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Birding the East Coast in Autumn

From Fife to Aberdeenshire, Scotland's best autumnal birding

Max Group Size7 per guide

This holiday is a tour of the top birding sites of Scotland's east coast in autumn. A much under-watched part of the UK, there is excellent birding to be had from glen to open sea, as resident specialities are joined by flocks of migrants in every habitat. Rarities occur each year, and unexpected ducks, gulls, geese and passerines will almost certainly cross our path as we thoroughly explore the whole north-east coast from Loch of Strathbeg to the harbours of the East Neuk of Fife.

Large goose flocks should comprise many Pink-footed, Barnacle and Greylags, and also likely are both races of White-fronted and Brent Geese. We will check the flocks carefully for uncommon Tundra Bean, and perhaps get lucky with even rarer Red-breasted, Snow or Ross's Goose.  Regular white-winged gulls include Glaucous and Iceland Gull, present in harbours and fields, and we may also find rarities such as Ivory and Ross's Gull. On the open seas, large flocks of Common and Velvet Scoter often contain a single Surf Scoter, and King Eider are sometimes to be found in well known haunts. Red-necked and Slavonian Grebe, all three commoner diver species, Black Guillemot are all possible on the sea. Wader numbers will be significant in some places, with wintering Purple Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and possible American rarities in our sights and quiet estuaries where birds flock can be inspected at leisure. Fieldfare and Redwing should be seen roaming in flocks, and Waxwing are always possible in these eastern locations.

Resident birds of great interest include Hawfinch (a scarce bird in Scotland), Bittern, Snow Bunting, Twite, Grey Partridge and Corn Bunting. Some of our most memorable birding will be inland in the Angus Glens, where Golden Eagle, Black and Red Grouse are resident. There is also a chance of White-tailed Eagle, recently reintroduced in this part of Scotland.

Rarities from east or west are possible if the winds are favourable, and mammals seen on our travels might include Otter, Grey Seal, Common Seal, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Red Squirrel, Brown Hare and perhaps newly resident wild European Beaver, a special treat if we can find them!

You will enjoy some of Scotland's most exciting autumnal birding with an experienced Heatherlea Guide in a part of the country not usually explored by visiting birders.

Day 1 - Saturday
The holiday begins in Perth, where we will pick-up from Perth rail station. Drivers may park in a secure location at the train station. Briefing and overnight stay at a comfortable hotel in Perth.

Day 2 - Sunday - Perthshire and Fife
As we depart Perth towards Scone Palace, where the largest flock of Hawfinches in Scotland can be found. This is a regular flock, so your chances of seeing the birds are good. Next, bird our way south, visiting Vane Farm for large numbers of Geese and huge gatherings of wildfowl, which often include rarer visitors such as Ring-Necked Duck, American Wigeon and also possibly White tailed Eagle. Vane Farm sits on Loch Leven, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and escaped from an island castle on the loch. If any other rare or interesting birds are in the area (for example, Loch Awe Meadows or Lochgelly), we will detour to catch up with them. The scenic coastal towns of South Fife are visited on the Firth of Forth where we expect to see great rafts of sea duck congregating which may include some scarce or rare species and White-winged gulls. We stay the night in Lower Largo – the birth town of Alexander Selkirk who provided inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Day 3 - Monday - Fife
We spend the morning birding the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, visiting the university town of St Andrews. The Eden Estuary is our next port of call, a haven for sea birds, wildfowl and winter waders, followed by the famous Tay Estuary, where sea ducks and waders can be seen. We head over the Tay Road Bridge to Dundee, famous for jute, jam and journalism, and on to Carnoustie, visiting the Bay if time allows before arriving at our hotel, just outside Montrose where we stay for two nights.

Day 4 -Tuesday - Angus
A break from the coast as we head inland through Kirriemuir (the birthplace of JM Barrie, Peter Pan’s creator) to Loch of Kinnordy, a noted winter site for Bittern and home to at least one pair of European Beaver. We then drive up Glen Clova, one of the five Angus Glens, to look for majestic Golden Eagles soaring over the lovely peaks of the Mounth Hills. Black and Red Grouse, plus other moorland species may also be seen before we head back to Montrose via Forfar or Balgavies Loch.

Day 5 - Wednesday - Angus to Aberdeenshire
Our final day in Angus, we may revisit some of the best birding sites. Rocky coasts and harbours play home to Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Eider, Rock Pipit and often an Iceland or Glaucous Gull. We visit some of the small bays before a stroll down to Lunan Bay where we look for scoter, divers and gulls and check the surrounding farmland for Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow. We spend the afternoon at Montrose Basin where large numbers of geese, wildfowl and overwintering waders will be present. The Basin has a impressive track record of rare birds in winter including Ivory Gull and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Day 6 -Thursday - Aberdeenshire
We drive north towards Aberdeen checking bays and farmland for flocks of geese, swans and farmland birds, and any gull roosts for scarce species. As we work north we will keep an eye on any rare birds turning up, and we will be ready to 'twitch' them! Once in the Aberdeen area we have a number of birding options. Migrant hotspots at Girdleness or nearby may be worthy of attention if conditions are favourable, likewise the productive Don and Dee estuary mouths. If time allows we scan off the coast at Blackdog or Murcar for divers, scoter and other seabirds before heading to our hotel for the next two nights.

Day 7 - Friday - Aberdeenshire
We spend our final full day exploring the area around the Ythan Estuary, an important migration site and SSSI, before heading on to Fraserburgh and Loch of Strathbeg RSPB. This last place is Britain’s largest dune loch, famed for supporting 20% of the world’s population of Pink-footed Geese in winter, and previous trips have also produced rarities including Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Smew, Ross’s and Snow Goose. Rattray Head can be good for sea-watching, with Snow Bunting and fresh-in migrants in the dunes doing their best to evade hunting Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. The harbour and bays at Fraserburgh have a good track record for rare gulls, with several records of Ross’s Gull here while Iceland and Glaucous Gull occur annually. Local farmland can be very productive with herds of Whooper Swan, feeding geese and large numbers of Tree Sparrow, finches and buntings (including Corn Bunting) expected. We finish the day with a round-up of the week’s birding.

Day 8 - Saturday
Early transfer Perth, to collect vehicles and meet train services.We aim to arrive into Perth at roughly 1pm.

This holiday can be combined with:

Highland Autumn Birding, Short Breaks 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).

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions, which can be wild and unpredictable. Sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects are not expected. Please bring walking boots or shoes, weatherproof clothing and a small rucksack. At many of the reserves the trails can be muddy and even waterlogged at times, so if the forecast is wet then wellies are definitely recommended. The holiday will be run at a relaxed pace, with fabulous birdwatching in a spectacular setting! There will be short to moderate (1 to 3 mile) walks some days.

What's included in your 'Birding the East Coast' holiday price

• Seven nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation. We choose from our personally inspected shortlist, where birders are welcome and hospitality is special. Guests are never expected to share. All rooms are en-suite. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening til Saturday morning, packed lunch daily.
• All transfers by comfortable minibus. Collect and return to Perth railway station.
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

What's not included in your 'Birding the East Coast' holiday price

• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

Other birdwatching holidays in Mainland Scotland

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