This is a superb time to come to Scotland – autumn migration is in full swing, the tree and heather colours are turning and our target birds are at their highest numbers with all youngsters fledged. On this itinerary we seek an ambitious list of raptors, and head to the best sites to look for them. The list is mouthwatering: White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Osprey, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel with chances of Merlin, Goshawk and Short-eared Owl. To maximise our chances we include an overnight stay on Magical Mull, a superb place to gain close views of many raptors in stunning Hebridean scenery!
Our grouse targets are Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse and Red Grouse, the four naturally occuring grouse species of the British Isles. The Highlands of Scotland is the only place to see them all! We seek Capercaillie in remote woodlands, using our private estate access for the best views, though we have several options if we aren’t in luck first time. We hope for a good breeding season to give us the chance of seeing several birds. Ptarmigan will be sought in high corries of the Cairngorms and this is the time of peak numbers, with birds in large coveys. If you find one you may find twenty, or even forty, and once we had 87 in one group! The birds are usually confiding, and often reward our efforts with prolonged views and very good photographic opportunities. Red Grouse are found commonly on the moors around our HQ hotel here in Nethy Bridge, while their rarer cousin Black Grouse can also be found locally at this time. With Heatherlea you have excellent chances of all of these species on this holiday.
There is so much going on in September! Specialities inland include Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill, the first autumn migrants are coming through and summer birds are still here in good numbers. We visit exciting coastal locations to check the swelling numbers of waders and wildfowl for rarities. Expect over 120 species with several surprises.
KEY MOMENTS at our Friday round-up - which will be yours?
- Male and female Capercaillie
- Black Grouse and Red Grouse close to our Hotel base.
- White-tailed and Golden Eagle over the mountains of Mull.
- Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl ... ten or more raptor species.
- Ptarmigan in winter moult
- Otters playing on the coastline
DAY 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
DAY 2: Sunday
Our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats, and a local drive should produce Black Grouse roosting near their spring-time lek. Red Grouse are present here also. After breakfast we head for the hills to see Ptarmigan and almost always find the birds. These mountains support few other species, though we watch for Snow Bunting, late Ring Ouzel and Raven. We may also see Red-throated Diver, Goldeneye, Peregrine, Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill as we descend, and local birchwoods hold Redpoll and Siskin flocks. Osprey and flocks of wader species and passerines are likely as we enjoy the best of local birding too. A superb day out!
DAYS 3 - 4 : Monday - Tuesday Magical Mull
We journey west, watching out for Black Grouse, Black Guillemot, Common Seal and Hooded Crow as we travel. If weather is kind we may stop off to search for Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle after we cross Loch Linnhe, as once we are across the Great Glen we are in prime raptor and Otter country! We head over to Mull late morning and target iconic wildlife at sites we know well. We immediately look for White-tailed Eagle and Golden Eagle, found here at their highest densities in the UK. Moorland species may include Hen Harrier and a late Short-eared Owl, and off the rugged shoreline we aim to find Otter and Red-throated Diver in breeding plumage. We stay overnight here, giving excellent chances of seeing Otters and tide-dependent birds.
We have half a day around the island on Tuesday, enjoying eagles, Otter, migrating Slavonian Grebe, Goosander and divers, plus Redpoll and Stonechat, with the first arriving Golden Plover and other migratory wader species gathering in number. We may also see Twite and Black Guillemot, with summer migrants such as Willow Warbler and Wheatear still very possible. Our scenic journey back takes us through glens and sealochs, arriving in Nethy Bridge late afternoon.
DAY 5: Wednesday
Capercaillie! Today we will visit our exclusive private estate woodlands. Staying inside our large minibus, we have an excellent chance of seeing both male and female birds. Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill are also found here, or in nearby stretches of native Caledonian pine forest. Later we search for moorland fringe specialities including Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Goshawk, all very possible at this time of year, with increasing numbers of White-tailed Eagles too. Mammals feature today, with Brown and Mountain Hare, and both Roe and Red Deer, the latter starting their roaring at the rut - if it is cold we may be in for a show!
CAPERCAILLIE - a responsible and caring attitude! Our private estate access and unbeatable local knowledge are invaluable for seeing Capercaillie, and our success rate is excellent. Heatherlea helped to write the RSPB Code of Conduct for Capercaillie watching, and this is a reliable and responsible way to se the wonderful ‘Horse of the Forest’.
DAY 6: Thursday - The Black Isle
Today we head to the Black Isle, a fertile stretch of arable land surrounded on three sides by the Inner Moray Firth. A good day's birding is guaranteed, with a high birdlist accumulated from all the rich habitats we visit. There are mudflats and high tide roosts, where wader and wildfowl numbers will be building, with this being a peak time of year for scarcities. We check through fields for farmland birds and wader flocks, with Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite overhead, keeping the flocks of Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Tree Sparrow alert. We have often seen Merlin too, perching up on bales and fenceposts, waiting for flocks of Meadow Pipits and other passerines to come through. We will also visit some superb vantage points for seawatching. Depending on the wind direction, anything is possible, with waders, seabirds and seaduck all likely, and perhaps a roaming Skua hassling the terns.
DAY 7: Friday - The Moray Coast
September birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable, as newly arriving winter migrants complement remaining summer visitors. This day can easily include Osprey fishing, rafts of Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Common and Velvet Scoter, Black and Red-throated Diver, and lots of autumn waders including Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, many still in summer plumage. Watch out also for farmland specialities including Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge, all found on this fertile northern coastline. Sandwich Tern linger, and Common, Arctic and even Little Tern may still be present. With Auks, Gannet, gulls and more this is a really rewarding day, with all four species of skua possible. We also search for any rarities or unusual sightings within reach. In recent years we have seen Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Great White Egret, Little Gull and more at this time of year.
DAY 8: Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.
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).
More Holiday Information
Accommodation at Mountview Hotel can be seen here. www.mountviewhotel.co.uk . On Mull we select from a range of comfortable Hotels we have used for many years. 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 mountain walking for Ptarmigan is strenuous as birds generally start moving around in large coveys, and may need us to cover some miles to locate them. The excursion for Ptarmigan is completely optional.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine, wind 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 are unlikely to be encountered, but bring a good repellent just in case it has remained warm and muggy on Mull!
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 exit north of Aviemore. 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 12.00, arriving Aviemore at 19.28. We recommend you connect with this service if possible. Our pickup also works well with the 16:19 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 07.25, 08.29 (fast train to London –recommended), 09.24. 10:27 and 11.23. 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, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Jersey (all Flybe), London Gatwick, London Luton and Bristol (all Easyjet). A new service has just been launched with daily service to London Heathrow with British Airways. Guests arriving in Inverness airport can then take a taxi to Nethy Bridge, or take the Airport Flyer bus to Inverness, from where 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 which at least 48 hours in advance! We will be able to meet the 15:51 and 18:46 trains departing from Inverness that arrive at 16:34 and 19:24 respectively.
What's included in your holiday price
* Six 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.
* One night comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation on Mull.
* 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.
* All estate access and ferry 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.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?
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 27 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!’