Birding the Highlands in May

A fantastic week of birding across the Highlands, from the Cairngorm mountains to both coasts

2023 Dates
  • 29 Apr - 06 May 2023
  • 06 May - 13 May 2023
Duration8 Days
2023 Price
£1645 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £300. Special offer! Early Birder discount, save £150.
Max Group Size7 per guide

SPECIAL OFFER!  Early Birder Discount - Book Now for 2023 and Save £150!

Birding the wonderful Scottish Highlands in May is one of the greatest pleasures available in the UK. With summer visitors arriving in good numbers, and key speciality birds still displaying or breeding, there is so much going on. We enjoy six tremendous days of wildlife watching, and all within striking distance of our Hotel here in Nethy Bridge. All the special birds of the Scottish Highlands are in our sights, and this is a perfect option to make the most of this wonderful time of year.

An ideal tour for the first time visitor or the seasoned expert, 'Birding the Highlands in May' offers a wealth of variety. On local days we look for forest specialities including Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill, plus Slavonian Grebe on moorland lochans. Raptors including White-tailed Eagle will be at the fore on a day touring the stunning west with summer-plumaged Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Diver and Otter likely too. Our Troup Head boat trip, scouring cliffs busy with seabirds will be another highlight, while time exploring estuaries, coastal bays and farmland on the Moray and Black Isle help amass a high bird-list!

And, just when you thought you had been everywhere with Heatherlea....

NEW! - Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
.....we came up with a brilliant addition to our spring itinerary! This brand new day takes you eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. The Black Grouse lek here is a great start to our day, and we watch for breeding Goshawk nearby. Travelling through fields of waders we reach Royal Deeside to have a chance of Ptarmigan without walking, before stopping to look for raptors which might include Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite among other species. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive vehicle access to secluded spots. You won’t see many other birders, and from these we are well place to look for Golden Eagle and Merlin, Raven, Ring Ouzel, Red Grouse and a range of other woodland and moorland species make a truly special day. On a recent recce we saw ten raptor species on this day!

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

  • Black Grouse and other forest specialities.
  • Newly arriving Dotterel joining Ptarmigan on the mountains.
  • Wonderful coastal birding, including a visit to the west coast.
  • Divers and Slavonian Grebe in fresh spring plumage.

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

Day 2: Sunday
Our award-winning hotel is right in the middle of the best birding habitats, and a short drive should produce Black Grouse popping and cooing at the lek. After breakfast we head to nearby Abernethy Forest to look for Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill in the forests, plus other local breeding birds and Red Squirrel.

Later we seek out secluded locations with Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite, Ring Ouzel and Slavonian Grebe as our targets, and we may visit a number of moorland spots on this lovely day.

Day 3: Monday
Today we head across the Highlands to the West Coast, where our key target is White-tailed Eagle. We have excellent chances of Golden Eagle too, and other western birds of interest are Hooded Crow, Twite and Cuckoo and on the sea Great Northern Diver and Black Guillemot in full breeding plumage. A frequent visitor at this time can be White-billed Diver, and we will be paying attention to see if we can find one on your visit. Otter, seals and cetaceans may also be seen on this fantastic day amidst fabulous west coast scenery.

Day 4: Tuesday
The Black Isle to the north of Inverness is a great birding location, with the added advantage of being small enough to be explored in less than a full day. Red Kite are well-established now, and usually give excellent views and at Udale Bay the last remaining Wigeon and Teal will be joined by waders including Curlew, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Ringed Plover, with perhaps Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, migrating Dunlin, Knot and maybe an unexpected rare wader too. Iceland and Glaucous Gulls might still be around, and we search favoured spots for Tree Sparrow, declining but still found here in a few places. For the rest of the day, we may visit favourite sites east of Inverness, to search for arriving Golden Plover, or rarity such as an American Wigeon or Green-winged Teal.

Day 5: Wednesday                      NEW! - Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
Just when you thought you had been everywhere with Heatherlea, we came up with a brand new day! We go eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. The Black Grouse lek here is a great start to our day, and we watch for breeding Goshawk and crossbills at nearby woods. Travelling through fields of waders we reach Royal Deeside to have a chance of Ptarmigan, Red Grouse and numerous Mountain Hare perhaps without any, or very little walking. Later we scan from viewpoints for raptors which might include Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Red Kite among other species. On the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, we have exclusive access to secluded spots where you won’t see many other birders, with further chances of Golden Eagle and perhaps Merlin too. The stunning surrounding scenery, less known among birders with Raven, Ring Ouzel and other moorland species all contribute to a truly special day.

Day 6: Thursday
We spend most of the day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we search for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Our record in May is very good, with Ptarmigan pairs settling on territory and Dotterel just arriving from Africa. In these early weeks Dotterel are not generally breeding, and views can be good. This day may be earlier or later in the week as we carefully choose the best time to visit for your comfort and safety, and of course we also take care not to disturb the birds. Look out also for Snow Bunting, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel as we enjoy brilliant birding in a very special habitat.

We take an exciting cruise to the foot of Troup Head, mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry, to see the nesting birds. Auks on the sea will include Puffin and Black Guillemot, and the first Great and Arctic Skuas of the season may be seen too. If we are very lucky, we may have an outside chance of White-billed Diver, which are becoming increasingly regular off the coast here in April/May. A very exciting boat trip!

Spring birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable as newly arriving migrants complement the last few winter visitors. This day can easily include Osprey fishing, rafts of Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, late-staying Common and Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Glaucous and Iceland Gull, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern and lots of spring waders including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Sanderling and Dunlin, many of them in bright summer plumage. Farmland specialities including Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge are all still found on this fertile northern coastline too on this rewarding  final day!

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

This holiday can be combined with:

Highlands and Skye, Highlands and Corncrake

North Ronaldsay & Orkney in Spring for birders, Outer Hebrides in Spring, Shetland in Spring for birders, NEW! Birding the North Coast 500, Shetland 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

  • 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 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 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.
Walking will be light, although the optional mountain walking for Ptarmigan and Dotterel 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. Even hardened Heatherlea guides will have hat and gloves in their bag at this time of year!
Biting insects could possibly be encountered, but still unlikely in early May.
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,

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.

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: 01479 821248