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Join Naturalist Journeys to discover the Scottish Highlands and Islands at the peak of wildflower season. August is a marvellous time to explore with the addition of the Abernethy Highland Games! 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 a 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 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!

Tour Highlights

  • Experience the traditional Abernethy Highland Games – a true spectacle
  • Visit the nearly 8000 year old Abernethy Forest, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve
  • Enjoy an exciting return ferry crossing for shearwaters, petrels, skuas, cetaceans and more
  • 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 isle of Staffa to visit the unique geological phenomenon of Fingal’s Cave!
  • A note about the Western Capercaillie: The Western Capercaillie is a huge woodland grouse under the protection of several wildlife and government organizations. While we will not be seeking out Capercaillie on this tour, incidental sightings are possible as we work to respect and protect their essential habitat.

Trip Itinerary

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Fri., Aug. 11 : 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 airport tonight and since everyone arrives at different times, please transfer by taxi to our first hotel.
Accommodations at an airport hotel, TBD closer to time of departure

Sat., Aug. 12 : Scenic Drive to Nethy Bridge | Arrival at Mountview Hotel

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. The garden at our hotel should give you a nice taste of the local birdlife with Robin, House Martin, Western Jackdaw, and Rook all being seen on a regular basis. There are those tempting local scotches awaiting you at the bar following dinner ….
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Sun., Aug. 13 : 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 morning 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. There are a number of bird feeders set up at the visitor centre providing an excellent opportunity to get good views of the more commoner “backyard” birds such as Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, and Robin.

In the afternoon we may visit a local moorland loch where breeding Black-throated (Arctic) Loon may still be feeding their chicks and Red Grouse meander through the heather. With the heather now being in bloom, the hills turn a glorious shade of purple and the scent of the flowers adds to an unforgettable atmosphere.
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Mon., Aug. 14 : Gannets & the Scenic Moray Coastline

We travel north to Ullapool, perhaps seeing Raven and Hooded Crow on the way, to join the ferry to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The ferry is a large ship, with excellent viewing opportunities in all directions, perfect for birding, and we take both the outbound and return sailings to double our chances of migrant seabirds. Leaving port, Black Guillemot, Shag, and any late terns are possible and entering the Minch and more open water, Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Manx Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Great and Arctic Skua and commoner auks become likely. It is a great time of year for wandering Sooty Shearwater and rarer possibilities include Balearic, Cory’s, or Great Shearwaters, Leach’s Petrel, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas, or perhaps storm driven Grey Phalarope or Sabine’s Gull. The Minch has a superb reputation for cetaceans and on calm seas we have a better than average chance of seeing Minke Whale, Harbour Porpoise, and dolphins with Risso’s and Short-beaked Common Dolphin the most likely.
Accommodations at Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Tues., Aug. 15 : Local Moors in Search of Black Grouse | Classic Highland Birding & Scenic Walking

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 display grounds, known as a ‘lek’, 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, enjoy stunningly beautiful rolling mountain scenery today, as we search for some of Scotland’s most iconic species. We visit Heatherlea’s exclusive private woodland estate where Crested Tit and Crossbills are seen regularly.

In the afternoon we visit moorland at a remote glen where we may see Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite, and Ring Ouzel, a member of the thrush family found in mountains and moorlands, Stonechat, 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)

Wed., Aug. 16 : Mountains & Whisky!

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 visit the southern end of the Cairngorm mountain range and take the chairlift up to around 3,000 feet to feast our eyes on mountain vistas with unforgettable scenery all around. We walk the final stretch to the summit to reach the realm of the Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare and there is also a show of alpine plants. More common species are present here too with Meadow Pipit and Northern Wheatear. 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
If time allows we have a stop in the village of Braemar where you can explore the unique, independent shops selling local produce—everything from chocolate to haggis to gin! The main attraction this afternoon is a tour of a whisky distillery to learn how the spirit is made before tasting the results!
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Thurs., Aug. 17 : Exploring the Scenic West Coast

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 villages including Gruinard Bay, Dundonnell, Little Loch Broom and Gairloch. Migrant shorebirds are heading north — we hope to see Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, European Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, and more. Terns include Sandwich, Arctic and Common. We have very good chances at Scotland’s breeding divers including Black-throated (Arctic), and beautiful Red-throated Diver. This is a great day for raptors too with both eagles (Golden and White-tailed) being possible along with Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin.
Accommodations at the Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Fri., Aug. 18 : Moray Coast

