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High Season Across the Highlands

A week of Scottish birding featuring a visit to the bustling seabird city of Handa Island!

2025 Dates
  • 24 May - 31 May 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

A tremendous two-centre holiday for all the species that make Scotland so special. We visit many habitats including the seabird colony of Handa Island. It really is time to enjoy High Season ACROSS the Highlands!

In the Abernethy we seek Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill, where adults with fledged young may be found at this time. Forests also hold migrant Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit and resident Treecreeper and Goldcrest. Lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland may produce Osprey, Dipper, Goldeneye, Black-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and a host of breeding waders.

Handa is a birding treat. Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill mingle with Fulmar, Kittiwake and Shag on the cliffs. Arctic Skua ‘dive-bomb’ the boardwalk if we are too close, and with Gannet, Great Skua, Black Guillemot, Raven, Red Grouse, ‘real’ Rock Dove, Snipe, Lesser Redpoll, Sedge Warbler, Eider, Hooded Crow and Great Northern and Red-throated Diver too, every minute is absorbing. We stay overnight on the west, giving maximum time on Handa, and a second day to explore the under-watched north-west coast. Your guides choose the best locations in the freedom of the most stunning landscape in Scotland. Black-throated Diver are on remote lochs, Twite, Wheatear and Whinchat on the moorland and Golden and White-tailed Eagle soar over imposing crags.

On the high plateau we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Snow Bunting and Ring Ouzel, with a good track record for finding our quarry at this time of year. We also look for breeding Snow Bunting. At the coast Osprey fishing, Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, occasional summering Common Scoter, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern can be found. We also seek rarities within reach, perhaps a rare wader at this time. A fitting finale to a great week’s birding!

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

  • Glorious Handa, with breeding skuas and thousands of auks
  • Dotterel and Ptarmigan on the high plateau
  • Crested Tit and forests full of bird-song as summer breeders arrive.
  • Golden and White-tailed Eagles wheeling overhead in the clear blue sky

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local Birding
We begin with a local day, and our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats. We spend a morning in the Abernethy woods to look for Crested Tit and local breeding birds. 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 explore the birchwoods for a different range of species, including Redstart, Tree Pipit, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. On local lochs, we look for Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver – two of Highland Scotland’s most attractive breeding birds!

Days 3: Monday - Handa Island
Drive to the North West corner of Scotland, we visit Handa for a fabulous birding spectacle! On our arrival, Great and Arctic Skua announce their presence by dive-bombing as we walk along the boardwalk paths, occasionally making contact if we are too close. Thousands of birds breed on Handa, and Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill mingle with Fulmar, Kittiwake and Shag on the cliffs. Gannet fish close to the island, and with Black Guillemot, Raven, Red Grouse, ‘real’ Rock Dove, Snipe, Eider, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver also around, there is plenty to keep us interested. Every minute on Handa is an absorbing experience, and we round off a full day with an overnight stay in a picturesque West Coast location.

NB - this overnight stay on the west is very important, as we are ideally placed for a great day's birding on Tuesday, and avoid a long and tiring drive back to Strathspey.

Day 4: Tuesday - North-West Scotland
On our second day in the far north-west, we explore hidden and lesser-known treasures of this rugged stretch of coastline. Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser may all be found on the sea, while Twite, Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler and Whinchat frequent roadside bushes. We spend time looking for Golden and White-tailed Eagle soaring over the imposing, steep crags, and look for breeding waders including Golden Plover, Greenshank, Curlew and Snipe. Meandering our way along at a leisurely pace, we watch the shore for Otter before returning to Nethy Bridge in time for dinner.

Day 5: Wednesday - Crown Estates
On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots where you won’t see many other birders, with further chances of Golden Eagle, Peregrine and perhaps Merlin too. The stunning surrounding scenery less known among birders, farmland supports a host of breeding waders with Skylark and Meadow Pipit both abundant. In the forests, Common Crossbill, Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher may be encountered, and later we spend plenty of time investigating the moors too. Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Stonechat, Wheatear, Short-eared Owl may be seen, often alongside one of the many bustling Common Gull colonies.

Day 6: Thursday - Cairngorm Mountain
We aim to spend a full day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in May is good, and we carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, taking care not to disturb the birds. The sound of Snow Bunting singing often alerts us to their presence, and we also look out for Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and raptors. Brilliant birding in a very special habitat!

Day 7: Friday - Coastal Birding
An optional early start to see Black Grouse at the lek offers a great start to one day – though the birds are more active in May than in June. After breakfast we may head north to explore coastal haunts, and could expect to see a range of birds including Osprey fishing, Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver plus Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge in farmland habitats. Roosting flocks of Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern may be seen, we try to round up any species missed during the week or search for rarities within reach.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Birding the Highlands in May, Highlands and the Ailsa Craig

Outer Hebrides in SpringBirding the North Coast 500

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

  • 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 might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • One night comfortable en-suite accommodation on the north-west coast.
  • 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 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 light with the exception of the optional walk on Handa involving a return of around 3 miles on at times uneven terrain. The mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is strenuous and we commit a full day to this c.5+ mile return walk with over 1000ft of climb. Guests can opt out of this day.
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.
Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, though not as a serious problem.
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

Visit Scotland

Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248