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Highlands & Orkney

Brilliant summer birding across the Highlands, with an action packed TWO nights away in Orkney!

2024 Dates
  • 15 Jun - 22 Jun 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
2025 Dates
  • 26 Apr - 03 May 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1695 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

As Scottish summer gets into full swing we visit Orkney, where special breeding birds include Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Red-throated Diver and Twite. With auks, skuas, terns and gulls, our three-day journey is full of excitement amid stunning coastal scenery. A tour with plenty of variety, we devote time to the local specialities which make their home here in the Highlands too.

We enjoy two nights on Orkney giving us a real flavour of this fertile archipelago. Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl breed in good numbers here, and we often enjoy great views of both quartering rough grasslands and heaths. With the sound of Skylark and Meadow Pipit all around, we may add hunting Merlin to our lists too. We have a full day to visit the stunning seabird colony of either Marwick Head or Brough of Birsay, as well as birding numerous bays where we often find summer-plumaged Sanderling, Turnstone and other waders, or a late Great Northern Diver. Although primarily a birding trip, there may be the option to visit World Heritage sites such as ‘Ring of Brodgar’ and ‘Stones of Stenness’. Ferry crossings should yield Great and Arctic Skua, Black Guillemot and Puffin among commoner breeding seabirds and in recent years we have seen Orca, Minke Whale, dolphins and Otter, so don’t miss a minute!

Close to our Highland hotel, we search the Caledonian pinewoods and rugged glens for Black and Red Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill. On quiet moorland lochs we hope to encounter Slavonian Grebe and Black-throated Diver, seeking out Peregrine and Ring Ouzel too. At coastal haunts, expect Osprey, Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Red-throated Diver, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge, plus any rarities within reach. NB, we don’t visit the Cairngorm plateau during this itinerary.

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

  • Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owls on Orkney
  • Skuas, auks, gulls and terns in the far north of Scotland
  • Highland specialities including Crested Tit and Slavonian Grebe.
  • Breeding waders on Orkney, perhaps including islandica Black-tailed Godwit

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local birding
A morning in the Abernethy to look for Crested Tit and forest 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! Often over fifty species are seen on this day and your list may include Osprey, Dipper, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Peregrine, a host of breeding waders and Slavonian Grebe. The beauty of divers and grebes in breeding plumage spellbinds many of our guests, and during this holiday we hope to admire them at close quarters.         

Days 3 - 5: Monday - Wednesday - Mainland Orkney,  via Sutherland and Caithness
A tremendous couple of days as we head to Mainland Orkney to see waders, raptors and seabirds. On Monday our drive north will take us through tiny fishing villages in Sutherland where a late staying Iceland Gull or Black Guillemot is a possibility. We take two different ferry crossings on our outward and return journeys to Orkney, giving us as much scenery and time on the water as possible. In previous years we have seen Orca from the ferry, and this is a great time of year for sightings in the Pentland Firth. We stay two nights on Mainland Orkney, the largest of the Orkney Isles. We hope to find beautiful Black-tailed Godwit and perhaps even summer plumage Ruff if lucky, among as many as eleven breeding wader species. Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl can both be abundant, especially in good (Orkney) Vole years and we hope for several sightings of birds quartering the wetlands and rough pasture. Merlin breed in Orkney too, and with the sound of Skylark and Meadow Pipit all around, expect to also see Twite.

We plan to visit at least one seabird colony on our adventure here. Marwick Head or the Brough of Birsay are our popular choices, where scores of Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake and a few Puffin may be seen and Great and Arctic Skuas pass overhead. On Wednesday we have a few hours to target any rarities or missed targets before catching our ferry back to the mainland. We return to Nethy Bridge at a leisurely pace via some of the key birding spots on the Sutherland coast, arriving in time for dinner on Wednesday evening.

Day 6: Thursday - Crown Estates
An optional early start to view Black Grouse at one of their lekking sites is a great start top the day, with displaying waders including Curlew and Snipe likely too. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots where you won’t see many other birders. Raptors are likely in the hills here, and we chances of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Goshawk and perhaps Merlin too. Amid stunning surrounding scenery Raven, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and other moorland birds contribute to a special day.

Day 7: Friday - Moray Coast
We head north to explore the Moray coast, where we can expect a range of birds offshore including Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill and Red-throated Diver. On the estuaries and tidal lagoons, Osprey may be watched fishing, non-breeding waders will be present and flocks of Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern gather. Rich farmland boasts Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge and we also look for any rarities within reach.

Please note, with three days devoted to our adventure on Orkney, we don’t visit the Cairngorm plateau during this itinerary.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highland Wildlife in Early Summer, Spring Migration in the Highlands, Birding the Highlands in May

Wildlife of Argyll and Inner Hebridean Islands, North West Scotland Explorer, Orkney Island Explorer

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

  • Five 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.
  • Two nights comfortable en-suite accommodation in Orkney.
  • 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 or wellies.
Walking will be moderate, with a few walks on uneven terrain, with nothing further than 3 miles. We don't visit mountain areas on this holiday.
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 whatever the time of year!
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

Other birdwatching holidays in Orkney Isles

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