Highland Birding in Late Summer 2024


by bird-watching |
Published on

3-10 August 2024
£1,495 pp

W85K7X Black-throated divers (Gavia arctica) on loch, Forsinian Trail Forsinaird Flows, Caithness and Sutherland, Scotland, UK, April.

Join Heatherlea for this superb holiday, looking for all the best wildlife in the Scottish Highlands and along both east and west coasts.

Heatherlea have more than 30 years’ experience of guiding birdwatchers in Scotland and beyond, and has been running readers’ holidays in conjunction with Bird Watching Magazine for more than 20 years.

Late summer is a fantastic time for birding in the Highlands, with the highest concentration of breeding birds as most youngsters will have fledged. With raptors taking to the wing for the first time, mountain species with well-grown chicks, auks on the open water and passerines gearing up to head south, bird activity is high.

On this varied tour, we visit the local pine forests, moorland habitats, rugged west coast and the southern end of the Cairngorm Mountain range. Being based at Heatherlea’s own Mountview Hotel throughout gives us total flexibility.

E0PFJC Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Highlands, Scotland, UK

A boat-trip out into The Minch will be a highlight, and we hope to see both breeding and migrant seabirds in large numbers. Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, auks, shearwaters, petrels, skuas and terns are all likely and we have good chances of cetaceans too. With a growing reputation as one of the best whale watching locations in Scotland, a range of species such as Common, Risso’s and Bottlenose Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale are all possible, with chances of larger whales such as Fin and Humpback. On the coasts post breeding flocks of terns and waders are starting to build, the latter often in bright summer plumage.

DEPJXT Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - Scotland, UK

Among the local, Highland species we seek are Crested Tit, Ptarmigan, Red Grouse, Golden and White-tailed Eagle, Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated and Black-throated Diver, and many more. Local mammals could include Otter, Red Deer, Mountain Hare and Red Squirrel plus Grey and Common Seal.

What's included

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 may be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.

Boat trip out into The Minch for birds and cetaceans.

Full Scottish breakfast, a substantial packed lunch, and a delicious dinner.

Six full days wildlife watching.

Guidance from a professional Group Leader

All transport by comfortable minibus.

A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

Courtesy bus service to and from transport in Aviemore.

What's not included

Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

More information

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 mainly light. All walks are optional.

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and rain are equally likely! Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing, with hat and gloves in your day sack especially if you wish to take the boat trip!

Biting insects may be encountered in the evenings or around standing water, especially in the west of Scotland, though not as a serious problem. Please bring a general repellent.

Maximum 7 clients per guide.

Telescopes will be useful, and you should bring binoculars. A camera would be useful too!

TO BOOK, CALL 01479 821 248

C895HH Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) female among flowering heather

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

Day 2: Sunday – Local Forest Birding
Strathspey is a wonderful place for many of our target species, and we begin in the local woods for Red Squirrel, Crested Tit and the last of the summer breeders including Tree Pipit, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher. Scottish Crossbill are found in our forests too and with both Common and Parrot Crossbill also present, separation of these three species can pose a real identification challenge! Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birch-woods and moorland. Often over fifty species are seen on this day, among them Osprey, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. A great first day.

Day 3: Monday – Moray Coast
After breakfast we head north to explore the Moray coast. Here we can expect to see a range of birds including Osprey fishing, moulting Goosander, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Shag and perhaps early returning Common Scoter or Long-tailed Duck. Wader numbers are beginning to build, and Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern may be seen. At this time of year anything can turn up so we will look for any rarities within reach or perhaps find our own! Rich farmland boasts Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge and we look for them from viewpoints along minor roads. Grey Seal are likely and with a resident pod of Bottlenose Dolphin in the Moray Firth we may encounter them too.

Day 4: Tuesday – West Coast Boat trip
We head out to the west coast and take a fast RHIB into the Minch where we look for whales, dolphins, Basking Shark and all manner of hard to see birds. Most breeding seabirds will have left their colonies, gathering in large flocks to feed up in these rich waters before heading out into the Atlantic for the winter. In late-summer, large concentrations of Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Shag and Gannet are often joined by other species. Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Arctic and Great Skua are all likely and following storms there is a good chance of something scarcer such as Sooty Shearwater, Leach's Petrel, Sabine's Gull, Pomarine or Long-tailed Skua. The Minch has a growing reputation for cetaceans, and is fast becoming one of the best destinations in Scotland for large whales such as Fin and Humpback. Regularly seen species include Minke Whale, Harbour Porpoise, Common, Risso's and Bottlenose Dolphin while Orca and Basking Shark can turn up too. A great boat trip whatever we see! 
Once back on dry land we should have some time for birding in some of the most dramatic scenery in Scotland where mountains climb from the sea. We look for both Golden and White-tailed Eagle, summer plumaged Black-throated Diver, Black Guillemot and Hooded Crow. In coastal fields a few Wheatear, Stonechat, Rock Pipit and perhaps Twite may be encountered.

Day 5: Wednesday – Crown Estates and Royal Deeside
We go eastwards from Nethy Bridge to uncover some real delights. 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 – Black Grouse and local round up
An optional early visit to a nearby moor to look for Black Grouse returning to the lek is a great start. Scanning for raptors in open ground and at forest clearings we may see Osprey, Red Kite, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Hen Harrier, Peregrine or if lucky a migrant species such as Marsh Harrier or Hobby. We may re-visit the forests in search of local targets and this is also a good time to look for post-breeding owls, as young birds leave the natal areas and search for their own feeding territories. We have even been lucky enough to see Long-eared Owl and Barn Owl hunting the meadows beside the Mountview Hotel in recent autumns, while a late afternoon drive over moorland may produce Short-eared Owl.

Day 7: Friday – The Black Isle or Aberdeenshire
Having built an impressive list so far, today we will plan to explore a new area or round-up anything locally we may have missed. Whatever we decide to do, a visit to a coastal location such as the Black Isle or Aberdeenshire will offer great birding to finish. We may look for concentrations of waders, sifting through Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Knot for scarcer Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper and some birds will still be in bright summer plumage. Cetaceans may feature again, with Bottlenose Dolphin the most likely around these areas of the coast.

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

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