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Scotland: Highlands & Orkney

Atlantic-Puffins-Scotland-BINNS-005-copyJoin us to enjoy a two week trip to one of the most scenic parts of the world, discovering the birds and wildlife of Scotland’s remote highlands and the Orkneys. While the focus of this relaxed trip is on natural history, the stunning scenery and archaeology are important too. With seasonally pleasant climate, June is a wonderful time to experience resident and migratory species breeding in diverse habitats.

In the famed Scottish Highlands we’ll explore rugged glens and vast moorlands from our base in the beautiful Spey Valley. The ancient Caledonian pinewoods are home to Britain’s only endemic bird, the Scottish Crossbill, along with Crested Tit, and Capercaillie, te largest grouse in the world.  On the Cairngorms mountain plateau we’ll take an extended walk in search of our targets, Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Secluded lochs harbor stunning breeding plumaged Horned Grebe, Red-throated and Black-throated Loons. Rolling moorlands feature European Golden Plover and Red Grouse, while Red Kites are well-established on the Black Isle. Along the Moray coast we’ll visit mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry to see the birds up close!  

On Mainland Orkney, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl will be settling to breed, and Peregrine and Merlin hunt along the meadow fringes, and a number of waders, including breeding Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Water Rail and Greylag Goose can be found. We visit seabird cliffs on several occasions, with a full range of seabirds present, including Gannet, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Black Guillemot and Shag. 

A key feature of our exploration of the Orkneys will be island hopping, visiting Westray, Rousay and Hoy, all very different islands which hold incredible historical sites as well as seabirds, waders and more.  

We visit some of the finest prehistoric archaeological sites in Britain during our stay. The settlement of Skara Brae is a must-see, and we also visit Maes Howe, Scapa Flow, the Churchill barriers, the 6-metre high Standing Stones of Stenness and the 5000-year-old Ring of Brodgar, amongst other interesting sites, especially on Rousay. 

Our wonderful trip to Scotland’s Highlands and Orkneys, based at two centers, will be run at a relaxed pace, with time for exploring historical sites, photography and botany as well as fabulous birdwatching (about 130 species of birds) in a spectacular setting!


Focus: Birds, Mammals, Butterflies, Scenery, Photography


  • Tour Cost
  • Number of Days (Length of Tour)
    15 days / 14 nights


    Dates & Cost

    June 8 - 22, 2019       

    approx.  cost $5400.00 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Inverness.  

    Single Supplement $300.  Note: if you do not request as single room, and we are unable to find you a roommate, you will be charged the single supplement 



    Cost includes: 14 nights accommodation; all meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 15; all transportation by comfortable minibus from Inverness; guidance from professional leader(s); all ferry, boat and entrance fees


    Cost does not include: Travel to Inverness meeting point; travel insurance; tip to local leader; drinks and other items of a personal nature


    Single Supplement
    If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to get a roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $300  will be assessed.


    $500.00, check, paypal or credit card, along with your completed Registration Form


    How to Book
    In order to hold your space, you must complete the Registration Form found on-line, and submit it to us on-line, or download a copy and mail it to us, along with a $500.00 deposit per participant.


    Final Payment
    Full payment, by check, is due 120 days prior to the departure date

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary:

    Day 1: AM arrival at Inverness; PM transfer to Nethy Bridge, Highlands

    Day 2: Abernethy Forest and lochs

    Day 3: Moorlands, glens and Black Isle

    Day 4: Cairngorm Plateau

    Day 5: Troup Head and East coast

    Day 6: Moray Coast 

    Day 7: Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and distillery

    Day 8: Transfer to Orkney

    Day 9: West Mainland

    Day 10:  Westray

    Day 11:Hoy

    Day 12: Rousay and West Mainland

    Day 13: Mainland

    Day 14: Transfer to Highlands

    Day 15: AM departure from Inverness



    Day 1 / June 8, 2019: AM arrival in Inverness; transfer to Nethy Bridge

    AM arrival (by noon) at Inverness Airport (INV) and transfer to Mountview Hotel, Nethy Bridge, our base in the Highlands for the next seven nights.


    Days 2 - 7 / June 9-14:  The Scottish Highlands.

