Arran and the Ailsa Craig

Late spring wildlife of two very special islands

Destination
Focus
2023 Dates
  • 27 May - 02 Jun 2023
Duration7 Days
2023 Price
£1795 pp
£300 single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7 per guide

Arran and the Ailsa Craig are both rarely visited birding destinations, yet both offer a wealth of wildlife, especially in the spring! Two very special and unique islands, Arran is often referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’ due to the diversity of habitats and scenery in such a small space. Quiet roads are laid out in a convenient figure of eight, allowing good access to coastal birding sites with the high peaks which dominate the interior and rugged Goatfell habitats in the north-east of the island. We dedicate at least 2 full days to the island, easily covering all corners to find key species such as Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Otter, Red Deer, Red Squirrel and more before relocating to Ayrshire. Our timing will be perfect for many migrant species, with a good range of newly arrived breeding Cuckoo, warblers, chats and flycatchers. You will really feel that you have enjoyed the very best of Arran on this holiday!

Once we have transferred to the mainland, a spectacular boat trip to the Ailsa Craig will be a real highlight. Sitting far out in the Firth of Clyde, this stunning seabird colony throngs with life. Its famous Gannetry is impossible to miss, and with luck we will see the full suite of seabirds with cetaceans and seals possible too! As with most large seabird colonies, the numbers are made up with Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake, with smaller numbers of Fulmar, Shag and a handful of Puffin. We plan to have a full day on the mainland, with time and flexibility to either explore farmland and coastal wildlife on the Rhins of Galloway, the RSPB reserve at the Mull of Galloway situated at Scotland’s most southerly point or the rich woodlands on the edge of the Galloway Forest. With plenty planned, our Arran and Ailsa Craig tour may be busy, but the relaxed pace allows plenty of opportunity to enjoy lots of great wildlife in wonderful surroundings.   

Day 1: Sat 27 May – Ardrossan to Brodick (Arran)
There are three easy options for joining this holiday – firstly you can drive and park at the ferry terminal at Ardrossan for the duration of the holiday, secondly you can travel by train, with an easy train connection via Glasgow right to the ferry terminal or thirdly travel with the guide to and from Nethy Bridge – perfect for doing back-to -back holidays with Heatherlea!

We plan to depart Ardrossan around 16.40pm on the ferry to Brodick on Arran, with guests needing to meet the guide by 15:20pm. Our first birding will be from the ferry, and we anticipate seeing our first seabirds and perhaps a Great Northern Diver or Harbour Porpoise too. The impressive outline of Arran, with its rugged interior will certainly make quite an impression, and once there head straight to our comfortable hotel to settle in. Overnight Arran for three nights.

Day 2: Sun 28 May – North Arran
Arran is surrounded by a coastal ring-road with a central cross road, making a nice figure of eight that is perfect for breaking the island into two sections. The mountainous north is a great place to begin, and from the comfortable coastal route we can explore a variety of habitats on the landward side checking the sea carefully as we go. Here we find a good range of rocky habitats, sand and mud with good open water for sea-watching. Sheltered bays hold a few divers, grebes and summering Shelduck and a range of waders are likely on the foreshore. Inland habitats include farmland, woodland and heath. The upland areas hold Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier plus a few each of Merlin and Short-eared Owl – key target birds for this holiday. Whilst searching for these iconic raptors we should see Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and a range of migrant warblers and flycatchers as they settle down to breed – fantastic late-spring birding! We travel around at a nice, relaxed pace, with a few short walks and plenty of opportunity for photography taking in any flowers, butterflies and any reptiles we may encounter.

Day 3: Mon 29 May – South Arran
This morning we explore the south of Arran continuing our tour at a slow pace, with frequent stops and short walks to look for all manner of wildlife. Everywhere in Arran is so scenic but the south is especially beautiful compared to the rugged north. Our targets for today will be largely dictated by what was seen yesterday, selecting habitats to maximise our chances with a range of flora and fauna is expected. Arran really is Scotland in miniature and has a very healthy birdlist for an island of its size! Another of our key targets will be Otter, and on Arran they are found all around the southern coastline though can be typically elusive. We have several locations to check, considering the tide and weather carefully with Grey and Common Seal likely as we search.

Day 4:  Tue 30 May - Arran and return to Ardrossan
If more time is needed for our key Arran targets (and with several options for the Ardrossan ferry) we can utilise most of the day to search for them if needed. If we have done well, we can take an earlier return ferry, looking for seabirds and marine mammals before covering new habitats on mainland Ayrshire to boost our list. The coastal road south has plenty of options, and by the afternoon we may even reach the eastern shore of Loch Ryan Loch Ryan, a good place for summering sea-duck and passage waders. Overnight Stranraer for three nights, perfectly positioned to explore the area over the next few days.

