The holiday begins and ends in Inverness, which has good daily connections to London, from where you can fly to many North American destinations. Our office team will be very pleased to help with your logistical arrangements.
Day 1: Tues 16 June Arrival in Inverness – welcome to Scotland!
Arrival in Inverness, where our first overnight is close to the airport. As everyone arrives at different times, please transfer by taxi to the hotel. Dinner is not included, and can be taken at your leisure in a nearby traditional pub/diner.
Day 2: Wed 17 June Skye and transfer to North Uist/Benbecula
Your Heatherlea Guide will arrive to greet you after breakfast, then we depart Inverness and head via Loch Ness across the Highlands to the famous Skye Bridge, travelling across the island to the ferry point at Uig. We should have time for some birding en-route and may even have seen our first eagles, Common Raven, Hooded Crow and (real) Rock Dove before we board the ferry! Birdwatching as we cross The Little Minch to Lochmaddy, Great Skua, Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaeger are special birds worth watching for. Manx Shearwater and European Storm Petrel are also often seen, and Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and other auks can be (nearly!) guaranteed. Atlantic Grey and Harbour Seal are equally likely in these waters and if lucky, we may encounter cetaceans too. On arrival into North Uist, we transfer to our comfortable hotel on Benbecula where we stay for three nights.
Days 3 - 4: Thurs 18 – Fri 19 June Birding the Outer Hebrides
You are birding in the right place, and at the right time, to see Corncrake! In some years the birds can be difficult to find, and a little patience is required but over the years we have seen them crossing the road, sitting on walls, jumping up out of the grass, flying short distances and even mating!
Lots of Corn Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Eurasian Skylark and Twite make the machair of North Uist a special habitat full of song. Common Loon in summer plumage is likely offshore, and we will also look for Red-throated and Arctic Loons on peaty lochs. Great Skua are frequently seen, Parasitic Jaeger breeds and if the weather conditions are right and we get lucky, a late passing Pomarine or Long-tailed Jaeger! Rare and delicate Red-necked Phalarope might be seen, and other summer-plumaged waders at the coast should include good numbers of European Golden and Black-bellied Plover, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Red Knot, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone. Whimbrel and Common Ringed Plover can both be present in high numbers and there can often be a few Ruff lingering, the males in fabulous breeding colours. An absence of persecution means Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl are present in good numbers, and along with Golden and White-tailed Eagle we hope to see them daily. A real feast of birds!
Our days are governed by weather and our progress, and your guide plans each day according to the conditions. Optional early and late birding may be offered.
Day 5: Sat 20 June North Uist, Skye and return to Nethy Bridge
Our final day in the Hebrides ends with some birding at local sites and perhaps a search for Otter, the channels around the ferry terminal being one good place to try. Black Guillemot, Common Sandpiper and Common Greenshank are often present here too. Nearby moorland can be good for White-tailed and Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and breeding loons on quiet lochans. The Minch crossing offers another chance to enjoy seabirds and we will be on the lookout for cetaceans such as Harbour Porpoise, Short-beaked Common and Risso’s Dolphin and Northern Minke Whale. Driving across Skye, we may make a birding stop or two if time allows, aiming to return to Nethy Bridge by the early evening.
Day 6: Sun 21 June Highland specialities
An optional early start to see Black Grouse at the lek offers a great start to our time in Strathspey. After breakfast, we visit our exclusive private estate woodlands in our comfortable minibus to look for Western Capercaillie. We have a responsible and caring attitude towards these magnificent birds, with unique access and unbeatable local knowledge invaluable as we look for the wonderful ‘Horse of the Forest’. Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland and the days birdlist may well include Western Osprey, White-throated Dipper, Common Buzzard, Common Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Common Cuckoo, European Stonechat, Grey Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll, beautiful Horned (Slavonian) Grebe and a host of breeding waders such as European Golden Plover and Eurasian Curlew.
Day 7: Mon 22 June Seabird boat trip
We take an exciting cruise to the foot of Troup Head, home to mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry. Also nesting on the cliffs will be hundreds of Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake along with smaller numbers of European Shag and Atlantic Puffin. Each species occupies a different level and from below, views of the colonies will be outstanding! We will likely see Black Guillemot at close quarters too and if lucky cetaceans with Harbour Porpoise, Short-beaked Common and Bottlenose Dolphin and Northern Minke Whale possible. A very exciting boat trip! Later we enjoy a traditional fish and chip lunch, and keep birding along the Moray coastline for waders, ducks, terns, gulls, and passerines to boost our lists.
Days 8: Tues 23 June Strathspey Birding
We enjoy a morning in the Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit and local breeding birds. Scottish Crossbill (a controversial species, currently considered to be the UK’s only endemic) are also found in the forest and with both Red and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Today will not just be about the birds - Red Squirrel can be found near woodland feeders, while Brown Hare, Roe, Red and Sika Deer are also possible. A variety of specialist butterflies and dragonflies are also available locally, and if conditions are favourable (warm and sunny) we might look for them. Wildflowers, such as rare Twinflower can look their best at this time of year too – the Highlands really are alive with wildlife!
Day 9: Wed 24 June The Moray Coast
The inner Moray Firth offers exciting birding to boost our lists, and we may see Common Eider, Red-breasted and Common Merganser, Red-throated Loon, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern, and stray waders including Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Red Knot in breeding plumage. Local farmland supports nationally scarce species including Grey Partridge, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, European Goldfinch and Common Reed Bunting. Western Osprey are likely to be seen fishing and in good weather there may come opportunities to scan over forests and clearings for raptors such as European Honey Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Red Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Common Kestrel.
Day 10: Thurs 25 June Cairngorm Mountain
We spend a full day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Rock Ptarmigan and Eurasian Dotterel. Our record in June is very good, we carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, also taking care not to disturb the birds. Mountain Hares may leap out as we walk, and we look (and listen) out for Snow Bunting, breeding Northern Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Red Grouse as we enjoy a brilliant day's birding in a very special habitat.
Day 11: Fri 26 June The Black Isle
Our focus today is on Western Palearctic birds not found in the Americas, and this extra day allows us to collect a few species not usually regarded as targets by UK-based visitors to Scotland. Today we round-up birds inland, perhaps including Wood Warbler, European Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Tree Pipit and both Willow Warbler and Common Chiffchaff. There is an opportunity to revisit our private estate for Western Capercaillie, if we didn’t find the birds earlier. We also visit the Black Isle to add waders, wildfowl, farmland birds and more, round up any species we have missed and search for any rarities within reach.
Day 12: Sat 27 June Departure
Breakfast and departure. We transfer you to either Aviemore or Inverness for transport links.