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Scottish Winter Specialities

Scotland's best winter birding in local habitats and out on the coasts

2025 Dates
  • 01 Feb - 08 Feb 2025
  • 08 Feb - 15 Feb 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£1295 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7

With snow-capped mountains and a high variety of birdlife, mid-winter is a fantastic time to visit the Highlands. A good time of year to search for all the Scottish specialities, the weather can certainly play its part as hard conditions force forest dwellers into the open or to take advantage of feeding stations. Northerly storms can deliver rarities on the coasts and being based at the Mountview Hotel throughout, we have ultimate flexibility to plan the week according to weather, tides and bird reports.

Inland specialities on this tour may include Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Ptarmigan, Black and Red Grouse, and winter is a good time to try and see them all. Golden and White-tailed Eagle are equally likely in the hills, or during a day trip exploring the mountainous west coast where we also hope to see three species of diver, Black Guillemot and Slavonian Grebe. Other raptors may include Goshawk, Hen Harrier and Merlin, with Snow Bunting possible both in the mountains or at the coast. Perhaps it will be a ‘Brambling year’ or a ‘Waxwing winter’, or will there be a Great Grey Shrike holding down a winter territory?

During visits to the Moray Coast and Black Isle we can expect a wide variety of species both on land and offshore. Tidal estuaries support large numbers of waders and wildfowl and sustainable, wildlife friendly farming offers plenty of feeding opportunities for Whopper Swan herds, geese and passerines. Winter gulls can include a gleaming white Iceland and Glaucous Gull and sea-duck will feature highly. Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup are likely offshore or in more sheltered firths, with chances of a rarity or two such as a King Eider. A great new tour for both the seasoned regular and guests birding in Scotland for the very first time.

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

  • Both eagles and three species of diver in stunning west coast surroundings.
  • Close views of Crested Tit and Red Squirrel, perhaps at a feeding station.
  • Flocks of winter sea-duck including Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup.
  • A winter rarity or two such as Waxwing or Great Grey Shrike inland, or a King Eider on the coast.

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

Day 2: Sunday - Local birding
Our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats, and Black Grouse popping and cooing at the lek will be one of our early targets. Later we walk in Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit and other local forest dwellers including Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and Red Squirrel, perhaps taking advantage of local feeding stations. Scottish Crossbill are found in the forests too, and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge!  Capercaillie also occur in these forests though are increasingly scarce and we no longer actively look for them. Any sightings should be seen as incidental. Local farmland supports Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, plus wintering Fieldfare and Redwing and finch flocks can include Brambling and Twite. A great first day birding!

Day 3: Monday - Moray Coast
Winter is a busy time on the Moray coast, with large numbers of birds taking advantage of good feeding opportunities both on land and at sea. Offshore rafts of sea-duck include Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, auks including Razorbill and Guillemot, plus Gannet, Shag and Fulmar may also be present, and in recent years we have seen rarities including King Eider and Surf Scoter. Iceland and Glaucous Gull are both regular around the estuaries and harbours, and waders can be expected including Purple Sandpiper. In the fields, Whooper Swan herds and geese flocks are worth checking for scarcer species such as White-fronted, Barnacle and even Snow Geese. And on a day where up to 70 species are possible, farmland birds can include Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and winter thrushes.

Day 4: Wednesday - The West Coast
We travel to the west coast, where mountains rise from the sea in one of the most rugged and beautiful regions of Scotland! In sheltered bays, we enjoy winter gatherings of Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Diver with Black Guillemot and Slavonian Grebe also likely. Scanning higher ground, we look for Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Raven, Hooded Crow and 'real' Rock Dove plus Red Deer and Mountain Goat. In hard weather, flocks of thrushes, pipits and finches may move out to the west coast joining Rock Pipit and Twite which traditionally spend the winter there. Following northerly storms there are chances of Little Auk or winter gulls, plus Otter, seal and cetaceans too. It is always an exciting day exploring the west!

Day 5: Thursday - Ptarmigan and raptors in the hills
A full day in the Cairngorms National Park, where in mountain habitats we look for Ptarmigan, with Snow Bunting and Mountain Hare also possible. We have a number of options within the park, and snow conditions and recent successes will dictate exactly where we try. Raptors will be the main feature for the rest of the day, and out on the moors or in a beautiful Highland glen we have good chances of Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Red Kite, Peregrine and perhaps even Merlin. Displaying Raven are likely too, as are Red Grouse and Red, Roe and Sika Deer. On fast flowing rivers we look for Dipper, Goosander and Goldeneye, while Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, crossbills and other woodland species may be encountered on the edges of birch and spruce plantations.

Day 6: Thursday - Local round up and Black Isle
We begin locally taking in any Highland specialities we might not have seen so far. Inland rarities may include Waxwing in an influx year, or a wintering Great Grey Shrike and if present, time may be devoted to them before we head to the coast. Crossing the Moray Firth we arrive on the Black Isle, where a number of close together birding sites can yield great birding in just a few hours. An incoming tide can bring large numbers of wildfowl and waders in nice and close, and wintering sea-duck in the Cromarty Firth include Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser plus Slavonian Grebe. Inland, arable ground and winter stubbles provide feeding for hundreds of Pink-footed Geese as well as farmland birds.

Day 7: Friday - Easter Ross, East Sutherland or Aberdeenshire
On our final day we birdwatch in an as yet unexplored region of the coast, our options spanning from East Sutherland to Aberdeenshire. We keep things flexible, your guide choosing the best location for new birds and a great final day in the field. On tidal estuaries in East Sutherland, waders can include less regular Highland species such as Greenshank and Grey Plover and we have seen Jack Snipe in saltmarsh habitat here too. Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Eider are likely from multiple locations offshore, and Little Gull may be encountered after storms. In Aberdeenshire we have many options too, from RSPB Strathbeg in the north-east of the county to the Ythan Estuary near the city and plenty more great sites in-between. Geese, wildfowl, waders and gulls likely to be at the fore and we may use this day to target a coastal rarity or two.

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

This holiday can be combined with:

New Year Birdlist BoosterBirders' Blast in Winter, Highland Winter Birding, Highlands and the Aberdeenshire Coast

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:

  • Seven nights comfortable accommodation at The Mountview Hotel, Visit Scotland 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 fees.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • 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:

  • 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, although the optional mountain walking for Ptarmigan and other mountain species, is likely to be strenuous and in snow.
Weather Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Cold winds, sunshine, rain and snow are all possible! Bring waterproofs, walking boots, and warm clothing. Hats and gloves are essential at this time of year.
Biting insects are not an issue in winter!
Group size maximum 7 clients per guide.
Optics Telescopes will be useful, and you should bring binoculars. A camera would be useful too!

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