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NEW! Highlands & Ailsa Craig

A seabird spectacular and scarce Scottish birds including Dotterel and Nightjar - all on the same tour!

2024 Dates
  • 01 Jun - 08 Jun 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300

A fantastic new two-centre holiday exploring some of the best birding in Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway, plus all the key specialities in the Highlands. A boat trip to Ailsa Craig will be especially memorable, a rare opportunity to view the spectacular gannet colony, the third largest in Britain!

This is a busy tour, aiming to reach hidden gems, and lesser-known birding places within Scotland. As well as the abundance of seabirds on our boat trip, another key target is Nightjar in the Galloway Forest - a rare Scottish breeder and this is our only tour targeting them north of the border. A day in the Cairngorm mountains gives us the chance to look for recently arrived Dotterel too, and we hope to encounter breeding Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Ring Ouzel amid spectacular scenery. We also look for Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart in quiet woodlands, alongside Highland specialities including Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Golden & White-tailed Eagle, Slavonian Grebe, Black-throated Diver and more!

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

  • A boat trip to the Ailsa Craig - a rarely visited destination full of breeding seabirds! 
  • Galloway Forest and the special birds it holds - Nightjar, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.
  • The Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we search for Ptarmigan and Dotterel.
  • Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver perhaps with young.

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local birding 
The Abernethy Forest is the perfect place for our first morning with Crested Tit - a true Highland specialist - at the forefront of our search. 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! Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birch-woods and moorland. Often over fifty species are  seen on this day, among them Osprey, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. Breeding waders will be evident too, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe, Curlew and Common Sandpiper, busy keeping watch over their chicks. A great first day.

Day 3: Monday - Ayrshire & Dumfries & Galloway
An early start for our transfer south, and passing through several counties and habitats we have lots of birding options available. A few hours at either Lochwinnoch RSPB, Skinflats Lagoons or any of the other top sites on our route should give us an impressive list of species. Passage waders and wildfowl have a habit of dropping into these urban oases, and recent spring rarities have included American Wigeon, Night Heron, Lesser Yellowlegs and Alpine Swift. Keeping a close eye on bird news will help us plan our route, and we may also call in at Loch Lomond on our way to the Ayrshire coast.

After dinner, if the weather is favourable, we take advantage of the first possible chance to go out and search for nocturnal species. Nightjar is a very rare summer breeder in Scotland, and in the Galloway Forest. We also have chances of Woodcock, Tawny and Barn Owl as we watch over suitable habitat.

Day 4: Tuesday - Ailsa Craig
Our boat trip for the Ailsa Craig departs from Girvan, depending on tide and weather we take either a morning or afternoon trip to this truly unique island - a 1,115 feet high cone, sitting 9 miles off the Ayrshire coast! Made up of mixture of granite and Ailsa granite, long since the favoured stone of the curler and such curling stones are still quarried from the island today. It is now managed as an RSPB reserve, an SSSI and designated a Special Protection Area in recognition of its 73,000 pairs of breeding seabirds. Ailsa is principally Gannet colony, and it is the third largest in Britain with a staggering 36,000 pairs. Other species are well represented too, with large numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake and smaller numbers of Fulmar, Shag, Black Guillemot and Puffin. With luck we may also see Manx Shearwater, terns, and skuas on the crossing, with cetaceans and seals also possible. A superb excursion, weather dependent of course, with an optional short and steep landing possible in the right conditions.

The other part of the day will be spent enjoying the coast to the south. With plenty of options, we may even reach the eastern shore of Loch Ryan, a good place for summering wildfowl, passage waders, gulls, terns and coastal passerines.

Day 5: Wednesday -  Galloway Forest & return to Nethy Bridge
We spend the morning exploring the Galloway Forest enjoying a range of pleasant walks though the ancient oak woods. Still early enough in the breeding season for summer visitors to be in song, we hope to encounter Wood and Garden Warbler, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher. Both Nuthatch and Green Woodpecker are more regular here than further north, newer plantations are home to Common Crossbill and there is an outside chance of Willow Tit (easier in winter). By spending time on the moors we should also see Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear and beginning our journey north, raptors may include Golden Eagle, Red Kite and Peregrine. Entering Perthshire we have chances of seeing Osprey, and, if lucky, Honey Buzzard.

Day 6: Thursday - Cairngorm Mountain
We aim to spend a full day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right areas for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in June is good, and we carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, taking care not to disturb these important birds. Near boulder scree we look out for Snow Bunting, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel, all of which may be heard singing. A brilliant day's birding in a very special habitat!

Day 7: Friday - Moray Coast and round up day
An optional early start to look for Black Grouse as they return to lekking sites, or Short-eared Owl may be offered before breakfast. Later we round up any species we have missed locally before driving north to the Moray Coast or Black Isle. With lots of good birding sites available, offshore possibilities include Common Scoter, Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern. Passage waders may include Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Red Knot in breeding plumage, and it is a good time for scarcer species such as Little Stint, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper. Farmland birds including Grey Partridge, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting may also feature. A lovely way to being our tour to a close.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

High Season across the Highlands

Orkney Island Explorer, Islands on the Edge, Wildlife of the Argyll and Inner Hebridean Islands, Shetland Island Explorer

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 may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge. Two nights in a comfortable hotel in Dumfries & Galloway , all rooms en-suite.
  • 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.
  • 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 unless otherwise advised before your booking is confirmed. 2 nights away in en-suite accommodation in Dumfries & Galloway.
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.
Daily Routine - This holiday will have some long days in the field, with several long drives and night excursions for Nightjar planned. A reasonable level of fitness is required, as there may be some longer walks, including mountain walking for Dotterel and Ptarmigan, which is strenuous. Guests can opt out of these types of excursions, but please note no alternative guided activity will be available.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing. Hat and gloves are essential for the mountain and exposed coastal locations.
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 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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About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248