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NEW! Spring Migration in the Highlands

An exciting new tour, northbound migrants taking centre stage.

2024 Dates
  • 27 Apr - 04 May 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 19 Apr - 26 Apr 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300

One of our most flexible spring tours to date, we focus specifically on migration enjoying day trips to coastal hotspots and hidden gems in our quest to build a large bird-list. Anything goes on this new tour, featuring a boat charter to search for White-billed Diver to a last minute hop aboard a ferry for skuas and other seabirds in the Minch. Spring migration can be an exciting time of year, and in the right conditions falls of migrants can see large numbers of waders or passerines making landfall on their northbound journeys.

Based entirely in Strathspey, we of course dedicate time to our own Highland specialities. Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Black Grouse, Slavonian Grebe, Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill will all be looked for. Summer breeders including Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Pied Flycatcher and host of warblers will be fresh in and full of song. By not searching for time consuming species such as Ptarmigan or Capercaillie (which are increasingly scarce and we do not actively look for), there are more opportunities to explore and go birding around the Scottish coasts. Be it to the east, north or the west - the choice is ours! 

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

  • Highland Specialities including Black Grouse on the lek.  
  • A Spring rarity on the sea such as White-billed Diver, King Eider or Surf Scoter.
  • Golden and White-tailed Eagles, plus other raptors in the hills.
  • A fall of migrant passerines on the Scottish east coast.

Day 1: Saturday - Arrival & Welcome
Arrival, dinner and briefing. Don't forget our courtesy collection from Aviemore!

Day 2: Sunday - Highland Specialities
An optional early start to see Black Grouse is a great way to get things started. We have an active lek close to our hotel, and may see Red Grouse alongside upland waders including Snipe and Curlew, and all before breakfast! We spend the rest of the day searching for Highland specialities, Crested Tit being a very special target. Scottish Crossbill are also found in the forests and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Later we investigate local lochs, rivers, birchwoods and moorland where species may include Osprey, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear, Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Goldeneye and Goosander. Attractive Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe may also be seen on this day, one which often yields over fifty bird species!

Day 3: Monday – Aberdeenshire boat charter
Today we enjoy a very special boat trip, specifically targeting divers in summer plumage. Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Diver are all possible, and the jewel in the crown might be a spectacular White-billed Diver or two! The coastal here has become known as a pre-breeding moult site for this sought after species and our skipper knows these waters well, taking us to the best areas. A range of other seabirds are likely too, with Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Puffin all breeding locally. There are also chances of Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal during our time at sea. Back on dry land we can go east or west in search of migrants. With an afternoon to explore a range of estuaries, coastal bays and valleys who knows what we might find, and we may follow up on any rarities within striking distance.  

Day 4: Tuesday – Moray Firth
Spring birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable as newly arrived migrants complement the last few winter visitors. Rafts of seaduck including Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Common and Velvet Scoter can still be present offshore. And it is a good time of year for a passing rarity such as a King Eider or Surf Scoter to join them. On one day in April 2023 a Heatherlea group found six Surf Scoter together! Glaucous and Iceland Gull often linger, while Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern and lots of spring waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Sanderling and Dunlin will be on the move. Farmland species including Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge are all still found in good numbers on this fertile coastline too.

Day 5: Wednesday – Eagles and summer breeders
We head to the hills in search of raptors, in particular Scotland’s largest – with both Golden and White-tailed Eagle firm targets. Osprey, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Merlin, Peregrine and Kestrel are also all possible – can we achieve an 11 raptor day? We also spend time looking for recently arrived summer breeders in the right habitats. Passerines are full of song at this time of year, helping us to detect Redstart, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher alongside a variety of warblers of which Grasshopper, Garden and Wood Warbler are the most notable.

Day 6: Thursday - Migrants on the east coast
When searching for migrants flexibility is paramount to a good birdlist, and depending on the weather conditions your guide will choose the best regions to explore. Coastal Aberdeenshire needs no introduction with headline grabbing reserves such as Strathbeg and the Ythan Estuaray, and lots of great sites in-between! In fall conditions we dedicate time to the valleys and coastal scrub, hoping to connect with warblers, chats, thrushes, flycatchers and finches. In fabled easterly winds and rain, the birding can be exciting and produce rarities, of which Wryneck, Hoopoe and Alpine Swift spring to mind in recent springs. Another option is the Tarbet Peninsular, a hidden gem when it comes to migration birding but a place where Heatherlea have enjoyed great birding in the past. The Black Isle boasts good sites too, and a high tide visit can yield a long list of passage waders including scarcer species. Wood, Green and Curlew Sandpiper, often alongside Ruff, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit.

Day 7: Friday – The West Coast - by land or sea!
Another flexible day, “Plan A” being a road trip around the picturesque west coast. Birding remote sealochs, bays and beaches as we go, we watch out for both Golden and White-tailed Eagle in the mountains and Raven and Hooded Crow are likely too. In sheltered bays, divers may feature again, and we have another chance of Black Guillemot and Common Scoter plus waders, gulls and terns. Twite, Stonechat, Wheatear and Rock Pipit are possible in the coastal fields, and Otter may be seen too. Be prepared for a change of plan though, and if conditions are favourable we may chance our arm at some sea-watching instead. Western Scotland is famous for its spring skua passage, and following a period of westerly winds, a return day trip on board Ullapool-Stornoway ferry offers a chance of connecting with all four skua species. Arctic and Great Skua are the most likely, and a sharp eye will be needed to pick out a group of Pomarine or Long-tailed Skua bounding north. Manx Shearwater and other seabirds may also be seen too and both eagles frequent the hills above the harbour. Whatever we decide to do on the west coast be it by land or sea, we will be in for a great day!

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highlands and Skye in Spring, Birding the Highlands in May

North Ronaldsay and Orkney in Spring for birders

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 might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • 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, boat trips and ferry 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 mainly light 1-3 miles daily, though sometimes extra effort and a tougher walk may be needed to get to special birds. All such walks are of course optional. Please note we do not visit the mountain for Ptarmigan on this departure.
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. Even hardened Heatherlea guides will have hat and gloves in their bag at this time of year!
Biting insects could possibly be encountered, but still unlikely in early May.
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

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Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248