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Highland Autumn Explorer

Speciality local birds, departing and incoming migrants and an exciting pelagic trip - a new autumn tour with something for everyone!

2024 Dates
  • 07 Sep - 14 Sep 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1395 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 30 Aug - 06 Sep 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1495 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

Purple heather moors, the gold and red in the birchwoods, and the deep greens of the ancient pinewoods - this is a lovely time to visit Scotland. Mid-autumn is an exciting period for birdwatching here, with an abundance of possibilities as summer breeders, winter visitors and Highland specialities collide. Bird numbers are at their highest, and by exploring a number of lesser-known places and different habitats, we can expect variety and a high species count on this new tour.

Our Mountview Hotel is ideally placed and on this highly flexible itinerary our daily routine will very much depend on weather conditions and up to date bird news. Lots of birds will be on the move from geese, swans and other wildfowl, waders and terns to passerines including thrushes, chats, pipits, finches, warblers and more! There is always the chance of a rarity or two, while an exciting pelagic trip will be a highlight offering chances of unparalleled views with less frequently seen seabirds. An exciting opportunity to explore offshore, likely are skuas, petrels, shearwaters as well as commoner seabirds and perhaps cetaceans.

Local knowledge is key, and our guides will choose the right day to visit sites accordingly. Resident populations are at their peak, and we hope to see Scottish specialities including Black and Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill. Day visits to the Moray, Black Isle or Aberdeenshire coast will yield waders, seaduck, divers and grebes, while rich farmland ensures there is plenty to seek inland.

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

  • Close encounters with shearwaters, petrels, skuas and more on a dedicated pelagic trip off Aberdeenshire.
  • Highland specialities including all four grouse and Crested Tit.
  • Golden Eagle and other raptors at quiet, lesser-known locations.
  • Migrant birds en masse, with summer and winter birds all on the move during this, the busiest period of the birding calendar!

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

Day 2: Sunday – Local Forest and Moorland birding
The Abernethy Forest is a great place to begin, and strolling through the old Caledonian pines we look for Crested Tit among roaming passerine flocks. Scottish Crossbill are also found here and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge!  Capercaillie also occur in these forests though are increasingly scarce and we no longer actively look for them. Any sightings should be seen as incidental. Out on the moors raptors will be our main focus, and we will perhaps enjoy sightings of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Red Kite, Hen Harrier Peregrine and Kestrel as well as Raven. You may also hear Red Deer stags bellowing at the rut - a wonderful and unforgettable experience.

Day 3: Monday – Aberdeenshire Pelagic trip
An exciting day, with a new boat trip planned off the Aberdeenshire coast targeting migrant seabirds. On this special pelagic charter, we travel into deeper water and by ‘chumming’ hope to attract species less regularly seen from the Mainland. There are lots of possibilities including Leach’s and European Storm Petrel, Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Sabine’s and Little Gull and Grey Phalarope. It is a great time of year for skuas with all four being possible, and we may enjoy close encounters with Great, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed during our time at sea. And with increasing sea temperatures bringing a number of rarer, ‘southern’ seabirds into UK waters, species such as Balearic, Cory’s and Great Shearwater are sighted annually in the North Sea these days. Commoner seabirds are likely to include Shag, Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake and auks and we may see cetaceans too. Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Bottle-nosed and Risso’s Dolphin are the most likely, with Orca and Humpback Whale on our radar too. A fabulous exploratory sea trip, and after we return to land we continue birdwatching at lesser-known headlands, valleys and coastal bays for migrant birds.

Please note our boat trip is a dedicated 4-5 hour pelagic, heading several miles offshore followed by long periods of idling. By chumming (deploying fish and oil) we attract the birds in close and the views can be excellent, with good photography opportunities of less regularly seen species. Our local skipper knows these waters well, and while we can be flexible to choose a day with the best conditions, it may still be choppy in open water. Such trips are of course optional and you may remain ashore if you prefer.    

Day 4: Tuesday – Moray Coast
After breakfast we head north to explore the Moray coast where great birding awaits at this busy time of year. Offshore we can expect a range of species including Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and a few seabirds. Wader numbers will be on the increase, and close scrutiny of the flocks of Dunlin, Knot, Bar and Black-tailed Godwit can yield surprises such as a Little Stint or a rarer Nearctic waif. Gull flocks at this time of year can sometimes contain a Little or Mediterranean Gull, or perhaps an early Iceland or Glaucous Gull after northerly winds. A day with plenty of variety, and time exploring rich farmland will boost our days bird-list with Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge possible.

Day 5: Wednesday – The Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
We travel eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. A visit to a Black Grouse lek is a great start to our day, and we watch out for passage birds overhead including geese, thrushes and finches. Continuing to the mountains in Deeside we have a chance of Ptarmigan, Red Grouse and 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, Goshawk, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite among other species. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots with further chances of Golden Eagle and perhaps Merlin too. Amid stunning surrounding scenery, less known among birders we may also see Raven, Common Crossbill, Dipper and other moorland migrants on this day.

Day 6: Thursday – Strathspey and the Inner Moray Firth
We begin by rounding up any Strathspey specialities we might have missed. Visits to local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland will help us see Red Grouse, Raven, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye, Goosander, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and raptors too. Later we plan to head up to the Inner Moray Firth, an area close to urbanisation where flocks Scaup and Slavonian Grebe can feature among building numbers of winter wildfowl. A late Osprey and waders including Greenshank, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit may also be seen,

Day 7: Friday – Coastal Birding (Black Isle or Aberdeenshire)
A flexible final day with lots of options, and your guide will select the best possible location for targets and new sightings. Depending on weather conditions, time at either the Black Isle or coastal Aberdeenshire may prove rewarding, as might a visit to an under-watched location such as the Tarbet peninsula. Likely wherever are large numbers of Pink-footed Geese, seaduck, waders and terns. In fabled easterly winds we can focus more on migrant passerines and checks of scrubby cover and plantations may produce warblers, flycatchers, pipits, chats, thrushes and finches in good numbers. There are lots of possibilities at this time of year and among the Redstart, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher we will perhaps get lucky, and unearth a scarcer Barred Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike or something even rarer! Keeping an eye on local reports, we may target a nearby rarity but whatever we do or see, we will enjoy a great final days birdwatching!

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Autumn Migration in the HighlandsThe 'Outer Limits' Adventure

North Ronaldsay and Orkney for birders 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).

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.
  • All boat trips and estate entrance fees
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus.
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.
  • Courtesy bus service to and from 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.
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 mainly light 1-3 miles daily, though sometimes extra effort and a tougher walk may be needed to get to special birds such as Ptarmigan in the Mountains. All such walks are of course optional.
Boat trip - a dedicated 4-5 hour pelagic, heading several miles offshore followed by long periods of idlying. Our local skipper knows these waters well but it can still be choppy, so you may wish to take measures in order to prevent seasickness. Such trips are of course optional and you may remain ashore if you prefer.
Travel is by comfortable nine-seater minibus.
Weather - expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine, wind and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing.
Biting insects are unlikely to be encountered, but bring a good repellent just in case!
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!

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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About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248