Specialities, seaduck and geese, autumn in northern Scotland is a wonderful birding time, and we focus on three major groups for this holiday.
SPECIALS: We have Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Ptarmigan, Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill, and Golden Eagle inland, some of Britain's rarest and most spectacular birds.
SEADUCK: Flocks are at maximum volume at this time, and we scour rafts of Common and Velvet Scoter for rarities - we often have Surf Scoter. Long-tailed Duck and Common Eider flocks can contain King Eider.
GEESE include thousands of Greylag and Pink-footed, with a few Barnacle and Brents, the likelihood of taiga and tundra Beans, and the possibility of a real rarity including Snow, Ross's or Red-breasted Goose. An excellent time for geese!
Other possible birds include Red Grouse, Peregrine, Waxwing, Redwing, Fieldfare, and a host of great coastal birding. Waders, white-winged gulls, and in bad weather Little Auk and even Brunnich’s Guillemot have been found in our coastal areas. Great birding!
KEY MOMENTS AT OUR FRIDAY ROUND-UP - which will be yours?
• That rarity in amongst the big seaduck flocks.
• Blackcock at the lek close to our hotel.
• Learning the differences between taiga and tundra in the field.
• A surprise! There is likely to be at least one new bird for nearly everyone somewhere on this holiday!
DAY 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
DAY 2: Sunday
Capercaillie and Blackcock! We may visit exclusive private estate woodlands or other favoured spots depending on where birds are showing. Staying inside our large minibus, we have an excellent chance of seeing both species extremely well. A walk in the nearby Abernethy Forest to look for Red Squirrel and Roe Deer, Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill will produce wildlife of interest. Later we search for moorland specialities including Peregrine, Red Grouse, Merlin and Hen Harrier and travel to a local glen for Golden Eagle. This is a good time for goldies, and Red Grouse and Mountain Hare, Raven and Peregrine are present, and White-tailed Eagle frequently cross the hills in autumn.
DAYS 3 & 4: Monday and Tuesday ABERDEENSHIRE ADVENTURE
Today we head east for the area around the Ythan estuary, a very promising place at this time of year. Goose flocks can be in the thousands, and amongst the commoner greygoose species we have perhaps our best chances of rarities such as Snow or Red-breasted Goose. Flocks of seaduck will be here too, and this may be a good place to look for King Eider, which will be close if found inside the mouth of the River Ythan. At times, vast rafts of Common Scoter are found along this coast, though they are very mobile. If we locate them we have good chances of rarer scoters, such as Surf, or perhaps even a Black or White-winged Scoter like in previous years! More expected are Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, with lingering seabirds sometimes being chased by a late Pomarine or Arctic Skua. Waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover are scattered along the shore and just about anything can turn up, particularly in easterlies. We stay the night in Aberdeenshire, giving us a chance of an evening or early morning goose roost. If the bird numbers are high and they follow the expected flight paths, it is a sight and sound to remember!
The next day we work the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve carefully. This reserve is one of the most underwatched in the country, yet boasts the highest birdlist of any of the reserves, beating Titchwell and even Minsmere! Scarce wildfowl are expected, and we will spend time looking through the ducks in particular. When we are finished here we will move along the coast, paying attention to the arable farmland where we hope to find Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting, Stock Dove and Tree Sparrow. Our route back to the Mountview will take us through several busy harbours, where we will scan the gulls that have followed the white fish trawlers into port. This coastline is massively underwatched, despite its track record of High Arctic gulls such as Ross's and Ivory Gull. More expected are the first returning Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. We arrive back at the Mountview in time for dinner on Tuesday evening.
DAY 5: Wednesday
A complete contrast as we head for the hills to find Ptarmigan. We rarely fail to find the birds, and although the mountains support few other species at this time, watch out for Snow Bunting and Mountain Hare. We stay inland to round up anything we might have missed, and local birding around beautiful autumnal woodlands may produce Lesser and Common Redpoll, Fieldfare, Redwing and more.
DAY 6: Thursday
Autumn along the Moray coast can be stunning. Rafts of seaduck will include Velvet and Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. We search the flocks for rarities, which in recent years have included Surf Scoter, King Eider and once, a Steller’s Eider! Waders, divers, gulls and perhaps a stray Little Auk can be expected, and farmland birds may include Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. More encounters with large goose flocks should produce thousands of Greylag and Pink-feet. This an excellent time for geese, and this should be a great day, with a few Barnacle and Brents, and the distinct possibility of taiga and particularly 'tundra' Bean Geese.
DAY 7: Friday
We drive to the Black Isle, an underwatched and rewarding wildlife location where we search for Red Kite, Tree Sparrow, Harbour Porpoise, Grey Seal and Bottle-nosed Dolphin. Good sized finch flocks in the barley stubble are comprised of Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting and these often contain Brambling and Twite too! Afterwards we will return to Strathspey, rounding up anything missed earlier in the week.
DAY 8: Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don't forget our courtesy bus service to Aviemore station!
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).
More holiday information
Accommodation at Mountview Hotel can be seen here. www.mountviewhotel.co.uk . 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, although the optional mountain walking for Ptarmigan is strenuous.
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 are not expected.
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 exit north of Aviemore. 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 12.00, arriving Aviemore at 19.28. We recommend you connect with this service if possible. Our pickup also works well with the 16:19 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 07.25, 08.29 (fast train to London –recommended), 09.24. 10:27 and 11.23. 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, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Jersey (all Flybe), London Gatwick, London Luton and Bristol (all Easyjet). A new service has just been launched with daily service to London Heathrow with British Airways. Guests arriving in Inverness airport can then take a taxi to Nethy Bridge, or take the Airport Flyer bus to Inverness, from where 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 which at least 48 hours in advance! We will be able to meet the 15:51 and 18:46 trains departing from Inverness that arrive at 16:34 and 19:24 respectively.
What's included in your holiday price
* Seven 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 may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
* Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.
* Six full days wildlife watching.
* Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
* All transport by comfortable minibus.
* A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.
* Courtesy bus service to and from transport in Aviemore.
What's not included in your holiday price
* Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?
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 25 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!’