Due north of our base is the Moray Firth (a Scots word for sea inlet) which has a stunning coastline lined with quaint fishing villages, beautiful sandy beaches and a surplus of wildlife. We may look for concentrations of waders, including Bar and Black-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Curlew. We’ll have a look at some farmland too with species such as Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer high on our target list. If we are lucky we’ll come across the resident pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins along the way. Not to be missed is our visit to a local fish and chip shop for our lunch.
Accommodations at Mountview Hotel (B,L,D)

Sat., Aug. 19 : 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. 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)

Sun., Aug. 20 : Staffa Boat Trip

We enjoy a spectacular morning boat trip, visiting the Isle of Staffa, where we have enough time to visit Fingal’s Cave, a unique geological phenomenon recognised as one of the wonders of the natural world. We hope to find Twite, Meadow Pipit on the grassy tops of the island while European Shag and Great Cormorant linger on the rocky shore. From the boat we can hope to see Manx Shearwaters along with a few auks, Great Skua, Arctic Tern. This is an excellent opportunity to see Atlantic Grey Seals as they loaf on rocky islands, sometimes getting into the water to come and have a closer look at us! Minke Whale and Common Dolphin are also possible. This trip can be weather dependent, though it usually sails one of our two full days.

In the afternoon we take a drive round Mull’s scenic coastline where European Otter is always a possibility as are White-tailed Eagles. Common Greenshank and Oystercatcher can usually be found on the tideline and we should get a look at some passerines such as Linnet, Mistle Thrush and Grey Wagtail.
Accommodations on Mull (B,L,D)

Mon., Aug. 21 : 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.
Accommodations on Mull (B,L,D)

Tues., Aug. 22 : 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 enjoy a last dinner in Inverness with our guide before settling into our accommodations. Most need an airport hotel this night, so we include it.. If you are staying on in Scotland or taking the train to other areas, we can help with suggestions.
Accommodations in Inverness (B,L)

Wed., Aug. 23 : 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 match up with others in the group.

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Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey is $5990 DBL / $6440 SGL per person from Inverness, Scotland, based on double occupancy and includes: 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, airport transfers, 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 make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.

Arrival and Departure Airport: Inverness Airport (INV)
Arrival Details: Plan to arrive August 11, at your leisure.
Departure Details: Plan August 23 flights at your leisure.
The UK has an excellent train service and you may also choose to arrive by train.

Travel Tip:
You may find it easier to fly into Edinburgh Airport (EDI) and take the train to Inverness. Direct train routes are available and the journey is approximately 3.5 hours. If you would like to spend a few days in Edinburgh prior to traveling to Inverness, there are plenty of things to see! The world famous Edinburgh Castle, dating back to the 12th century, is a fascinating site steeped in history that is definitely worth a visit. You can also explore The Royal Mile, which is historically important to the city with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace, the King’s official residence in Scotland, at the other end. If you enjoy museums, a visit to the National Museum of Scotland will allow you to explore Scottish history, art, and culture. If you would like to maximize your birding adventures, the coastal town of North Berwick is a short train ride from Edinburgh and has a variety of seabird cruises as well as the Scottish Seabird Centre. If you would like to arrive early to Inverness and rest up, you can book additional nights at our first night tour hotel.

Hotel Recommendation:

If you arrive early and spend time in Edinburgh, it’s best to work with your travel agent or research which hotel best suits your needs.

If you arrive early in Inverness, we suggest you book extra nights at our first night tour hotel. You can book the Premier Inn Inverness East online and give us the confirmation number that we will submit when we send our final room list, the goal being you don’t have to change rooms.

Items of Note

This trip is limited to just seven (7) clients.

A note about the Western Capercaillie:

The Western Capercaillie is a huge woodland grouse under the protection of several wildlife and government organizations. While we will not be seeking out Capercaillie on this tour, incidental sightings are possible as we work to respect and protect their essential habitat.

Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.


Map for Scottish Highlands & Islands

Pace & Protocols +

Pace of the Tour & What to Expect You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of Read more

Pace of the Tour & What to Expect

You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.

Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.

The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.

We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.

Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role

Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.


Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.


As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.

Photo Release & Sharing

We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.

By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.

Travel Insurance

You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, agent number 176098, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global RescueWorld Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.


Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.


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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