North Ronaldsay & Orkney in Autumn for birders

Superb Autumn birding at a remote island outpost

2022 Dates
  • 10 Sep - 16 Sep 2022
  • 17 Sep - 23 Sep 2022
Duration7 Days
2022 Price
£1645 pp
£130 single supplement. Deposit £300
2023 Dates
  • 16 Sep - 22 Sep 2023
  • 23 Sep - 29 Sep 2023
Duration7 Days
2023 Price
Price TBC
2023 Price
Price TBC
2024 Dates
  • 14 Sep - 20 Sep 2024
  • 21 Sep - 27 Sep 2024
Duration7 Days
2024 Price
Price TBC
2024 Price
Price TBC
2025 Dates
  • 13 Sep - 19 Sep 2025
  • 20 Sep - 26 Sep 2025
Duration7 Days
2025 Price
Price TBC
2025 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size7 per guide

Only 29 miles from Fair Isle, North Ronaldsay is a wonderful migration hotspot, overlooked and under-explored! Few birders venture this far in the UK, and the holiday combines peace and quiet and a strong sense of exploration, with first rate birding. Once you get over the thrill of your 8-seat Islander plane journey, your welcome at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory will be warm, and accommodation comfortable.

In favourable weather (easterlies!), regular species include Wryneck, Bluethroat, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Icterine, Yellow-browed and Marsh Warbler, Ortolan, Lapland and Little Bunting and Common Rosefinch. This is also prime time for some extremely rare birds, such as Great Snipe, American Golden Plover, Citrine Wagtail, Richard's and Pechora Pipit, Radde’s, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Arctic Warbler, Yellow-breasted and Rustic Bunting and Arctic Redpoll. Sea-watching can be rewarding too, with skuas, petrels and shearwaters all possible. Whilst there is no guarantee of any particular species, North Ronaldsay is always surprising and rewarding.

We also enjoy birding around Orkney, visiting spots where anything can happen! If time allows we may visit the impressive standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar, stop at the delightful Italian Chapel or make time for an optional visit to Skara Brae, one of Europe’s oldest known settlements.

A completely different birding holiday and a cost effective alternative to the expensive to access Fair Isle, North Ronaldsay is easy to reach with Heatherlea.

This is one of our 'for birders' holidays, click here to see more!

Day 1: Saturday - Travel North, Pentland Firth and arrival in Orkney
Transfer from Heatherlea to mainland Orkney. You may see Merlin, Raven and Golden Eagle as we drive to John O’Groats, taking the ferry to South Ronaldsay (yes, you will see both North and South Ronaldsay), watching for Great and Arctic Skuas, Gannet, Black Guillemot, Storm and Leach’s Petrels and shearwaters. The Pentland Firth is also a good area for Harbour Porpoise, and as we cross we should see plenty of activity below us. We will drive around the eastern edge of Scapa Flow, birdwatching on the way and stop at the delightful Italian Chapel en-route to our comfortable accommodation.

Day 2: Sunday - Mainland Orkney
We spend today birding around Mainland Orkney visiting coastal haunts or passerine hotspots where anything can happen! With concentrations of migratory ducks, waders and gulls both in the fields and offshore we will go through the flocks trying to sift out anything unusual. Sparse vegetation in gardens and on headlands can attract migrant landbirds, and your guide will know all the best places and birding sites may be chosen based around any known rarities. We will enjoy a full day exploring, which may include a visit to the impressive standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar or an optional visit to Skara Brae, one of Europe’s oldest known settlements.

Please note that this is a Birders tour, principally focused on finding and identifying rare birds of our own. We will have some time for cultural, historical and retail requests, but birding comes first on this particular holiday. For those that want a more general tour of North Ronaldsay & Orkney, we thoroughly recommend our Orkney Island Explorer or Orkney in High Summer holidays.

Days: 3 - 6 Monday - Thursday - North Ronaldsay
We continue our local birding, targeting any known rarities before we transfer to Kirkwall Airport for our short flight to North Ronaldsay. The flight takes us over stunning scenery, often flying low over Stronsay, Eday and Sanday before touching down on our little island where we have plenty of time to explore all corners. Once you get over the thrill of your 8-seat Islander Plane journey, your welcome at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory will be warm, and accommodation comfortable. We work in co-operation with Observatory staff, and the birding can be exceptional. Please note that weather plays the largest part in our itinerary, and may even lead to difficulties in leaving the island on time. Guests should allow an extra day in case of extreme conditions and of course comprehensive travel insurance!

The island atmosphere is relaxed, and the locals friendly. Mid to late September is one of the best time for rarities, scarce visitors and sheer numbers of commoner migrants. We can Look forward to long days of outstanding birding with chances of finding our own rarities. In easterly airflows, regular species include Richard’s Pipit, Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike, Bluethroat, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Icterine, Barred, Marsh and Yellow-browed Warbler, Ortolan, Lapland and Little and Rustic Bunting, Arctic Redpoll and Common Rosefinch. This is also prime time for some extremely rare Siberian species such as Citrine Wagtail, Pechora and Olive-backed Pipit, Radde’s Warbler, Arctic, Lanceolated and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Arctic Warbler and Yellow-breasted Bunting. If the wind blows from the west, then Nearctic visitors become the more likely. American Golden Plover, Pectoral, Buff-breasted and White-rumped Sandpiper are some of the more regularly occurring but extreme rarities have included Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-billed Cuckoo, Veery, Grey-cheeked Thrush and Northern Harrier to name but a few. Sea-watching can be exceptional, with skuas, petrels and shearwaters all possible and while there is no guarantee of any particular species, each North Ronaldsay trip is always different and rewarding, with a few surprises thrown in!

A completely different birding holiday!

Day 7: Friday - Return to Mainland and Nethy Bridge
Return by Islander plane, ferry and minibus to Nethy Bridge with birding on the way as time allows. We arrive late in the evening.

This holiday can be combined with:

NEW! Autumn Migration in the Highlands, Raptors and GrouseThe Outer Limits Adventure.

Shetland in Autumn Birders.

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).

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions, which can be wild and unpredictable, with temperatures perhaps averaging around 14 degrees Celsius. Sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects are not expected. Please bring walking boots or shoes, waterproof clothing and a small rucksack. Hat and gloves are of course essential! The holiday will be run at a relaxed pace, with time for photography and botany as well as fabulous birdwatching in a spectacular setting! There will be moderate (3 to 8 mile) walks several days. Please note that whilst our chosen walks are on relatively good footing, rare birds often turn up in inconvenient locations and it may require guests to climb stiles or gates and cover uneven ground to see all of the species found. All of these excursions are of course optional!

What's included in your North Ronaldsay and mainland Orkney holiday price

• Six nights comfortable en-suite hotel/guest house accommodation. We choose from our personally inspected shortlist, where birders are welcome and the hospitality is special. Five nights will be at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. Guests are never expected to share. All rooms are en-suite. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening till Friday morning, packed lunch daily.
• All transfers by comfortable minibus. All ferries and other boat trips. Drivers can leave vehicles safely parked at The Mountview Hotel. We offer a courtesy drop off to Aviemore on the morning of departure for those who travel by public transport.
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

What's not included in your North Ronaldsay and mainland Orkney holiday price

• Extra night in Nethybridge area at beginning and end of holiday. This can be arranged for you if requested at time of holiday booking.
• Transfers from rail links in Aviemore.
• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

Other birdwatching holidays in Orkney Isles


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

Visit Scotland

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248