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Highlands and Corncrake

The best of the Highlands and Outer Hebrides in Spring

2025 Dates
  • 10 May - 17 May 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1795 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

May is a wonderful month for wildlife watching in the Highlands. Summer visitors have all arrived, the breeding season is in full swing, and the weather is normally warm and pleasant. On this exciting two-centre holiday we spend time enjoying all the species which make Scotland so special, and combine the tranquil Caledonian pinewoods and the vast Cairngorm mountain plateau with two nights on the Outer Hebrides, as we add sought-after Corncrake to our enviable target list.

This is our only seven night itinerary combining key Scottish mainland species with Corncrake, a unique opportunity!

Each year Heatherlea watch Corncrake on the Outer Hebrides from early May, so by these dates we know where the birds have been showing, with excellent chances to see them before the vegetation grows too high and obscures the view. On this brief visit Corncrake are our principal target, though with a full day to explore, both White-tailed and Golden Eagle can be expected in reasonable weather. Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl are frequently seen, and on our ferry crossings we can expect any (or all!) of the four skuas plus auks including Puffin and Black Guillemot, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Shag, Fulmar and Kittiwake. Waders in bright breeding plumage and birds of the ‘machair’ including perhaps Corn Bunting will add to a memorable experience.

Back home in Strathspey, all the specialities are settled and breeding, and we search with care for Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Snow Bunting, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Osprey, Ring Ouzel, Dipper, Goldeneye, Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, and many more. We visit a variety of habitats from the Caledonian pinewoods adjacent to Mountview Hotel, open moorland, lochs, rivers and fields of Strathspey and neighbouring areas which hold these special birds. We will spend most of one day on the Cairngorm plateau targeting key species and another birding the Moray Coast where farmland birds and perhaps a rarity may feature!

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

  • Corncrake calling at close quarters
  • Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl on the Outer Hebrides
  • Golden and White-tailed Eagles wheeling overhead in the clear blue sky
  • Dotterel and Ptarmigan on the high plateau

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

Day 2: Sunday - Highland Specialities
An optional early start to see Black Grouse is a great way to get things started. We have an active lek close to our hotel, and may see both Black and Red Grouse before breakfast. We spend the rest of the day searching for speciality birds including Crested Tit inland. Scottish Crossbill are also found in the forests 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, rivers, birchwoods and moorland where species may include Osprey, Cuckoo, Dipper, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Black-throated Diver, Lesser Redpoll, Peregrine, breeding waders and Slavonian Grebe. Often over fifty species are often seen on this first day!

Day 3: Monday – Transfer to the Outer Hebrides
With a ferry to catch we make an early start, driving west through Mainland Scotland before crossing onto Skye. Travelling will be our main objective, but if there is time for birding stops, we scan the hills for eagles and will likely see our first Raven, Hooded Crow and ‘real’ Rock Dove while doing so. On our ferry crossing we can expect to see Gannet, Shag, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Great and Arctic Skua with chances of Common Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise if the seas are calm. Arriving on North Uist around lunchtime, we have options to begin searching for Corncrake straight away, investigate the beaches for waders, or look for divers and raptors in the moors and hills before transferring to our hotel on Benbecula where we stay for two nights.   

Day 4: Tuesday – Corncrake!
Heatherlea are watching Corncrake in the Outer Hebrides from early-May, so by these dates we often know the best places where the birds might show. Always an elusive bird none-the-less, we have excellent chances to see them before the vegetation grows too high. On this taster of the Outer Hebrides, Corncrake may be our principal target, though with a full day to explore we will enjoy a wealth of other local wildlife. Both White-tailed and Golden Eagle can be expected in reasonable weather, while Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl are both abundant and frequently seen. A wide variety of waders in bright, summer plumage will include both breeding and passage birds, with Golden and Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel among the likely species. Rarities can often turn up in spring, and passerines out on the ‘machair’ should include Corn Bunting, Twite, Wheatear and Skylark.

Day 5: Wednesday - North Uist and return to Nethy Bridge
With a few hours before our return ferry we focus on any unseen, or getting better views of desirable targets. Searching for Otter in quiet areas off the coast is one possibility, while in strong onshore winds northbound skua passage can peak in mid-May with Great, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua all possible. Three species of diver may be seen, Great Northern favouring the coast and Red-throated and Black-throated on breeding lochs. Further seabirds are likely on our return ferry crossing, and if time allows we make one or two birding stops on our way back to Nethy Bridge.

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 spots for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in May is good, and we carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, taking care not to disturb the birds. The sound of Snow Bunting singing often alerts us to their presence, and we also look out for Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and raptors. Brilliant birding in a very special habitat!

Day 7: Friday - Coastal birding
We begin in the forest if we have missed anything special, before changing habitats to a Northern, coastal location. We expect to see a range of breeding or migrant birds including Osprey, Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern alongside flocks of passage waders. Inland farmland supports Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and others and we may also search for any rarities within reach.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Birding the Highlands in May 

Outer Hebrides in SpringBirding the North Coast 500, North Ronaldsay & Orkney in Spring for Birders

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 accommodation on the Outer Hebrides, all rooms ensuite.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • All ferry costs and estate access 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 unless otherwise advised before your booking is confirmed. We stay at a comfortable hotel in the Outer Hebrides for two nights - we have been going there for many years and always enjoy it!
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 very light, although optional mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is a strenuous day hike.
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.
Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, especially in the west of Scotland but not expected to be an issue on this holiday.
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

Visit Scotland

Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248