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Butterflies, Dragons and Birds

Sought-after Scottish specialities in the Highlands and on the west coast.

2024 Dates
  • 06 Jul - 13 Jul 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 05 Jul - 12 Jul 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

An enjoyable holiday aimed at the general naturalist, celebrating some of the special birds, butterflies and dragonflies found during the short Highland summer. Dividing our time between our own base at Mountview Hotel in Nethy Bridge and the stunning west coast, we seek out the best wildlife experiences available, focusing specifically on key birdlife and two fascinating groups of insects.

Late-summer birding is good, with many of the Highland specialities present in high numbers after the breeding season. We scan for eagles and divers in the west while return wader passage will be well under way at coastal haunts. Amongst the butterflies, tricky to find Mountain Ringlet is the ultimate prize, with Northern Brown Argus and Large Heath also high upon our wish-list. Desirable dragons include Azure Hawker, Northern and Brilliant Emerald, White-faced Darter and range restricted Northern Damselfly. The weather is of course key, and by visiting as many sites as possible we have every chance of success!

Our most comprehensive butterfly and dragonfly itinerary to date, we devote more time to scarce and range-restricted species than any other tour. Please be aware that this is a very weather dependent tour, and sunny days will be dedicated to butterflies and dragons, though our itinerary may need to be quite flexible.

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

  • Special Highland birds, perhaps including Black Grouse, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey and Crested Tit.
  • Scarce butterflies including Mountain Ringlet, Northern Brown Argus, Scotch Argus and Large Heath
  • Range restricted Azure Hawker, Northern Emerald, Northern Damselfly and perhaps a late White-faced Darter.
  • Eagles soaring over west coast mountains, with divers and Otter on the sea.

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local birds, butterflies and dragons
Our first day will be spent locally as we enjoy an introduction to the habitats, birds, butterflies and dragonflies of this special area. Prime time for several key species, featured birds might include Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit in the Abernethy Forest, many of which will have young in tow. Moorland species might include Ring Ouzel, Stonechat, Wheatear and Red Grouse, with Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Goldeneye. Butterflies on the wing might include Large Heath, Northern Brown Argus, Small Pearl Bordered and Dark Green Fritillary, while we have chances of an early emerging Scotch Argus. Among the odonata, we hope to connect with Northern Emerald and Northern Damselfly - both Highland specialities! Common Hawker, Common (Highland) Darter, Four Spot Chaser, White-faced and Black Darter are all possible too. A great first day!

Days 3 - 5: Monday - Wednesday - West Coast dragons and more!
Travelling west, if conditions are favourable then dragons will be at the fore with a visit to Glen Affric high on the agenda! The only site in the UK where all three emerald dragonflies (Northern, Brilliant and Downy) occur, separation is far from easy! Other sites in the Inverness and Black Isle area offer chances of Brilliant Emerald and White-faced Darter. A few Wood Warbler still occur in Glen Affric and we also visit moorland lochans for breeding Slavonian Grebe, with Osprey, Common Sandpiper and Reed Bunting. Large and Small Heath butterflies may be watched side by side, with mammals perhaps including Mountain Hare, Red, Roe and Sika Deer and Mountain Goat a nice bonus.

On one day we visit Loch Maree, a location not only famed for its rare dragons but providing a stunning setting to search for them. Moorland bogs in the area are some of the best in Scotland for Azure Hawker, and we investigate several sites for this prized odonata species! Golden-ringed, Common Hawker and others may be possible here too, several pairs of Black-throated Diver breed on the loch while Golden and White-tailed Eagle cruise the ridges. Other mountain and coastal birds may include Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, waders and terns. Also likely are Raven, Hooded Crow, Stonechat, Rock Pipit, Wheatear and Twite with chances of Merlin, Great Skua, Greenshank and Golden Plover on inland moors.

Otter, Common and Grey Seal may be seen in quite coastal bays and as part of our west coast exploration, we are likely to encounter seabirds and in calm conditions cetaceans too. Our return journey back to Nethy Bridge will take in the best dragonfly (and birding) sites not yet visited. Birding around the Black Isle is a good alternative in less favourable weather with waders in summer plumage, moulting sea-duck, terns and farmland birds among the possibilities.

Day 6: Thursday - Perthshire birds and butterflies
Today we head south into Highland Perthshire, exploring a range of habitats as we go. We investigate sections of boggy moorland for butterflies, specifically looking for Mountain Ringlet, Alongside this desired prize, we hope to encounter Large Heath and Northern Brown Argus and dragons might include Golden-ringed. Two range restricted day flying moths occur here, Small Argent and Sable, and Beautiful Yellow-underwing. Birds may include Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Meadow Pipit over open ground, while a walk in the Tay Forest might yield Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Common Crossbill, Jay, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Tree Pipit and Garden Warbler. In fine weather raptors are likely to feature with both eagles, Red Kite, Osprey, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Peregrine, Merlin and Hobby among the possibilities. The area supports a growing population of Honey Buzzard too, though they can be notoriously elusive!

Day 7: Friday - Moray Coast and local round up
We watch the weather and take stock of progress during the week before settling on the day’s activity. Local birding or a visit to the Moray Coast are possibilities, with resident Bottle-nosed Dolphin a target if we head for the coast again. Fishing Osprey, waders including summer-plumage Dunlin, Knot, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone, Sandwich, Arctic, Common and Little Tern might feature, perhaps alongside a summer rarity?! A small, localised population of Grayling butterflies occurs in the coastal dunes and we may get lucky if they emerge early. In farmland habitats Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Yellowhammer will boost our bird-list.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highland Wildlife in Early SummerEagles, Divers & Dotterel, Highlands and Wester Ross

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

  • Five 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 might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Two nights at a comfortable hotel on the west coast with full en suite facilities.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus during six full days' birding. All access fees.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • Saturday courtesy pick-up and return service to Aviemore.
  • A detailed checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

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, though sometimes over uneven and boggy ground to search for dragonflies.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions though for butterflies and dragons we require sunshine and warm temperatures. We take advantage of these conditions as much as we can but in a Scottish summer some rain is equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing including hat and gloves. Please bring wellies if you have them, though we will try to avoid their use!
Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, especially when looking for dragonflies. A good repellent is advised.
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

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Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248