    Six days birding the fabulous Abernethy Forest, Moray Coast and Scottish Highlands. Our itinerary will vary according to weather and our success with birds as we progress, though the following outline gives a good idea of each day.


    Day 2

    Today is firmly focused on the birds which make this wonderful part of the country so special. After breakfast we visit local ‘hotspots’ in Caledonian pine forest to see Crested Tit, and we often see adults with fledged young at this time. Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill are nomadic, though present throughout the year. Red Squirrel are seen on our Hotel feeders most days. Later we investigate local lochs and rivers, birchwoods and moorland, where your list may include Osprey, Dipper, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver, Lesser Redpoll, Peregrine, breeding waders and Slavonian Grebe. The beauty of divers and grebes in breeding plumage is spellbinding, and during this holiday we make time to find them at close quarters. 


    Day 3

    An optional early start to see a Black Grouse lek before we visit our exclusive private estate woodlands to search for Capercaillie. In June hen birds are more likely, perhaps with chicks. We have plenty of Capercaillie spots, so we have good chances, though the birds are elusive and rare. 

    Later we drive to the Black Isle, where birding should include Red Kite, ducks, waders, gulls and terns, particularly at Chanonry Point, a spectacular peninsula which juts into the Moray Firth, often giving close access. Depending on the tides, we have excellent chances of seeing Bottle-nosed Dolphin too.


    Day 4

    We spend a full day on the Cairngorm plateau, with unforgettable mountain scenery all around as we head to the right spots for Ptarmigan and Dotterel. Once Dotterel are ‘in’ by early May only bad weather can stop us seeing them. We carefully choose the best day for your comfort and safety, and we also take care not to disturb the birds. We also look out for Ring Ouzel and Snow Bunting (sometimes singing). Brilliant birding in a very special habitat. 


    Day 5

    We take an exciting cruise to the foot of Troup Head, mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry, to see the birds. Auks on the sea will include Puffin and Black Guillemot, and the Great and Arctic Skuas may be seen too. A very exciting boat trip! Divers may be present, and we should see Rock Pipit, newly arrived Northern Wheatear and more. We also know quiet and under-watched places on the west coast where waders can be found in bright summer plumage. We also target any available rarities on this day, perhaps including King Eider. 


    Day 6

    A complete contrast as we visit the Moray Coast, where birding is excellent at any time of year. In summer we see gulls, terns, waders and duck, perhaps including migrants. We expect to see a range of breeding birds including Osprey fishing, Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge. Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Little Tern, Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill are also likely. 


    Day 7

    Today we head north to visit the spectacular ruins of Urquhart Castle on a peninsula surrounded by Loch Ness. In its 500 years of being a medieval castle, Urquhart has played several important roles and been a popular recurring feature in and of Scottish history. In particular, the castle faced a considerable amount of action and bloodshed during the 13th to 17th centuries. It was seized by the English after Edward I’s invasion, reclaimed and seized again, was under the control of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots in the 14th century and was repeatedly attacked during the 15th and 16th centuries by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles arriving from the West; to recap the very least from its thrilling history. The visitor centre is excellent, and includes a sizeable model of the castle, depicting what it might have looked like in its prime. The exhibition also consists of a theatre which runs an informative movie about the history of the castle from the 6th century to the 17th century.

    We round the day off with a visit to a local Malt Whisky Distillery where we can sample some of the malts Speyside has to offer!


    Day 8 / Sat June 15:  Transfer to Orkney

    We depart Nethy Bridge in the morning, aiming to be on Orkney by mid-afternoon. Depending on recent sightings a couple of stops will be made on the way up, perhaps at Golspie and Loch Fleet NNR. We take the ferry across the Pentland Firth, which offers us great views of the north coast of the Mainland and of Orkney as we arrive. These waters have a strong tidal current and offer rich fishing for birds and cetaceans alike. We can expect to see auks, Gannet, gulls, tern and perhaps a few Great Skua during the ferry journey. On arrival we will take time to visit the Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar before we transfer to the Orkney Hotel for 6 nights. 


