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Spring Birdwatching in the Highlands Itinerary

Day 1

Our tour starts in Inverness.  You will be collected from Inverness train/bus station or airport and transferred to our accommodation on the outskirts of Inverness.

Depending on your arrival time, and after you settle in, we might have a walk along the shores of the Beauly Firth, where a few waterfowl and waders might be present. 

Black Isle, where you are based, is famous for its population of Red Kite.  This species became extinct in Scotland the 19th century due to persecution.  The re-introduction program started in 1989 ad proved to be a great success.  Today, about 50 pairs breed on and around the Black Isle and we will be constantly looking out for these birds and there is possibility that we might see one on our first day.   

In the evening, a meal will be provided, where we will also have the opportunity to discuss the time table and our activities for the next four days.    


Day 2

We will visit today Glen Starthfarrar (“strath” means a wide valley) to explore the remnant of semi-natural pine wood.  There are only 18,000 ha left of these woods in Scotland, and are regarded as relicts of the original woodland of the Highlands – the Caledonian forest.  The main trees are Scots pine, birches, rowan, alder and aspen.  The shrub layer is dominated by heather, bilberry and cowberry.  The best birdwatching would be from the parking spaces, but we will take a short walk through this old wood, where the trees are between 150-200 years old, and some up to 300.  Old-growth woodland is rare in Scotland and these remaining fragments are of conservation interest because of their high biodiversity.  Here, the species that we should encounter include all five species of tits (Great, Blue, Crested, Coal and Long-tailed), Goldcrest, Siskin, Treecreeper, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Wood and Willow Warblers and Bullfinch amongst others.

The nearby lochs and moorlands are home to breeding Whooper Swan, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat.  In this dramatic landscape, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Buzzard breed and hunt, and we will be on the look out for them.  Along the streams, we will search for Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. 

If time allows and depending on how tired you feel after an early morning start, we might also visit the neighboring Glen Affric, one of the most picturesque locations in Scotland, and no surprisingly, it has been used as film sets.  Whatever passerines we might have missed at Glen Starthfarrar, we might find them here. Scan over the lochs, might produce Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers.

We should conclude our visit to the glens in the late afternoon.  En route back to Inverness, we will stop at the breeding site of a pair of Peregrine Falcon.  To prevent disturbance, we will view the birds from a safe distance. 


Day 3

Early in the morning, we will visit a lek of Black Grouse.  This species has undergone a large decline in recent years, but certain areas are still a stronghold.  A lekking site, where several males gather together to perform courtship behaviour, is truly spectacular, but we will have to visit the site before breakfast.  We will return to the hotel for breakfast.

Later in the morning, we will visit the extensive patch of moorland, home to Red Grouse.  At this time of the year, males are actively displaying and from within our vehicle, you would be able to photograph these birds at close range. 

We will then drive to the best place in the UK to see Slavonian Grebes.   In Britain, this species is restricted only to Scotland and the population is confined to the Highlands.  It successfully colonized Scotland in 1909, but suffered a considerable decline in recent years, with the current population not exceeding 30 pairs.  This is a good place for other birds as well, and it is not uncommon to see an Osprey hovering over the loch, and Red-throated Diver and Goosander swimming on the surface. 

Our final stop for the day would be the Findhorn Valley.  Known as the “Valley of Raptors”, it is one of the most reliable places in Scotland for Golden Eagle but we will also be on a look out for Peregrine Falcon, Raven, Common Buzzard and Hen Harrier.  Scanning any of the ridges in this area should be productive and typical moorland birds such as Golden Plover and Ring Ouzel are possible encounters.  The river Findhorn holds typical birds of this habitat, such as Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and Common Tern.  


Day 4

We will venture further afield today and travel to the West coast, through picturesque scenery, typical of Highland Scotland.  En route, we will stop at several places to scan interesting lochs in search of Black-throated and Red-throated Divers and to view the scenery.

Our destination for the day is Handa Island.  This small island is one of the most important breeding sites for seabirds in the UK.  After a short sea crossing, we will take a three-hour walk across and around the island, which will allow us to view breeding Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Fulmars.  While taking close pictures of them will prove difficult, the breeding Great and Arctic Skuas, aggressively defending their territories, will be easier to photograph. 

Depending on the weather and how we feel, we might break our two-hour journey back to Inverness and stay for dinner in the picturesque seaside town of Ullapool. 


Day 5

Today, we will have a contrasting change to the scenery and will visit Britain’s largest national park, proudly embracing the spectacular Cairngorm Mountains.  We will stop en route, at Loch Morlich.  A scan across its waters should produce breeding Goldeneye and Red-throated Diver, and if we are lucky, an Otter.  

The funicular railway will take us close to the top, where at 4000ft, a spectacular view stretches over the surrounding mountains and valleys.  This is a good starting point to the best site in Scotland to see Ptarmigan.  Those who will opt to stay behind, can enjoy a tea/coffee on the terrace.  

A visit to Scotland would not be complete without tasting one of its famous whiskies.  In the afternoon, we will visit a local whisky distillery, where we will have a tour unraveling all the mysteries of whisky production, and will taste its products.


Day 6

We will spend most of the day exploring Abernethy Forest, the largest remnant of the ancient forest that once covered Highland Scotland.  We will have a very early start to reach the hide at Loch Garten, run by RSPB.   Here, we will be able to view lekking Capercaillie.  This magnificent bird has declined by 90% in the last 40 years, but with about 40 lekking males at Abernethy, the forest is a stronghold for this species in Scotland.  Here, we will also be able to see a breeding Osprey.  Once extinct in the UK, this species returned in 1954 and now about 200 pairs breed across Scotland.  The first pair bred at Abernethy Forest and now a live viewing (CCTV) of the Osprey nest provides great close-up views of the breeding birds.  

After such a good start to our trip we will have breakfast at the local and continue our birdwatching in the forest.  We will then meet up with a scientist who has conducted studies on Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Crested Tit and crossbills in the Abernethy Forest and elsewhere, for over two decades.  He will give us a thorough introduction to the ecology of Abernethy Forest and its birds.  We will take a pleasant walk where possible species will include Crested Tit, Redstart, Siskin, Tree Pipit, crossbills and Red Squirrel.   A quick look at Loch Garten should produce a Goldeneye, which breeds here annually and possibly Red-throated Diver.

We will return home via Moray Firth coast and stop to view waterbirds and migratory waders at the Findhorn Bay, the largest of Moray’s three estuaries. It is a spectacular, almost land-locked, tidal bay and its importance for waders and wildfowl has been recognised by its designation as a Special Protection Area, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and a Local Nature Reserve.   

Our delicious evening meal will conclude well our tour of the highlands. 


Day 7

The tour ends after breakfast and we will transfer you to either Inverness railway/bus station or airport.    

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View Scottish loch

Capercaillie in Scotland

Red Grouse in the Highlands

Crested Tit in Scotland

Blue Tit

Male Ptarmigan

Female Ptarmigan

Ptarmigam in Cairngorms

Red-throated Diver

Fulmars

Razobills

Puffin