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NEW! Birding in the Footsteps of the Jacobites

Birding and history unite in this unique holiday

A unique holiday combining the best of Scottish Highland birding and historical sites relating to the ill-fated Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century. We visit sites associated with both the rebels and the government such as Culloden Battlefield, Urquhart Castle and the Glenfinnan Monument.

The second half of March is one of the best times to visit The Highlands. Our wildlife is busy, breeding birds are keen to attract a mate and migrants are on the move. Summer visitors are beginning to arrive and there will still be plenty of wintering geese, wildfowl, waders and gulls around – great variety beckons! Based at the Mountview Hotel, we have flexibility to plan the week according to the weather, tides and up to date bird news.

In recent years, our small groups have enjoyed some fantastic Highland birds and winter wildlife experiences. March is a great time of year for rarities, and those seen by our groups on previous trips include White-billed Diver, Snow Goose, American Wigeon, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Duck while influxes of Waxwing and Brambling have proved equally memorable. Exciting raptors, including Goshawk, Hen Harrier, White-tailed Eagle, Merlin and Peregrine become more active during March. Golden Eagle are displaying, Black Grouse are back on their lekking sites and Crested Tit may be heard singing as spring really starts in the Highlands.

This trip is ideal for those who love history as well as birding and any walking will be gentle and at a relaxed pace. Approximately 25% of our time will be spent on the historical sites and 75% birding.

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 well placed and close to the best birding habitats, and we begin with a walk in the nearby Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit. Scottish Crossbill are found in the forests and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Waxwing and wintering finch flocks may be lingering and can often contain Brambling and Linnet with the commoner species.

Later we search for moorland fringe specialities including Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Goshawk, all very possible at this time of year. White-tailed Eagle numbers are increasing too, and Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Goosander may be found on local rivers and streams.

Day 3: Monday - Fort George and Moray Coast
Today we visit Fort George on the inner Moray Coast, built in the wake of the Battle of Culloden as a secure base for King George II’s army. Still a manned garrison, we explore the fort’s history in the Highlanders Museum and visit the historic barrack rooms to see a graphic recreation of soldiers’ living conditions in centuries gone by.

We then work our way east along the Moray coast where newly arriving migrants complement wintering birds. This day can easily include Osprey fishing, rafts of Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Glaucous and Iceland Gull, and spring waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, many changing into bright summer plumage. We look out for Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge, the first Sandwich Tern often arrive late-March and are often our first Spring migrant alongside Sand Martin. We may also see Bottle-nosed Dolphin, and with auks, Gannet, gulls and more this is a rewarding day!

Day 4: Tuesday - Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
We go eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. The Black Grouse lek here is a great start to our day, and we watch for breeding Goshawk and Crossbill at nearby woods. Travelling through fields of waders along old military roads we reach Royal Deeside to have a chance of Ptarmigan, Red Grouse and numerous Mountain Hare perhaps without any, or very little walking. Later we scan from viewpoints for raptors which might include Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite among other species. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots where you won’t see many other birders, with further chances of Golden Eagle and perhaps Merlin too. The stunning surrounding scenery with Raven and other moorland species all contribute to a truly special day.

Day 5: Wednesday – Badenoch and Spey Dam
We follow the River Spey south to visit Ruthven Barracks, built by George II's government after the failed Jacobite uprising in 1715. The ruins sit on an old castle mound overlooking Insh Marshes and the River Spey. Whooper Swan should still be grazing in the marsh along with other overwintering wildfowl. We also have a chance of Hen Harrier, White-tailed Eagle and Merlin.

Following the Spey further upstream through Laggan Village and to Spey Dam along more old military roads, we arrive at Garva Bridge within the Corrieyairack Pass. Eagles should be displaying at this time of year and herds of Red Deer will be loafing around the hillsides. Dipper and Grey Wagtail are on the rivers and we may see the first returning Wheatear, Sand Martin and Swallow.

Day 6: Thursday - The Great Glen 
The Great Glen, which runs along the fault line from Fort William to Inverness, and surrounding areas played a crucial part in the Jacobite rebellions. We head west, visiting the site where Bonny Prince Charlie came ashore and where he raised his standard before marching south. The birding in this area is excellent and we explore sealochs and glens where both White-tailed and Golden Eagle may be displaying ahead of the breeding season, while Black-throated and Great Northern Diver will be moulting into breeding plumage.

We visit the remains of the fort at Fort William before heading northeast to Fort Augustus then Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle. This was once one of Scotland’s largest castles and saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. The last of the government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left but the iconic ruins remain, offering glimpses into medieval times and the lives of its noble residents. While sightings of the Loch Ness Monster are unlikely, Goosander, Goldeneye or the first returning Osprey may feature on the days birdlist.

Day 7: Friday - Culloden & The Black Isle
We begin the day with a visit to Culloden, the site of the last battle of the Jacobite rising. You will have time to take in the exhibits and walk through the field, a rewarding yet sobering experience. Skylark should be in full song by the middle of March with Linnet, Yellowhammer and other farmland birds also possible.

An exciting time to be birding around The Black Isle, with the majority of wintering birds still present and numbers swelled by northbound migrants. We time our visit to maximise numbers of waterbirds, with a close look at the tidetable as we choose from a range of birding sites including Udale Bay, the Beauly and Cromarty Firths and Munlochy Bay. All can be busy with large numbers of waders, wildfowl and gulls to scan through. The stubble fields will be getting ploughed, concentrating the winter flocks of Skylark, pipits, finches and especially geese. We should see hundreds of Pink-footed Geese today just weeks away from returning north, the flocks sometimes harbouring rarer species such as White-fronted, Tundra Bean or Snow Goose. There might also be a lingering winter rarity on offer too, for instance an American Wigeon or Green-winged Teal. An exciting way to finish our tour.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highlands and the Aberdeenshire CoastHighland Birding in March, Highlands and Ardnamurchan

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.
  • Admission, where applicable, to historical sites including Culloden Battlefield, Urquhart Castle and Fort George.
  • 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 and at 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 optional 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 two transfers 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.

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