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NEW! Scottish Specialities in Autumn

A welcome return to Scotland's wide open spaces!

Max Group Size5 per guide

Welcome back to Scotland's wide-open spaces! We are currently planning to run all scheduled departures, please read our latest Coronavirus update. Until further notice, our minibuses will carry a maximum of five passengers each, with everyone guaranteed a free seat next to them. Please contact us for up-to-the-minute status on this departure.

This is an exciting and rewarding return to the outdoors for those of you who have missed Scotland’s wide-open spaces and wonderful wildlife. We celebrate by seeking the special resident species, and also visit the east, west and northern coasts where winter birds are gathering in good numbers, guaranteeing absorbing birding as we maximise our list during a busy period in the Scottish birding calendar. This holiday will be a welcome breath of fresh air, ideal for general birders who want to see Scotland’s birds in autumn, as well as those who like to keep lists.

Our main priority will be specialities best sought in the Highlands; Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill and Crested Tit. We also seek a host of northern winter visitors and spend time concentrating on any available rarities; King Eider and Surf Scoter are regular autumn visitors, and the unexpected can be expected! We estimate around 120 species, including many 'difficult' birds you might otherwise miss without a Guide, or struggle to locate further south in the UK. Our Guides will closely monitor weather, tides and local bird news to make sure we maximise our birding. Your personal sightings are important of course, and our Guides try to make sure everyone sees everything!

This holiday is offered in partnership with Bird Watching magazine, and can be seen in their May issue, pages 65/66. We are delighted to announce that Editor Matt Merritt plans to join us for one of the two weeks!

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

Day 2: Sunday – Local forest and moorland birding
An optional early visit to a nearby moor to look for Black Grouse returning to the lek is a great start, followed by a morning in the Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit visiting favoured post-breeding hotspots with easy access. Scottish Crossbill are found in the forests and we head for places where the birds might recently have been seen. Later we investigate our Private Estate woodlands for Capercaillie. From Heatherlea’s mobile hide minibuses we drive the forest tracks and can often enjoy great views at this time of year in the most responsible way. Scanning for raptors in open ground and at forest clearings we may see Red Kite, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Hen Harrier or Peregrine.

Day 3: Monday – The west coast, including Ptarmigan without Ptears!
Ptarmigan, only found at high altitude, is perhaps the most inaccessible of all British resident birds, and if you cannot walk far you may feel you will never see this grouse. We visit the stunning west coast for a good attempt at seeing Ptarmigan without walking more than a few hundred yards, and your guides will use walkie-talkies to keep in contact with those remaining by the vehicle. You have every chance, and many of our guests have been delighted by results in the past!

Today we also enjoy spectacular mountain scenery as we travel. We will scan west coast hills and charming sea lochs. We hope to see Golden and White-tailed Eagle patrolling the skies while sea-duck, waders, gulls and lingering auks may be seen from the roadside at sea-level. Post-breeding Black-throated and Red-throated Diver might be found in secluded bays with Otter, seals and cetaceans possible too.

Day 4: Tuesday – Moorlands and the Inner Moray Firth
We visit local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland, and may see Red Grouse, Raven, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye, Goosander, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. Later we may end up in the area around Inverness and the Black Isle, where white-winged gulls can include Iceland and Glaucous. Greater Scaup are in flocks, waders include breeding birds returning to their winter quarters, and migrant passerines include Redwing, Fieldfare and sometimes Waxwings or other interesting eastern species.

Day 5: Wednesday – Moray coast
After breakfast we head north to explore the outer Moray coast. Here we expect a range of seabirds including Goosander, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern Diver, Shag and hopefully many goose flocks. Populations of Pinkfeet are globally important, and good numbers of Greylags are also expected. Autumn species can also include Barnacle and the occasional Taiga or Tundra Bean or even Snow Goose. Rich farmland boasts Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge and we look for them from viewpoints along minor roads.

Day 6: Thursday – Aberdeenshire
Today we head east for a day around the Ythan estuary, a very promising place at this time of year. Goose flocks can be present in the thousands and amongst the commoner species we have our best chances of rarities such as Snow or Red-breasted Goose. Flocks of seaduck will be here too, and this may be a good place to look for King Eider, which will be close if found inside the mouth of the River Ythan. At times, vast rafts of Common Scoter are found along this coast, though they are very mobile. If we locate them we have good chances of Velvet Scoter or something rarer, with Surf Scoter, or perhaps even a Black or White-winged Scoter as has been recorded in previous years! Waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover are among the species scattered along the shore and just about anything can turn up, particularly in easterlies.

Day 7: Friday – Round-up Day.
A flexible, round up day. We might return to our Private Estate if necessary for a second visit for Capercaillie, or seek out any known rarities at an unvisited coastal location. This is often our Guides’ favourite day, as virtually anything can happen!

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highlands and Skye in Autumn, Highland Autumn Birding

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

  • Seven 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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!
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 at 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.

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