• Tel: +44(0)1479 821248
  • Request a Brochure

Highlands & Orkney

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

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.

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 other forest birds, perhaps including the first returning Redstart and Tree Pipit. 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 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.         

Day 3: Monday – Transfer to Orkney
A tremendous couple of days as we head to Mainland Orkney to see waders, raptors and seabirds. We should have time for a few birding stops as we drive north, with Whimbrel, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper likely at tidal locations in Sutherland or a late staying Iceland Gull at one of the many harbours. We take two different ferry crossings on our outward and return journeys to Orkney, offering different island scenery and time on the water as possible. Our first seabirds will likely include Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill plus a few Puffin, and we have seen Orca on both ferry routes in the past. On arrival, we have a few hours to investigate quiet bays and coastal haunts perhaps seeing our first Great Northern and Red-throated Diver. The latter breeds in Orkney, and we often here them flying inland to secluded lochans on the moors, where other birds can include Red Grouse, Great and Arctic Skua and Cuckoo. We stay for two nights on Mainland Orkney, the largest of the Orkney Isles.

Day 4: Tuesday - Mainland Orkney
As many as eleven species of wader breed in Orkney, and on our full day we hope to find beautiful Black-tailed Godwit at wetland sites, Golden Plover on the moors and and perhaps even summer plumage Ruff if lucky. Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl can both be abundant, especially in good (Orkney) Vole years and we hope for multiple sightings of birds quartering the wetlands and rough pasture. Merlin breed in Orkney too, as does Water Rail and a few Corncrake, though they are heard calling far more than they are seen! Skylark, Wheatear and Meadow Pipit are all common, and we have good chances of seeing Twite in several places, even at the Ring of Brodgar stone circle! We plan to visit at least one seabird colony such as Marwick Head or the Brough of Birsay, where Shag, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill plus a few Puffin and Gannet breed. Around the coast we also look out for Otter and Grey Seal, and if time allows follow up on any cetacean news especially if a pod of Orca have been sighted!

Day 5: Wednesday – East Orkney Mainland and return to Nethy Bridge
With a little time before catching our ferry back to the Scottish Mainland, we may choose to look for passage waders on the beaches, or perhaps search for migrant passerines at either the Deerness or Tankerness headlands. Working our way through the Churchill Barriers to terminal, roosting groups of Sandwich, Arctic, Common and Little Tern may be encountered on the man-made beaches. We return to Nethy Bridge at a leisurely pace via some of the key birding spots on the Caithness or Sutherland coast.

Day 6: Thursday - Crown Estates
An early start to view Black Grouse at one of their lekking sites is a great start to 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 and we have chances of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Peregrine, Goshawk and perhaps Merlin. Amid stunning surrounding scenery, Raven, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and other moorland birds contribute to a special day.

Day 7: Friday – Black Isle or Moray Coast
We begin by rounding up any local unseen species, before heading north to explore the Black Isle or Moray coast. Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter can be expected offshore, while on the estuaries and tidal lagoons, Osprey may be watched fishing, non-breeding waders will be passing through at this time and many such as Knot, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit will be in smart summer plumage. Rich farmland boasts Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge and we also look for any rarities within reach on this last day.

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