The tour begins in Inverness and ends in Edinburgh. Inverness has good daily connections to London, and from Edinburgh you can fly direct to several North American destinations or return to London. Our office team will be very pleased to help with your logistical arrangements.
DAY 1: Friday 7 August Arrival in Inverness, welcome to Scotland!
Today there are no activities planned so you can rest up from travels. Enjoy your hotel and a walk if you wish. Dinner can be taken at leisure in a nearby traditional pub/diner (not included). Our accommodations are close to airport tonight and since everyone arrives at different times, please transfer by taxi to our first hotel.
DAY 2: Saturday 8 August Abernethy Highland Games
Your guide will meet you after breakfast in the morning, and whisk you directly to one of the finest celebrations of Scottish culture, the annual Abernethy Highland Games. Unique and wonderful, this is an unforgettable spectacle, and a genuine experience of Scotland at its traditional best. Enjoy dancing, piping and athletic competitions, see throwing events and of course the breathtaking spectacle provided by the massed pipes and drums. The games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture, including a 10 mile foot race, refreshments and a variety of trade stands, often provided and manned by local people. There will be kilts and cabers, reels and marching bands! The Games is within walking distance of our Hotel in Nethy Bridge, and your luggage will be transferred to your room while you go directly to the Games. After the Games, we have dinner and a briefing about the next day's birding activity.
DAY 3: Sunday 9 August Strathspey and the Monadhliath Mountains
We begin in the Caledonian pine forest, where Crested Tit is a main target. Scottish Crossbill are found in the forests and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! At this time in our Private Estate lands, Capercaillie can show whilst taking berries. We drive slowly on safari here, perhaps also seeing late summer migrants, possibly including Tree Pipit, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher. Later we explore the birdlife of the moorlands, seeking Golden Eagle, Raven, Slavonian Grebe and Red Grouse in spectacular countryside, with rolling hills and impressive glens around us.
DAY 4: Monday 10 August Birding the Moray coast
Excellent birding as we go north to the Moray Coast. Fishing Osprey is a target, as are the first returning waders, leaving breeding grounds further north for warmer climes. Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Ringed Plover are sometimes joined by Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and even Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage. We also seek Purple Sandpiper. Passing terns, auks and Gannet may attract a marauding Great Skua, and we shall look for farmland birds including Tree Sparrow, Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer. Today we enjoy a traditional fish-and-chip lunch and visit a Speyside distillery, where we learn about the production of Scotch Whisky, and perhaps sample a dram, a fitting end to a great day!
DAY 5: Tuesday 11 August the Cairngorm Plateau
Unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan, now with large chicks, and hopefully Dotterel, perhaps also with young running behind. Snow Bunting, Ring Ouzel and Wheatear may also be seen; brilliant birding in a very special habitat. Later we return to the forests for another chance to see Scottish specialities, and also to check on the Ospreys and other forest specialities at Loch Garten, or similar locations depending upon breeding success. There may still be Peregrine at a local breeding site, and perhaps other species including Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and lingering migrants.
DAY 6: Wednesday 12 August the wonderful West Coast
We drive to the West Coast south of Ullapool, watching out for Golden and White-tailed Eagle. Raven, Hooded Crow, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear as we travel, with perhaps a fleeting Merlin to add to the excitement. At the coast, Black-throated Diver are beginning to gather in sheltered bays, Gannet, Kittiwake and auks including moulting Black Guillemot will be on the water, the occasional Great Skua may be following terns, and we scout for Otter along the rugged shoreline. There will probably be a few waders in summer plumage, and Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone and Ringed Plover may be in quiet places where freshwater streams reach the saltwater sea, providing first feeding opportunities for Icelandic and Scandinavian birds returning south, and also holding Twite and Linnet. We return via Loch Maree, where eagles may be seen over the mountains, and birch woodlands hold late-summer passerines.
DAY 7: Thursday 13 August the Black Isle, Loch Ness and Culloden Today we visit the Black Isle, again hoping to encounter migrant waders returning early from Iceland or Scandinavia, and checking the shoreline for Bottle-nosed Dolphin and Otter. In the afternoon we look down from an elevated roadside towards Loch Ness, where we take in the spectacle of this most enigmatic of Scottish waters at a distance, away from the tourist areas. We end our day with a visit to the famous Battlefield of Culloden, site of the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Here the army of Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, was decisively defeated by Hanoverian forces commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. You may walk the site via footpaths and enjoy an elevated view from a raised platform. The visitor centre is excellent, and many find this visit a very moving experience.
