An exciting holiday across the Highlands, designed to maximise our birding as winter turns to spring. Speciality species include Capercaillie, Parrot (Scottish) Crossbill, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Ptarmigan, and good chances of three or even four diver species in breeding plumage at the coast, where the first Slavonian Grebes will also be showing full summer plumage. Winter birds are with us in good numbers, and one of the main advantages of birding this far north is the opportunity to see many species at close quarters, probably including both Velvet and Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. In bad weather, these birds can sometimes be found at extremely close quarters in sheltered harbours. We will also pay attention to rarities within reach, and this can be an excellent time for ducks, geese and passerines to augment an already outstanding birding experience.
With all nights at our own Mountview Hotel, we have maximum flexibility to plan the week according to weather, tides and rare bird reports. The outline itinerary allows for three days at the coast and three days in Strathspey and the Cairngorms, though if we are successful with our key targets locally we may change this to maximise our birdlist. A highlight will be a stunning visit to the west coast - we will pick the best day possible; there is nowhere better than the West Coast of Scotland on a nice spring day! This holiday takes in some of our most stunning and iconic scenery, all the while enjoying superb birdlife and general wildlife as the season turns to spring.
DAY 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
DAY 2: Sunday Birding the Cairngorms
Our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats, and a local drive should produce Black Grouse popping and cooing at the lek, followed after breakfast with a walk in the nearby Abernethy Forest. Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill are found here, and during these months we often see Capercaillie. A clear spot gives us chances of Golden Eagle, and then off for lunch with Dipper, Buzzard and Goldeneye for company. At this time of year, White-tailed Eagles and Goshawk are very possible too!
DAY 3: Monday The Wild West Coast
Today we head westwards, working remote sealochs, bays and beaches as we go. Rugged Wester Ross offers iconic scenery around every corner and the mountains often have a snowy cap, giving us picture postcard views across the bays. A superb time to be on the West Coast, the longer days giving us excellent chances of Otter whatever the weather. Some of our sites here are among the best places in the UK to see divers, with large numbers of Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated. Offshore we look for Black Guillemot, Slavonian Grebe, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser, with chances of passage waders and gulls that often include Iceland and Glaucous with the very first Great Skua and Wheatear possible too.
DAY 4: Tuesday Capercaillie!
We use our exclusive private estate woodlands for viewing Capercaillie. Staying inside our large minibus, we have an excellent chance of seeing both male and female birds. Later we search for moorland specialities including Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin and perhaps the first Ring Ouzel. The day finishes with a moorland drive, which may give views of Red Grouse and Black-throated Diver.
CAPERCAILLIE - a responsible and caring attitude, especially in the breeding season! Our private estate access and unbeatable local knowledge are invaluable for seeing Capercaillie, and our success rate on this holiday is excellent. Heatherlea helped to write the RSPB Code of Conduct for Capercaillie watching, and this is a reliable and responsible way to see the wonderful ‘Horse of the Forest’.
DAY 5: Wednesday The Black Isle
Today we take our first of two looks at the Inner Moray Firth. This is an exciting time to be birding here, with the majority of the wintering birds still present, numbers swelled by northbound migrants. We will time our visit to maximise numbers of waterbirds, with a close look at the tide times as we pick from superb birding sites such as Udale Bay, the Beauly Firth, the Cromarty Firth and Munlochy Bay. All of these sites will be busy with large numbers of waders, wildfowl and gulls to scan through. The Black Isle is good arable ground and we should see plenty of Linnet, Yellowhammer, Red Kite and other raptors too. The stubble fields will be getting ploughed at this time of year, concentrating the winter flocks of finches and especially geese. We should see hundreds of Pink-footed Geese today, just a few weeks away from returning north.
DAY 6: Thursday Ptarmigan in the hills
In the mountains we seek Ptarmigan (NB conditions can be wet and therefore very difficult at times in the spring melt). Other birds may include Snow Bunting, Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver, Goldeneye and Peregrine, and local birchwoods hold Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. The first returning Osprey and many breeding wader species are likely as we enjoy the best of local birding. Waders alone could include Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Common Snipe, Golden Plover, and in the evenings in good weather, Woodcock roding. Lingering Waxwing and Whooper Swan are sometimes present with occasional rarities too!
DAY 7: Friday Moray Coast
Spring birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable as newly arriving migrants complement wintering birds. This day can easily include Osprey fishing, rafts of Common Eider, Goosander, Merganser, Stonechat, Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and spring waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, many changing into bright summer plumage. Watch out also for Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. Sandwich Tern arrive late March and are often our first Spring migrant alongside Sand Martin. We often see Bottle-nosed Dolphin, and with auks, Gannet, gulls and more, this is a rewarding day!
DAY 8: Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.
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).
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 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, 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.
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.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?
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 over 28 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!’