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Highlands and the Isle of May

An exciting new itinerary featuring Heatherlea's first visit to this famous seabird hotspot!

Max Group Size7 per guide

SPECIAL OFFER! Early Birder discount - Book Now and Save up to £200!

On this two-centre holiday we offer some of the best birding available in the Highlands, including a visit to the wonderful Isle of May. Just over one mile in length, the island is located in the north of the outer Firth of Forth, about five miles off the coast of Fife, and is owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage as a National Nature Reserve. During our visit at the height of the breeding season, the Isle of May can host around 200,000 seabirds, including Puffin, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag, Fulmar, Eider, Oystercatcher plus several gull and tern species. We plan to spend time on the island, working closely with the Observatory team to search out other the best wildlife including any late migrants. Seabirds will feature highly; the Isle of May is famed for its Puffins and other nesting species and we enjoy birding from both land and sea.

On our three-day adventure south to Fife we’ll also explore coastal hotspots for waders and farmland birds, enjoy summering Common and Velvet Scoter, with Little Gull and Roseate Tern also possible. 

In the Highlands, summer months are a good time to see many speciality species including Crested Tit. Also present are Scottish Crossbill and summer migrants deep into their breeding season. We’ll look for scarce Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe on local Lochs, plus Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine in the hills. Capercaillie are increasingly scarce, and we no longer look for them at this time of year, though incidental sightings are possible. We plan to spend a day on the Cairngorm mountain, exploring the plateau for Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting.

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

  • The Isle of May - 200,000 seabirds on one tiny island!
  • Stunning Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe on a Highland Loch
  • Coastal birding in Fife
  • Ptarmigan and Dotterel on the Cairngorm plateau

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local birding
We start with local birding, searching the forests for Highland specialities including Crested Tit. Scottish Crossbill are found in the forests and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Breeding summer migrants such as Tree Pipit, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher may be seen, and perhaps Red Squirrel, Dipper, Siskin, Goosander and Lesser Redpoll at a river site. We drive through quiet Scots Pine forest in the Heatherlea Private Estate, heading directly for the summit viewpoint. From here we have unrestricted views across the strath towards the Cairngorm Massif, and can also scrutinise the nearer hills of the Dava and Monadliath Mountains. We may obtain our first views of Golden and White-tailed Eagle from this elevated point, which is uniquely available to Heatherlea vehicles, and also watch for Peregrine and other raptors as they pass across the narrow Slochd gap, as do Raven and breeding gulls and waders. This is an exceptional experience which many of our clients mention as a scenic highlight of the week. Capercaillie are increasingly scarce and we no longer actively look for them during the breeding season, any sightings from our vehicles are incidental. We recommend different times of the year for these birds. After lunch, if the weather is favourable we visit a nearby glen to look for Golden Eagle, with White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier and Ring Ouzel are all possible. Alternatively, we can head to the moors and to a local Loch where breeding Black-throated Diver, Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern and Osprey may be enjoyed.

Day 3: Monday - Perthshire and Fife
Today we travel south through Perth and into Fife. Options during our journey include pausing at Loch of the Lewes or Loch Leven, the latter being where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned on an island castle on the loch. Osprey are likely along with other familiar wetland species, but we’ll be keen to get down to the Firth of Forth on the South Fife coast to search for waders, summering sea-duck including Common and Velvet Scoter, Little Gull and farmland birds. If any other rare or interesting birds are in the area we will detour to try catch up with them.

Day 4: Tuesday - The Isle of May 
The magical Isle of May! Staying overnight just a few miles off the picturesque Fife coastline, we take a morning boat trip out to this busy little seabird island to enjoy the mass spectacle of thousands of breeding birds. Puffins are a highlight and the views of these characters are a real treat, up-close with plenty of photo opportunities. Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Tern, Fulmar and Eider are common breeders, and we’ll enjoy them from both land and sea. Grey Seal are likely and there is a chance of cetaceans including Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphin and even Minke Whale. As part of the trip, we plan to land on the island and though tide will dictate how much time we can spend there, we work closely with the Bird Observatory (the very first in Scotland established back in 1934) to make the most of our visit, walking to the best areas to view seabirds while resident wardens will direct us to any migrant birds. A great day out!

Day 5: Wednesday - Return to Nethy Bridge
Today we plan to visit key sites in the Fife area and on the Scottish east coast as we begin to return north to the Highlands. We have options, local bird news perhaps swaying our decision, but the Eden or Tay Estuary can both be good for waders and terns in summer. If time is on our side, we could make our way more quickly north and along the Angus coastline for birding at Montrose Basin. A mecca for waders, and as non-breeders start to return and with a strong track record for rarities this site is always worth a visit! Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow may be found in surrounding farmland and any local tern and gull flocks will be checked for pink-flushed Roseate Tern and Little Gull. Returning over the eastern side of the Cairngorm range gives another chance to see raptors such as Golden Eagle and Peregrine, while the scenic drive through a part of the mountains less frequently visited by Heatherlea will be a delight.

Day 6: Thursday - Scottish specialities!
Moorland and upland specialities such as Slavonian Grebe, Hen Harrier and Stonechat may be seen today, Alternatively, we can head to a local Loch where breeding Black-throated Diver, Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern and Osprey may be enjoyed. Later we enjoy a Highland summer evening visit to the moors close to The Mountview Hotel. Short-eared Owl breed here, and we frequently see adults quartering the heather while non-breeding Black Grouse may be encountered close to a lekking site. Breeding Curlew, Snipe, Skylark and Meadow Pipit frequent the area too and Goshawk, Merlin and Long-eared Owl have also been seen at this time of year.

Day 7: Friday - Ptarmigan and Dotterel on Cairngorm 
A full day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan and Dotterel, both perhaps with piping young running behind. Snow Bunting, Ring Ouzel, Red Grouse, Raven and Peregrine may also be seen on this brilliant day’s birding in the Highland hills. We may also see Red-throated Diver, Goldeneye and Crested Tit as we descend, plus Redpoll and Siskin flocks in local birch woods. 

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Outer Limits in Summer, Eagles, Divers and Dotterel.

Inner Hebrides from Canna to Iona, Ultimate Outer Hebrides.

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 might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Two nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation in Fife.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
  • Six full days birdwatching.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus during six full days' birding. All access and boat fees.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • Saturday courtesy pick-up and return service to Aviemore. 
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

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.
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 the mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is a strenuous all-day hike. June and July sees the birds typically on the highest tops, with a 6-7 mile return walk with around 1200ft of climb. Guests can opt out of this excursion.
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, especially hat and gloves for the mountain excursion.
Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, though it is rarely a problem. Please bring a good general 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!

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