an extreme winter rarity or two be on offer your guide may well change the plan. There can often be surprises on this tour, Harlequin Duck and Ivory Gull being two such examples we have successfully connected with in the past – what will it be this time?!

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Hogmanay Birding Festival, Birders Blast in Winter, Scottish Winter Specialities 

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.
  • 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