May and June are traditionally the most popular wildlife watching months in the Highlands. Summer visitors have all arrived, the breeding season is in full swing, and the weather is normally warm and pleasant. On this two-centred holiday we spend time enjoying all the species which make Scotland so special. We combine the tranquil Caledonian pinewoods and the vast Cairngorm mountain plateau with an overnight stay to soak up the rugged beauty and desolate vistas of the West Coast, as we visit every habitat in search of birds, including the glorious skua and seabird colony of Handa Island. It really is time to enjoy High Season ACROSS the Highlands.
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
- Hen Capercaillie with chicks from the safe vantage of our mobile hide
- Golden and White-tailed Eagles wheeling overhead in the clear blue sky
DAY 1: Saturday
Arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget our courtesy collection service from Aviemore.
DAY 2: Sunday
A morning in the Abernethy to look for Crested Tit and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill. We often see adults with fledged young at this time. Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland. Your list may include Osprey, Dipper, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Lesser Redpoll, Peregrine, a host of breeding waders and Slavonian Grebe. Often over fifty species are seen on this day. The beauty of divers and grebes in breeding plumage spellbinds many of our guests, and during this holiday we make time to find them at close quarters to admire them. Obviously this will be done in a sensitive and responsible way, and our mobile hide minibuses will be invaluable!
DAYS 3 - 4: Monday & Tuesday GLORIOUS HANDA ISLAND & THE NORTH WEST COAST
A major thrill, we go to Handa for a real birding treat. 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 here, 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, Lesser Redpoll, Sedge Warbler, Eider, Hooded Crow and Great Northern and Red-throated Diver around to keep us interested, every minute on Handa is completely absorbing. A full day, rounded off 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).
The following morning, we explore the many hidden and under-explored treasures of the north-west coastline. Black-throated Divers, Common Scoters, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers are found on the sea, Twite, Cuckoo, Wheatear and Whinchat can be found in roadside bushes, though our main priority is to find Golden and White-tailed Eagles soaring over the imposing, steep crags, and deep blue freshwater lochs. We meander our way along the stunning coastline at a leisurely pace before returning back to Nethybridge in time for dinner on Tuesday evening.
DAY 5 - 7: Wednesday – Friday
Capercaillie! We visit our exclusive private estate woodlands in our large minibus. In June hen birds are more likely, perhaps with chicks. Later we seek out secluded locations with Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite and Ring Ouzel as our targets, this can be a good time to enjoy close views. Stonechat, Common Sandpiper and a host of Scottish moorland specialities complete a lovely day.
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 and June is very good, and once Dotterel are ‘in’ by early May only bad weather can stop us seeing them. We carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, and we also take care not to disturb the birds. Look out also for Snow Bunting (often singing). Brilliant birding in a very special habitat.
An optional early start to see Black Grouse at the lek is a great start one day – the birds are more active in May than June. After breakfast we may head north to explore coastal haunts, and could expect to see a range of breeding birds including Osprey fishing, Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern, Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill are also likely. We may also round up any species we have missed during the week, and search for any rarities within reach.
DAY 8: Saturday
Breakfast and departure. Don’t forget our courtesy return service to Aviemore.
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).
This holiday can be combined with:
Birding the Highlands in May, Highlands and Orkney.
SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURES
Outer Hebrides in spring, Shetland for birders in spring, Fair Isle in spring, Mull, Iona and Treshnish, Shetland Island Explorer, Southern Hebrides, Islands on the Edge, Orkney Island Explorer.
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.
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 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 at 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
* 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.
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 27 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!’