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North Ronaldsay and Orkney in Spring for birders

Brilliant Spring birding at our favourite migration outpost

2024 Dates
  • 04 May - 10 May 2024
  • 11 May - 17 May 2024
Duration7 Days
2024 Price
£1695 pp
£130 single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 10 May - 16 May 2025
Duration7 Days
2025 Price
£1745 pp
£140 single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

The island of North Ronaldsay, off the very northern tip of Orkney, is quite simply a great place to be during bird migration. The birding potential is fabulous, and this holiday aims to tap into prime-time spring passage, when the 4 by 1 mile island can be awash with a great variety and large numbers of birds. Anything can and often does turn up! The Bird Observatory and its warm and comfortable guest house are the perfect base to explore the island. All rooms are en-suite and the food and company is first rate. Once you have visited, you’ll be sure to return.

We also enjoy birding around mainland Orkney, visiting spots where anything can happen!  The relaxed itinerary and pace make it ideal for the novice or more experienced birder alike, while the friendly locals, spectacular scenery, peace and tranquillity only add to the enjoyment of these far flung islands.

This holiday is best suited to birders. If a rarity turns up, or we need to spend time finding and identifying a 'tricky' bird, this takes precedent over other considerations. Historical sites, shops and cultural aspects take a backseat on this particular holiday in favour of more birding. Our Orkney Island Explorer and Orkney in High Summer holidays are more suited for those wanting a more general tour of North Ronaldsay & Orkney. 

We are timing our visit to connect with what is traditionally the busiest period of the whole spring on North Ronaldsay, as the greatest density and variety of birds pass through the island. Several thousand waders can be present, stopping off to feed before continuing their northbound migration to their Arctic breeding grounds. Huge flocks of Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling and often Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper too and many in stunning summer plumage - a sight not often seen in the British Isles. Dotterel are regular at this time of year as are Wood Sandpipers, and Garganey can often be found among the breeding wildfowl.


Posted Thurs 4 May 2017

Our clients on North Ronaldsay are enjoying a fabulous experience, having bagged a first for the UK, Red-winged Blackbird! This bird has achieved huge national attention, as birders flock to the island by plane and boat to see this smart female specimen, showing in a marshy area in the centre of the island. Our group arrived on the island the day after the bird was found, and Heatherlea Group Leader Mark Warren couldn't believe his good fortune. 'We know North Ron is excellent at this time of year, that's why I was so keen to lead this Heatherlea holiday' he said. 'We knew about the bird being on the island before we arrived, so we left our bags at the airport and went straight for the bird. By liaising with Observatory staff, we were able to get excellent views of this mega-sighting in a responsible manner. All our guests were elated, what a fantastic start to their holiday!'

This has been a tremendous week's birding holiday, with Hoopoe, Lapland Buntings, Snow Buntings, two Wrynecks (including one in the hand), Wood Sandpiper, Osprey and much more on the island. Our Group is also spending time exploring mainland Orkney before returning to Heatherlea in Nethy Bridge on Saturday (6 May), and with summer-plumaged White-billed Diver already seen, the excitement continues!

This is one of our 'for birders' holidays, click here to see more!

Day 1 (Saturday) - Transfer from Heatherlea to mainland Orkney.
Eyes peeled as we make our way north through Sutherland and Caithness. We have time for a quick stop en route, perhaps at Loch Fleet to look at fishing Osprey, Red-breasted Mergansers and maybe a Greenshank. We head for John O’Groats where we will take the short ferry crossing across the Pentland Firth looking out for Gannet, Great and Arctic Skua, Storm Petrels, Black Guillemot and other seabirds plus cetaceans such as Harbour Porpoise, Risso’s Dolphin or maybe even Orca. On our arrival in Orkney the rest of the day will be spent checking a few local hotspots or visiting the Italian Chapel while making our way to our accommodation.

Days 2 - 5 (Sunday - Wednesday) - North Ronaldsay
Depending on our flight times we may spend a few hours birding locally before we transfer to North Ronaldsay from Kirkwall airport. Our 15 minute flight to the island on the 8 seat Islander plane offers a unique opportunity to see the other Orkney Isles from above and we will soon be receiving a warm welcome at the Observatory. There’s an excellent and skilled set of staff and volunteers based there, and we work closely with the team as their experience and advice is invaluable. There’s the chance to witness and learn from the daily ringing activities while the ‘Obs bar’ is a fine place to share a local ale and discuss the day’s sightings at the evening log call.