DAY 8: Friday 14 August Troup Head and the village of Pennan
We begin locally if still needing to see speciality species, before heading northwards to Troup Head, which hosts Scotland’s only mainland Gannetry. We have the opportunity to get really close to these magnificent birds, and the other usual inhabitants of breeding bird cliffs including Shag, Kittiwake, Rock Pipit and a few remaining auks should also be present on the cliffs or on the water. Later we visit the picturesque village of Pennan, consisting of a small harbour and a single row of homes. Pennan became famous in the 1980's as one of the main locations for the film Local Hero, representing the fictional village of Ferness. Enthusiasts come from all over the world to make a phone call in the red telephone box which featured in the film. Originally put there only as a prop for the film and then removed, as a result of public demand a genuine telephone box was installed, now a listed building since 1989. Gulls, ducks and waders make Pennan an interesting birding location too!
DAY 9: Saturday 15 August transfer to Mull and first explorations
We transfer from The Mountview Hotel to our base on Mull by minibus and two ferries, an exciting experience! Watch out on the way for Black Guillemot, Eider, Red Deer and Hooded Crow, with perhaps our first view of Otters and more eagles. Summer on Mull offers outstanding scenery in rapidly changing weather conditions, and we use our knowledge of the island to find the best spots for the day. Both Golden and White-tailed Eagle are high on our agenda, though Hen Harrier are also targeted. Moorland and fields may hold waders which have finished breeding, including Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher, and we also expect to spend time Otter watching. Wonderful scenery, good company and fantastic birding before we transfer to our hotel and settle in.
Day 10: Sunday 16 August Treshnish Isles boat trip: Staffa and Lunga We enjoy a spectacular boat trip, visiting the Isle of Staffa, where we have enough time to visit Fingal’s Cave and also scan for the few Great Skua which sometimes breed here, as do a few Puffin. Next, on to the tiny isle of Lunga to visit the fabulous auk colony on the cliffs of Harp Rock, facing west across the ocean. Many thousands of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Shag are present, with Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and perhaps tiny Storm Petrel, Great Skua, Arctic Tern and ‘real’ Greylag Goose offshore. On Lunga, the ‘Puffin experience’ is perhaps the best in the British Isles, as we pass right by the burrows (the birds are inquisitive, and a careful birder can enjoy views from a few feet). We may see fully grown 'pufflings' ready to jump from the mouths of their burrows into the frothy waters below! Further along auks, Shag and gulls can be safely appreciated at eye level just yards away. Photographers will love this spectacle! A quiet walk away from the main cliffs and we may see Twite. Our boat returns to harbour in time for us to keep birding as we return to our hotel.
Day 11: Monday 17 August Iona and the Ross of Mull
Today we travel to the Ross of Mull, where sea watching can be productive, and our absorbing day's birding should again include both eagle species. Gannets, terns, gulls and auks fly through the narrow Sound, and as we travel down the peninsula, Raven, Stonechat, Hooded Crow and Greylag Geese may be seen. Across the narrow Sound lies Iona, and we take the foot ferry to spend time on this lovely little island, dominated by its imposing Abbey, which we have time to visit.
Day 12: Tuesday 18 August transfer to Edinburgh via Oban
We leave Mull on the morning ferry to Oban, a different route from the one we took to arrive, with the prospect of rounding up ducks, waders, gulls and terns, and perhaps seeing both Atlantic Grey and Common Harbour Seals. We then drive across spectacular scenery to Edinburgh, where we stay in a hotel convenient for the city and airport, ending the day with dinner here, our home for the next three nights.
Day 13: Wednesday 19 August Edinburgh City
A full day to explore the delights of the Scottish capital. Your Heatherlea Guide will accompany the group into the city, and offer advice for sightseeing, all of which is central and easy to do. Our tour coincides with the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet’!
The atmosphere is unique, with street performances, market stalls, street food, and lots of entertainment. The day will effectively be ‘free time’, so lunch is not included. This day may alternate with the next, depending on weather considerations.
Day 14: Thursday 20 August The Bass Rock
Today we drive to North Berwick, taking an exciting zodiac-rib tour to the Bass Rock (non-landing), the home of the world’s largest colony of Atlantic Gannet. We are very close to the birds, and can fully savour the sights, sounds and smells of this unique colony. Other birding highlights include thousands of Kittiwake, Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill, the occasional Sandwich or Arctic Tern, and perhaps a marauding Peregrine. We will find time for birding in Aberlady Bay or near Musselburgh, to spot waders and passerines on autumn migration from breeding grounds in Scandinavia. Regular sightings include Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Northern Lapwing, Redshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher, and perhaps Ruff and Red Knot. We return to our hotel for our final dinner.
Day 15: Friday 21 August Airport transfer and departure
In the morning, we transfer you directly to Edinburgh Airport for your flight home. NB this holiday involves an ‘open-jaw’ stay in Scotland, arriving Inverness and leaving Edinburgh. Please contact our office if you woulds like help organising flights.