    Day 9 / Sun June 16:  West Mainland

    Our first day is a gentle introduction to all that is great about Orkney in summer. We take a scenic drive down quiet lanes, using our bus as a mobile hide to get intimate views of waders and their chicks, and with luck Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owls on the moorland fringe. Taking in the RSPB reserves of Birsay Moors, The Loons and Marwick Head we will build up a healthy species list of breeding birds, and hope to see rare breeders including Black-tailed Godwit, Pintail and Whooper Swan amongst the abundant common waders and wildfowl. At Marwick Head we will walk up to the Kitchener Memorial above the spectacular seabird colony where we will encounter good numbers of auks. If the tides allow, we will also take a walk around Brough Head looking at seabirds which should include confiding Puffins. 


    Day 10 / Mon June 17:  Westray

    The ferries allow us about six hours on Westray, with a 75 minute crossing each way. We take our minibus onboard to ensure we have sufficient time to take leisurely coastal walks at either end of the island. Westray is seldom visited by birders or indeed visitors to Orkney, but we will show you all the avian delights of this undiscovered gem! Westray is the best place in Orkney to catch up with Corncrake, and it has also has a healthy breeding population of waders and seabirds. At Noup Head in the north-west we take in the Gannetry (the only accessible colony on the islands), and other seabirds in a clifftop walk. This section of coast is one of the best for cetaceans in all Orkney, and we hope we get calm conditions to scan for Minke Whale, Dolphins and Porpoise, and perhaps something truly special, like a passing pod of Orca. If weather conditions allow, a cliff-top walk on this RSPB reserve is highly recommended. Another excursion will be a shorter walk at the Castle O’Burrian in the south-east corner where we hope to encounter Puffins and Twite! 


    Day 11 / Tue June 18:  Hoy

    Today we visit the rugged island of Hoy, which has a totally different feel to the rest of Orkney. Taking the minibus on the ferry across Scapa Flow, we have around six hours on Hoy, which gives us lots of options. If the weather allows, a walk out to the cliffs above the infamous seastack The Old Man of Hoy is well worth doing, providing stunning views of the spectacular seacliffs of St John’s Head too. Wildlife on the way might include Red Grouse and Mountain Hare and will definitely include Great Skua which may well provide us with a closer than desired view if we stray too close to one of the nests! The botany here is good too, with several orchids and other restricted range species. The walk is five miles return and is the longest of the week, with an altitudinal climb from Rackwick Bay of 300 ft (c.100m). We shall also explore the Rackwick Valley and admire the glacial features of this stunning landscape. We hope to add to our raptor sightings too, as these sheltered valleys hold several pairs of Hen Harrier and Merlin. In the last few years the return of the White-tailed Eagles (the first in over 100 years) was noted on Hoy, with luck we may see them over the valley. A curiosity in the valley is the 5000 year old archaeological remains of the rock-cut tomb called the Dwarfie Stane which the nimble can clamber into. If time allows we will take a look at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre at Lyness, close to our ferry point, which mainly focuses on the strategic importance of the Scapa Flow throughout the two World Wars. 


    Day 12 / Wed June 19:  Rousay and West Mainland

    Today we take the short ferry hop over to Rousay. The second hilliest island after Hoy, its slopes are dominated by thick heather which is the perfect home for nesting raptors. For the archaeologists amongst us, there will be a visit to Taversoe Tuick, an unusual two-storied cairn, and of course the superb Midhowe Cairn and Broch. We will leave Rousay in the afternoon, and finish the day on the mainland near the Broch of Gurness near Evie where we will overlook the Eynhallow Sound, looking for Black Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser and perhaps a late-staying Great Northern Diver. There will be time to look round the Broch and village site itself too.


    Day 13 / Thu June 20:  Mainland

    The morning will be spent visiting historical sites across Mainland, with unforgettable visits to Maes Howe chambered cairn and Skara Brae, two of the finest archaeological sites in NW Europe. We take in the isles of Burray and South Ronaldsay, with famous sites being the Italian Chapel (decorated with scrap materials by Italian prisoners of war in WW2) and the Churchill Barriers (causeways linking the islands). We also visit the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’ if time allows.