Our daily birding schedule will be dictated by both the weather and group capabilities but the lie of the land is flat, with good roads and easy access to most ‘hotspots’ so we do our best to visit all corners of the island. In addition to the aforementioned waders we target spring passerines and in the right weather conditions, Scandinavian bound migrants can make landfall here with summer visitors such as Tree Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and wide variety of warbler and finch species. This is the best time in spring for Wryneck and an encounter with one in the hand is a birding memory never to be forgotten. The first Bluethroat and Red-backed Shrike often turn up during this period and there is also a chance of Icterine Warbler and Common Rosefinch. Other species we may encounter include summer plumaged Great Northern Divers, passing raptors such as Osprey, both Short and Long-eared Owls, Redpolls and Hawfinch, while any lingering Lapland and Snow Buntings will now be in stunning summer plumage. This period has often stolen the show with some mouth watering rarities over the last decade, with Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper, Western Subalpine Warbler, Black Kite, Glossy Ibis, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Pectoral Sandpiper, Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll and Little Bunting. We at Heatherlea have certainly enjoyed some great birds on this tour, happy clients having connected with the UK's first Red-winged Blackbird, sixth Mourning Dove, Thrush Nightingale, Red-throated Pipit and Red-rumped Swallow to name a few! Anything is possible - what will it be this year...? Breeding seabirds such as Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Fulmar and gulls all add to the enjoyment, plus there are common nesting wildfowl and waders, while the local Twite and Linnets offer a good identification challenge.

There will also be the option to visit and take a guided tour of the Island Lighthouse and/or the wool mill, spend a few hours unearthing North Ronaldsay’s fascinating history at the exhibition, and even study the unique feeding and habits of the 3000 odd seaweed-eating sheep. Be sure to try the mutton at the Observatory!

Day 6 (Thursday) - Mainland Orkney
This morning we leave North Ronaldsay and spend the reminder of the day birding Mainland Orkney. Nesting birds present at this time of year include Red-throated Diver, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and an abundant variety of wader species. We take in some of the nesting seabirds on the coast too and if we get word of any scarce migrants or perhaps even a rarity we’ll have the option of searching for it. We can be flexible and cater to everyone’s needs so if the birding is quiet, we will take in some culture by visiting the Brough of Birsay and the impressive Ring of Brodgar or consider any other requests within close proximity.

Day 7 (Friday) - North Ronaldsay to Nethy Bridge
We have a few hours in the morning to explore sites in Mainland Orkney, perhaps visiting Deerness or South Ronaldsay before taking the mid morning ferry crossing to Gill's Bay and minibus back to Nethy Bridge, arriving in the early evening.

This holiday can be combined with:

Spring Migration in the Highlands, Highlands & CorncrakeBirding the Highlands in May

Outer Hebrides in Spring, Shetland in Spring for birders, Birding the North Coast 500, 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).

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions, which can be wild and unpredictable, with temperatures perhaps averaging around 14 degrees Celsius. Sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects are not expected. Please bring walking boots or shoes, weatherproof clothing and a small rucksack. The holiday will be run at a relaxed pace, with time for photography and botany as well as fabulous birdwatching in a spectacular setting! There will be moderate walking (3-8 miles) per day on a variety of mostly flat terrain. Rare birds don't always turn up in convenient locations, and gates, stiles and wet areas may have to climbed in order to see all of the species.

What's included in your North Ronaldsay for Birders in Spring holiday price

• Two nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation in Mainland Orkney. We choose hotels from our personally inspected shortlist, where birders are welcome and the hospitality is special. Four nights en-suite accommodation at North Ronaldsay Observatory. All rooms are en-suite, and single guests are never expected to share. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening till Friday morning, packed lunch daily.
• All transfers by comfortable minibus. All ferries and other boat trips. Drivers can leave vehicles safely parked at The Mountview Hotel. We can also offer a courtesy drop off to Aviemore on Saturday morning.
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

What's not included in your North Ronaldsay for Birders in Spring holiday price

• Extra night in Nethybridge area at beginning and end of holiday. This can be arranged for you if requested at time of holiday booking.
• Transfers from Aviemore on day before the start of the holiday.
• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

Other birdwatching holidays in Orkney Isles


Heatherlea is THE company for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Relax and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team, as we do all the planning! 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. Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you.

These popular holidays are carefully designed to explore the beautiful and wildlife-rich Scottish islands and far west coast. Many itineraries are unique, designed to give you the best of island wildlife at the best time of year. All are run at a leisurely pace, though we might move a little faster when rare migrants and vagrants are in our sights!

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • This holiday has a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
  • Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance packed lunch and tips to hotels.
  • 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