Day 5: Wed 31 May - Ailsa Craig and the Ayrshire Coast
Our boat trip for the Ailsa Craig departs from Girvan on the Ayrshire coast and depending on tide and weather we take either a morning or afternoon trip from here to this enchanting seabird island. Arguably one of the highlights of the tour, the Ailsa Craig is a truly unique island - a 1,115 feet high cone, sitting 9 miles off the Ayrshire coast! Made up of mixture of granite and Ailsa granite, long since the favoured stone of the curler and such curling stones are still quarried from the island today. Now managed as an RSPB reserve, a SSSI site and designated a Special Protection Area in recognition of its 73,000 pairs of breeding seabirds. Ailsa is principally Gannet colony, and it is the third largest in Britain with a staggering 36,000 pairs – roughly half the total number of seabirds! Other species are well represented too, with large numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake and smaller numbers of Fulmar, Shag, gulls, Black Guillemot and Puffin. With luck we may also see Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, terns, and skuas on the crossing, with cetaceans and seals also possible. A superb excursion, weather dependent of course, with an optional short and steep landing possible in the right conditions.

The other part of the day will be spent on the lovely Ayrshire coast, looking at waders and coastal passerines, with some good spots for early flowers and butterflies too.

Day 6: Thur 1 June - The Mull of Galloway / Galloway Forest
We have options today and of course if the weather didn’t allow us to reach Ailsa Craig on Wednesday, we have a second chance and will certainly take it if needed! With options in all directions from our Stranraer base, weather conditions and any gaps in our trip list will sway our choice of birding location. To the north lies Loch Ryan, a good spot for summering seaduck and waders, with excellent moorland areas nearby if we are still needing a raptor fix. Golden Eagle, Peregrine and Red Kite are all possible, while continuing further inland to the edge of the Galloway Forest we have a chance of Goshawk too. A range of pleasant walks though the ancient oak woods, give chances of Wood Warbler, Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher with Common Crossbill likely in newer plantations. To our south lies the Rhins of Galloway, a peninsula that reaches its tip at the Mull of Galloway, the most southerly point in Scotland. Another RSPB reserve with nesting seabirds and a great vantage point for sea-watching with super views across to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. A fine conclusion to our tour!

Day 7: Fri 2 June - Return to Ardrossan
We depart our hotel after breakfast and head up to Ardrossan where the holiday officially ends, arriving late in time for any morning/lunchtime train connections. Those travelling on with the Heatherlea guide continue to Nethy Bridge, arriving at the hotel late afternoon.

This holiday can be combined with:

SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Highlands & Corncrake, Highlands and Orkney

SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURES
Islands on the Edge

 

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).

Field Notes 

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine, rain and cold winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects not expected this early  in the season. Please bring walking boots or shoes, fully waterproof clothing and a small rucksack. Conditions on boat trips and ferries are invariably colder than those on dry land, so bring warm clothing! Please note that depending on tide and weather, there may be an optional short landing on Ailsa Craig, though it is steep and rugged and you cannot venture far. Guests can of course remain on the boat if they do not wish to land.

What's included in your Arran and the Ailsa Craig holiday price

  • Comfortable hotel accommodation at two centres with three nights on Arran and three nights in Stranraer.  We carefully select your hotels from our personally inspected shortlist of hotels where birders are welcome and the hospitality is special. Guests are never expected to share. Full details with your joining pack. Rooms are en-suite, with TV and hospitality tray.
  • Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday dinner until Friday breakfast, packed lunch Saturday to Friday inclusive.
  • Boat trip to Ailsa Craig. Please note in adverse weather conditions boat trips may be cancelled and rescheduled. If the weather is extremely poor for the whole trip certain excursions may not be possible.
  • All transfers between Nethybridge and Ardrossan and onto Arran by Calmac ferry. Drivers can leave vehicles safely parked at The Mountview Hotel or at Ardrossan ferry terminal
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • Courtesy bus service to transport in Aviemore on departure (for those transferring from Nethy)

What's not included in your Arran & the Ailsa Craig holiday price

  • Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
  • Extra night in Nethybridge (if travelling with the guide) at start and end of holiday. This can be arranged for you if requested at time of holiday booking.
  • Collection from Aviemore on arrival (for those transferring from Nethy)

WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA FOR YOUR SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURE?

Heatherlea is THE company for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Relax and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team, as we do all the planning! 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. Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you.

These popular holidays are carefully designed to explore the beautiful and wildlife-rich Scottish islands and far west coast. Many itineraries are unique, designed to give you the best of island wildlife at the best time of year. All are run at a leisurely pace, though we might move a little faster when rare migrants and vagrants are in our sights!

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • This holiday has a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
  • Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance packed lunch and tips to hotels.
  • 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

'Exceptional'
Visit Scotland

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248

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