    Day 14 / Fri June 21:  Transfer from Orkney to mainland Scotland and drive to Inverness

    Our Orkney saga ends by taking the ferry across the pentland Firth for one last chance of cetaceans and seabirds. Once back on the mainland, we head south to Inverness arriving late afternoon.  


    Day 15 / Sat June 22:  Depart from Inverness

    Morning transfer to Inverness Airport [INV]


    Please note: The itinerary is given as a guide only. Actual content may vary according to the judgement of your guide(s), and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

  • Accommodations
  • Mountview Hotel


     13 nights at two centers, all ensuite, in comfortable hotels.


    In the Highlands we will be based for 7 nights in Nethy Bridge at the Mountview Hotel.


    We are at 1 location on Orkney, in Kirkwall, for 6 nights.


    Our last (14th) night we will near Inverness Airport.

  • Additional Info
  • birds-of-europe-2nd-edition-book-cover

    Recommended Field Guide:

    Birds of Europe

    (2nd Edition, 2010, Princeton University Press)

    by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom




    This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.


    No Visa is required to visit the United Kingdom.






    Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine and rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Average June temperature 48-60F.  Bring waterproofs, walking boots or shoes (we will walk through wet grass and puddles of water) and warm clothing. Strong winds can be a feature on the islands.

    The month of June has about 19 hours of daylight.




    Cairngorms Plateau



    You need a reasonable level of fitness.


    There will be short to moderate (3- 8 mile) walks every day, at a slow pace. The terrain is mostly level, though there will be times when we walk distances in soft sand, through moist meadows and moorlands, over stoney ground, up steps, and over rough, uneven or soft ground with several stiles to climb over.  Walks on Rousay are on relatively steep grassy paths, and there is a strenuous mountain walk in the Highlands to the Cairngorm Plateau, of 6+ miles return walk climbing up 2000 feet to 4000 feet.



    Walking up to the Cairngorms Plateau for Ptarmigan and Dotterel is strenuous, requiring a longer walk (about 6 miles return) as we climb about 2000 ft in elevation, from about 2000 ft to 4000 ft. On the island of Hoy there is a 5-6 mile return walk with an altitudinal climb of about 300 ft to the Old Man of Hoy. 



    Ferry and Boat rides:

    Several ferry rides are needed to access the islands we will be visiting in the Orkneys. We have also a boat trip to see the gannetry at Troup Head.




    All transportation will be by comfortable minibus





  • Trip Reports

    Trip Report Scotland: Highlands and Shetlands,  June-July 2003


    Trip Report Scotland: Highlands and Shetlands,  June-July 2005


    Trip Report Scotland: Highlands and Inner Hebrides, June 2016 


    Trip Report Scotland: Highlands and Inner Hebrides, June 2017


    Western Capercaillie

    Western Capercaillie





    The Western Capercaillie is a specialty of the old Caledonian pine forest. It is the largest member of the grouse family with males (cocks) at 36 inches in length and weighing over 10 pounds, being almost twice the size of the hens.


    The Scottish population of capercaillie became extinct in the mid-18th century and was reintroduced from Scandanavia in the 19th century. It is once again threatened, with about 1000 birds, making this the rarest of the grouse species found in Scotland.


    The name capercaillie derives from Scottish Gaelic meaning "horse of the woods."

  • Species Lists

    Systematic List of Species Seen Scotland: Highlands & Shetlands June/July 2005


    Systematic List of Species Seen Scotland : Highlands & Inner Hebrides June 2016


    Systematic List of Species Recorded Scotland: Highlands & Inner Hebrides June 2017


    List of Species Seen on Previous Trips to Scotland 2002-2017



    Crested Tit

    Crested Tit


    We expect to see 5 species from the Tit family,  Paridae -   Long-tailed, Coal, Blue, Great and Crested Tit.


    The Crested Tit is the only member of the tit family in the United Kingdom restricted to the Scottish highlands where it is found in the ancient coniferous Caledonian forest and Scotch Pine plantations.


    This energetic bird, with distinctive black-and-white patterned crest and face, prefers to nest in old pine stumps and dead wood. It can often be seen foraging low down in the forest looking for invertebrates and pine seeds. Crested Tits store pine seeds in the spring and moth larvae in the fall to supplement their winter food supply.