Join Naturalist Journeys on this Scotland birding tour to discover the Scottish Highlands and Islands at the peak of wildflower season. August is a marvellous time to explore. We are based out of Mountview Hotel at Nethy Bridge for seven of our 12 nights, a particular delight. Mountview Hotel sits upon a hill, within walking distance of the quaint, small town. Expert local naturalists have a long history of work with the hotel, so they know where to find the birds and the scenic stops; they set an comfortable tone right away. Dining is lovely and the lodge boasts a fully-stocked bar—you may want to try their wide variety of local Scottish whisky in the fireside room!

This Scotland nature tour explores Scotland’s wonderful pine and oak forests, rugged coastlines and trails, and walks in the heather above treeline in open moorland. Look for Ptarmigan, nesting Dotterel, Crested Tit, and Scottish (Parrot) Crossbill. Study shorebirds, seabirds (puffins!), and raptors, including Golden Eagle. After a week at Mountview, we venture to Mull and Iona, enchanting islands with wilderness species such as White-tailed Eagle and Hen Harrier. The islands’ residents take pride in their gardens, and the open moorland is in bloom, here we may find Skylark displaying and Twite. Iona’s Abbey hold Celtic treasures, and the rhododendrons and azaleas should be in bloom. Interesting geology, historic castles, fascinating birds … Scotland is a special place!

We also enjoy key Scottish cultural experiences, one of the most important being right here on our doorstep, the world-famous Abernethy Highland Games. Some elements of the traditional Highland gathering have become emblematic of Scotland, such as bagpipes, kilts, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. A spectacular way to celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture! We also visit the famous Battlefield of Culloden, enjoy a local distillery (tasting optional!), and Cawdor Castle, linked in literature to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and set among picturesque gardens. While exploring Mull, we make time to visit famous Iona Abbey and will also go to see Fingal’s Cave. We also visit Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, timed to coincide with one of the city’s most famous cultural events – the Fringe Festival! You will have a full day free to exploring Edinburgh, sampling the street theatre and soaking up the atmosphere.

We are so excited for you to join us on this Scotland nature tour.

Tour Highlights

  • Enjoy rolling mountain and woodland vistas right from our lodge
  • Visit the nearly 8000 year old Abernethy Forest, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve
  • Witness mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry during a boat ride to Troup Head … watch for puffins, too!
  • Search for the extremely rare and magnificent Capercaillie, a bird rarely seen even by local birders
  • Opt for a hike into the arctic-alpine realm, just over 4000 feet, to see Ptarmigan and Dotterel
  • Explore stunning Mull and Iona, with colourful villages and stunning ancient architecture
  • Boat to the tiny isles of Staffa and Lunga to see thousands of seabirds

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Inverness, Scotland


Welcome to Scotland! Today there are no activities planned so you can rest up from travels. Enjoy the gardens at your hotel and a walk if you wish to. Those in on time can join together for an optional group dinner — once we know everyone’s arrival schedule and who wants to join in, we make dinner reservations.

Our accommodations are close to the airport tonight and since everyone arrives at different times, please transfer by taxi to our first hotel. Please note, most flights leave the U.S. on Thursday, August 6.
Accommodations at an airport hotel, TBD closer to time of departure

Day 2: Scenic Drive to Nethy Bridge | Arrival at Mountview Hotel | Abernethy Highland Games


This morning we enjoy breakfast together and time to get acquainted, then we will head to the unique and wonderful Abernethy Highland Games, which is close to our hotel in Nethy Bridge. An unforgettable spectacle and a genuine experience of Scotland at its traditional best. Enjoy dancing, piping and athletic competitions, see throwing events and of course the wonderful spectacle provided by the massed pipes and drums. The games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture, including a 10-mile foot race, refreshments and a variety of trade stands, often provided and manned by local people.

Upon arrival at the Mountview Hotel following the games, enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation. There are those tempting local scotches awaiting you at the bar following dinner ….
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 3: Abernethy Forest — Walking & Birding


Today we visit extensive pine forests, a habitat type that has existed here for close to 8000 years. This ancient Caledonian forest is the largest natural woodland remaining in Britain, a true national heritage. It is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve. Here we find a good number of songbirds, including Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill. A number of trails cross the reserve and we have the day to walk and explore. We join British visitors most excited to see nesting Osprey, still a relatively rare bird, though recovering, in Britain. In the 1950s, after an absence of nearly 50 years, Osprey returned from their winter home in Africa to breed at this location.
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 4: Gannets & the Scenic Moray Coastline


This morning we take an exciting cruise to the foot of Troup Head, mainland Scotland’s only Gannetry, to see the birds. Auks on the sea include Puffin and Black Guillemot, and Great and Arctic Skuas may be seen too. A very exciting boat trip, after which we enjoy local fish and chips for lunch.

