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Highlands & East Coast Birding

Birding across five regions - our only tour targeting Hawfinch, Bearded Tit and the Highland specialities!

2025 Dates
  • 22 Mar - 29 Mar 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1595 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300

Late March is a great time to visit the Highlands, and on this new tour we target some very special birds. With spring on the way, local species are busy at the start of their breeding season and winter visitors are on the move north. Birding across five Scottish regions, this is our only tour targeting Hawfinch and Bearded Tit – two scarce Scottish species which only occur at a few sites north of the border.  

A two-centre holiday, we explore hotspots and lesser-known places within Strathspey and the Cairngorm National Park, and the east coast where a host of great sites await in Perthshire, Angus and Aberdeenshire. We will spend time exploring Royal Deeside too, a great birding area with rich pinewoods, high mountains, stunning rivers and glens where Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle and perhaps an early Ring Ouzel are possible.

Local specialities feature as always, including Scottish Crossbill, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and good chances of Slavonian Grebe and three or even four diver species in breeding plumage. Winter birds will still be 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. We will also pay attention to rarities within reach, and this can be an excellent time for ducks, geese, gulls, raptors and passerines to augment an already outstanding birding experience!

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

  • Hawfinch and Bearded Tit – scarce Scottish birds perhaps on the same day
  • Black Grouse on the lek and Ptarmigan in the hills.
  • Numbers and variety of waders, wildfowl and gulls around the Angus coast.
  • Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver in sparkling summer plumage.

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

Day 2: Sunday – Perthshire
We depart towards Perth, heading straight to a site where the largest winter congregation of Hawfinches in Scotland can be found. A shy bird at times, this is a regular flock so we have good chances of seeing them. As we search, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Jay are also likely. Moving on, we visit Tay Reedbeds hoping to see another rare Scottish species – the Bearded Tit. Walking a good trail alongside the UK’s largest continuous reedbed, listening out for their distinctive calls will often help us find them. Water Rail may be heard, and if really lucky seen too and we watch out for scarce Marsh Harrier. Singing Reed Bunting, winter wildfowl, waders and thrushes and the first returning spring Chiffchaff and Sand Martins are also possible here. Depending on our success at our two main sites, there may be time to investigate nearby lochs or pools, especially if a late-winter rarity is present such as a Ring-necked Duck or Smew.

Day 3: Tuesday - The Angus coast
Angus may be a small county but boasts a number of fantastic birding sites, and we plan to spend the day exploring its picturesque coastline. The Montrose Basin ranks as one of the county's best, where large numbers of geese, wildfowl, waders and gulls may be present. With an impressive track record for rarities, the Basin has attracted American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Lesser Yellowlegs at this time of year. Nearby rocky coasts and harbours play home to Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Eider, Rock Pipit and often an Iceland or Glaucous Gull. At Lunan Bay we scan for seaduck including Common and Velvet Scoter, Scaup, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser, plus Great Northern and Red-throated Diver. The surrounding farmland supports good numbers of Skylark, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow. We have lots of options for how we spend the day, continuing north along the coast to St Cyrus or Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, or exploring the cliffs at Arbroath where breeding seabirds will be returning. Rarely birded inland lochs often yield surprises and if time allows, we target a rarity or two!

Day 4: Tuesday – Return to Nethy Bridge via Deeside
We begin with local wetland sites such as Lintrathen or Loch of Kinnordy, where an early Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail and wildfowl including Gadwall and Shoveler may feature. Otter might also be seen, with Brown Hare and Red Deer possible as we begin to drive north. Re-entering the Cairngorm National Park, we plan to spend the rest of the day in Deeside searching for mountain and moorland specialities. If weather conditions are favourable we can take a scenic walk in the hills for Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, Red Grouse and Mountain Hare. Raptors are likely as we travel, with Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier and Merlin among those possible. Migrant Wheatear and the first Ring Ouzel often return to the hills at this time and we explore forested areas for crossbills, other woodland birds and Red Squirrel. Alternatively, if conditions are not good for the hills, we have good options in coastal Aberdeenshire. The Ythan Estuary would be a popular place to start, and with a number of great sites available in the north-east of the county, we enjoy another good day before returning to Nethy Bridge!

Day 5: Wednesday - Local Specialities
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. After breakfast we walk into the nearby Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit, Red Squirrel and other woodland dwellers. Scottish Crossbill are found in this habitat too, but with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge!

Later our focus returns to raptors, exploring local moorland and hills with Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Peregrine, Kestrel and Red Kite in mind. Goshawk can be at their most active in March and we investigate known sites for displaying birds. Waders are expected back to their inland breeding sites at the end of March, Golden Plover, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe all likely. At secluded pools and moorland lochans we look for Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver in breeding finery, with Red Grouse complementing a great local day.

Day 6: Thursday – The Moray Coast
Late-winter/early Spring birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable as newly-arriving migrants complement wintering birds. A day of varied habitats and birds, and we often begin by checking the rafts of Long-tailed Duck, Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Common and Velvet Scoter for a rarity such as Surf Scoter or King Eider. We have another chance of Iceland and Glaucous Gull, and northbound waders on the estuaries might include Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Greenshank. In farmland we look for Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. We often see Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Grey and Common Seal on this rewarding day.

Day 7: Friday – Round-up day
Our bird list should be getting fairly long by now, with a good selection of Scottish specialities. We take a good look at the weather, tides and recent sightings to plan our last day. It could be spent locally in Strathspey looking for any unseen targets or a visit to the Black Isle for coastal wildlife. We have the freedom of the Highlands and your guide will give you the best day possible!

Day 8: Saturday- Departure
Departure after breakfast. Don't forget our courtesy drop off to Aviemore!

This holiday can be combined with:

Highlands and Ardnamurchan, Highland Birding in March, Spring into Scotland including Mull

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 comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation at an east coast location.
  • 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.
  • Any estate access fees
  • 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. On the east coast we select from a range of comfortable hotels we have used before. 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 light, 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 possibly snow, are likely. Bring waterproofs, walking boots, and warm clothing. Hats and gloves are essential at this time of year!
Biting insects are unlikely to be encountered at this time of year.
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