The Speyside region in Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery in the British Isles and birdlife to match with exciting species, some of which occur nowhere else in the UK. From Rock Ptarmigan and Dotterel on high mountain tops of the Cairngorm Mountain range to European Crested Tits and Western Capercaillie in the vast Caledonian Pine forests and seabirds on the west coast, there will be some memorable birding!
During this tour we will spend time looking for the sought-after Pine Marten and European Otter.
Tour Leader: Steve Grimwade
Maximum Group Size: 7
Leaving our base in Essex we drive north, with possible pickups en-route and arrive late afternoon in Grantown-on-Spey, our base for the tour. During the journey we will make a stop at an area of moorland and loch to search for nesting Black-throated Diver, Willow Ptarmigan, Merlin and Common Sandpiper and we may find Peregrine Falcon or a wandering Golden Eagle before reaching our hotel and settling in for a good evening meal.
Making an early start we head south to look for Black Grouse. The delightful birds display on boggy moors and can put on quite a show before we head back for a well-earned breakfast. There is also the chance of coming across a Western Capercaillie during our drive along the quiet forest roads.
Later we visit Loch Garten and Abernethy RSPB reserves where we will spend the day exploring the area in hope of finding Western Osprey. Other species we can expect to see here are European Crested Tit, Common Redstart, Scottish Crossbill and Common Goldeneye which nest beside the lochs. Red Squirrels frequent the surrounding woodland.
Today we head for the Cairngorm Mountains in search of some arctic species that have made this special habitat their own. Although a long walk to the upper plateau, we will take our time and along the way hope to see Willow Ptarmigan plus Northern Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Snow Bunting. Once on the higher tops we will keep our eyes peeled for Rock Ptarmigan which should still show remnants of their white winter plumage and we will also enjoy amazing views of the surrounding mountains. After some well-needed refreshments back at the ski centre we shall visit a nearby loch where both Red-throated and Black-throated Divers occur along with Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye.
After our mountain activities of the previous day, we have a relaxed day and drive to the famous picturesque Findhorn Valley. The valley extends for over 12 miles and the scenery is beautiful. Herds of Red Deer graze on the valley floor and slopes, whilst there is a chance of Golden Eagle overhead. Western Osprey fish in the river and Mountain Hare live on the hillsides, also White-throated Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper are common here. Ring Ouzel can be heard singing from scree slopes and Wood Warbler may also be heard singing from Birch and Oak woodland.
During the afternoon a drive over moorland will bring us to Loch Ruthven RSPB Reserve with its fabulous nesting Horned Grebe and we hope to get great views of this rare species. Birch woodland surrounding the loch can be alive with Willow Warblers and its possible that we may hear a singing Common Grasshopper Warbler.
After our evening meal we visit a hide in search of the elusive Pine Marten. Eurasian Woodcock can be seen and heard roding overhead as darkness falls. As we begin our wait for Pine Marten, the sight of Red Deer, Badger and Wood Mice feeding in the woodland help build the suspense.
Depending on tide times we visit the northern shore of the Moray Firth looking for Bottle-nose Dolphin. This is probably the best site to see them in the UK and we hope to obtain superb views as they often feed close inshore. Meanwhile Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Parasitic Jaeger and Sandwich, Common and possibly Arctic Tern fly by. We will also head to a woodland to connect with European Crested Tit, Eurasian Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Eurasian Treecreeper.
Later we visit a sheltered glen where Golden Eagles nest. They may have chicks so the adults could be active and looking for food. In Birch woodland we hope to see Wood Warbler and hear its distinctive trilling song, sounding like a spinning coin.
Travelling further afield to the west coast with its sandy beaches, deep-sea lochs and wild moorland, our main target is White-tailed Eagle, as these huge birds can be seen soaring over many offshore islands along the coast. The area is beautiful with a secluded beach where we will tuck into lunch and here, we hope to see Twite, as small numbers of this diminutive finch nest nearby.
We hope to see the three commoner diver species with a chance of Yellow-billed Diver. Black Guillemot and European Shag which should be present offshore with the possibility of Great Skua. Otters are in the area and we have had good views of them here on past tours.
After a good breakfast we head to the southern shore of the Moray Firth to look for seaduck. We expect to see Common Eider, Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Duck and hopefully something rarer will appear such as King Eider or Surf Scoter. During past tours we have been lucky to catch up with White-billed Divers which are known to winter in the Firth in reasonable numbers.
Rock Pipits breed here and waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and Grey Plover rest on their way to northerly breeding grounds.
We say our goodbyes to Grantown-on-Spey and head southwards after a great week in this beautiful area of Scotland!
Full board accommodation for 7 nights
Visit to mammal watching hide
Ground transport in Scotland
Full guiding throughout
Drinks and items of a personal nature
Lunch on day 1
Relaxed, two to three miles walking per day except on day 3
Expect between 120 and 140 species
Tour Cost: £1690
Single Supplement: £180