After a satisfying lunch, our walkers can enjoy the Moray Coastal Trail, while our birders can enjoy summer birding along the Moray Coast, which can easily include Osprey fishing, Common Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Stonechat, and lots of spring waders, including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin, and Ringed Plover, many in bright summer plumage. We visit some picturesque coastal towns including Banff, Macduff, Crovie, and Pennan. Ending the day we will visit a Speyside distillery, where we learn about the production of Scotch Whisky, and perhaps sample a dram, a fitting end to a great day!
Accommodations at Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 5: Classic Highland Birding & Scenic Walking


Enjoy stunningly beautiful rolling mountain scenery today as we search for some of Scotland’s most iconic species. We visit our operator, Heatherlea’s, exclusive private woodland estate where we hope to find magnificent Capercaillie. Here we have the possibility to see female birds with young chicks. These birds are now extremely scarce, and many British birders have never seen a Capercaillie!

In these private woodlands we have to search for birds while remaining inside the minibus, so later we take a good walk through moorland at a remote glen where we may see Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite, Ring Ouzel (a member of the thrush family found in mountains and moorlands), Stonechat, nesting Common Sandpiper, and more. It’s a lovely day, with spectacular scenery, and a good time to walk for those who are interested. Perhaps a celebration with a drink of Famous Grouse scotch is in order this evening!
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6: Scottish Plateau Country of The Cairngorms


In Scotland you don’t have to contend with high elevation to enjoy a taste of the arctic-alpine realm, as the highest peaks of the region, rounded and sculpted by time, reach just over 4,000 feet. We can drive to around 2000 feet. Feast your eyes on mountain vistas today, whether you chose walking or birding. We have the full day up on the Cairngorm plateau with unforgettable scenery all around. Snow Bunting are singing, their loud sweet repetitive songs often given in flight. There may be a show of alpine flowers, and we discover the alpine adaptations of these rugged enduring plants. There are 2,200 square miles of mountain wilderness here, and the geology is fascinating as well. It may be brisk up on the plateau so dress warm and enjoy a return to a nice roaring fire and an excellent dinner. If this hike sounds too strenuous, you can enjoy a day at leisure in Nethy Bridge or just do a portion of the walk and enjoy the wildflowers near the start of the trail until others return.
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 7: Local Moors for Black Grouse | Exploring the Scenic West Coast


Today enjoy an optional early morning outing to look for Black Grouse, another of Britain’s displaying grouse, intermediate in size with a long-forked tail. The males gather in impressive numbers on known leks, often on the edge of woodland and moor. The lek is now finished, though birds still return to parade and hopefully attract a female.

After this outing and breakfast, we head north to explore more of Britain’s 7000 miles of varied and beautiful coastline, exploring the rocky reaches where rivers flow straight to the sea. We visit beautiful seaside places and towns including Spey Bay, Lossiemouth, Burghead, and Findhorn, where we find time for a coastal walk. Migrant shorebirds are heading north — we hope to see Dunlin, Turnstone, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, and more. Terns include Sandwich, Arctic, Common, and possibly Little. We have very good chances at Scotland’s breeding divers including Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Black-throated (Arctic), and beautiful Red-throated Diver.
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 8: Favourite Places


Today is a “guides choice” day. Based on our interests, the staff designs a couple of options for us for further birding or walking in the Highlands or along the coast. Or, you may want to tuck in for half a day or more and just enjoy the hotel and local town. There are many areas to explore – we make it a wonderful day.
Accommodations at Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9: Travel to Mull


After breakfast we travel to Mull, one of the most scenic islands of the Hebrides, its coast deeply indented and laced with smaller scenic rocks and islets. We travel via Fort William, crossing the Corran Ferry and driving through the area known as Morvern. Mull’s geologic story tells of violent volcanic activity some 30,000 – 50,000 years ago when sequential lava flows accumulated to thicknesses of 6000 feet.

Mull is the second most mountainous island after Skye — its central tablelands reach over 3000 feet. We visit Duart Castle, quite striking on its headland setting. Driving near the coast, we look for Harbor and Atlantic Grey Seals and River Otter. On arrival we visit picturesque Tobermory, the capital town of Mull, known for its colorful buildings. Enjoy some time to explore before heading to our comfortable hotel for three nights.
Accommodations on Mull (B,L,D)

Day 10: Treshnish Isles Boat Trip to Staffa & Lunga


We enjoy a spectacular boat trip today, visiting the Isle of Staffa, where we have enough time to visit Fingal’s Cave and also scan for the few Great Skua that sometimes breed here, as do a few Puffin.

Next, on to the tiny isle of Lunga to visit the fabulous auk colony on the cliffs of Harp Rock, facing west across the ocean. Many thousands of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, and Shag are present, with Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater, and perhaps tiny Storm Petrel, Great Skua, Arctic Tern and “real” Greylag Goose offshore. On Lunga, the Puffin experience is perhaps the best in the British Isles, as we pass right by the burrows (the birds are inquisitive, and a careful birder can enjoy views from a few feet).

Further along, auks, Shag, and gulls can be safely appreciated at eye level just yards away. Photographers love this spectacle! A quiet walk away from the main cliffs and we may hear Twite singing. Our boat returns to harbour in time for us to keep birding as we return to our hotel. This trip can be weather dependent, though it usually sails one of our two full days.
Accommodations on Mull (B,L,D)

Day 11: Iona & Mull


Mull is a wildlife paradise, becoming ever more popular with birdwatchers. It’s easy to see why, with more eagles (both Golden and White-tailed) than anywhere else in Britain, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Raven, and a range of northern moorland birds. The coastal habitat is special and allows us to search for Great and Arctic Skua, Manx Shearwater, Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Puffin, Gannet, and much more, including a variety of waders. It is also a popular walking area, set in magnificent scenery and featuring towering cliffs, rugged mountains, rocky coastlines, and beautiful pristine beaches.

On Iona, accessed by ferry from Mull, we look for Skylark and Twite (a Redpoll relative) and visit the Abbey, a Celtic treasure dating from the 5th Century. We also plan to visit local gardens known for collections of azalea and rhododendron, which we hope to find in bloom.
Accommodations on Mull (B,L,D)

Day 12: Mull to Inverness


Today we bird and explore on Mull in the early morning and then cross by ferry to the Scottish mainland, returning to Inverness. This is a four to five-hour drive in total, and we break it up with a picnic lunch and some geographic commentary en route.

We arrive in the late afternoon and say goodbye to our guide as the tour ends. Most need an airport hotel this night, so we include it, though dinner is at leisure. If you are staying on in Scotland or taking the train to other areas, we can help with suggestions.
Accommodations in Inverness (B,L)

Day 13: Departures


Your return to the airport is by taxi today to match up with your flight; we can help coordinate possible ride-shares if flights matchup with others in the group.

  • Inverness Castle, Scotland, Scotland Wildlife Tour, Scottish Highlands, Scenery, Scottish Tour, Naturalist Journeys
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  • Common Sandpiper, Scotland, Scotland Wildlife Tour, Scottish Highlands, Scenery, Scottish Tour, Naturalist Journeys

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey is $TBD per person from Inverness, Scotland, based on double occupancy and includes: airport transfers, accommodations for 12 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, local guides, local park and reserve entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.

Cost does not include roundtrip airfare to or from Inverness, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, or gratuities for porterage or personal services.

Travel Details

Please plan to arrive at Inverness Airport (INV) on the morning of Aug. 7, 2020, or ahead of time (at your own expense). We can recommend a hotel if you plan to come in early. Please plan your flights home in the afternoon on Aug. 19. Please check your flight times with us before you book and finalize your plans.


Photo credits: Banners: Iona Abbey, courtesy Heatherlea; Atlantic Puffin, courtesy Heatherlea; Scotland, Colin White; Loch an Eilei, courtesy Heatherlea; Sound of Mull Sunrise, courtesy Heatherlea; Blue Tit, Sandy Sorkin; Scenic, Dennis Lankford; Dotterel, courtesy Heatherlea; Rock Ptarmigan, Dennis Lankford; Razorbill, Colin White; Puffin, Colin White; Robin, Sandy Sorkin; Lighthouse, John Ianacone; Crested Tit courtesy Heatherlea; Great Cormorant by Sany Sorkin; Red Grouse courtesy Heatherlea; Sheep by Dennis Lankford; Mull Scenery courtesy Heatherlea; Inverness Castle, John Ianacone; Culloden, John Ianacone; Northern Gannet, John Ianacone; Scenic Hills, John Ianacone; Razorbills, John Ianacone; Village, John Ianacone; Common Sandpiper, John Ianacone.

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