Highlights From Our Scottish Highlands Tour 19 – 24 September 2020

Findhorn Valley 2

We left Llandudno early on the 19th September and picked up Julie and Steven from home in Manchester and then headed north for Grantown-on-Spey where The Grant Arms hotel was to be our base. A beautiful day, blue sky and sunshine, and we made good time up to the Highlands, a lovely welcome at the hotel just like meeting up with old friends.

Having settled in to our lovely rooms we walked through the beautiful pine woods behind the hotel down to the River Spey enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Not many birds to be seen but we did enjoy watching three Dippers in the river and a lovely red squirrel ran along the bridge.

An amazing day spent watching so many raptors including White-tailed Eagles.

The 20th dawned with clear blue sky and no wind perfect conditions for the Findhorn Valley and we headed there after a lovely breakfast. At the first stop we watched Red Kites and a distant Red Grouse before slowly making our up this stunning valley looking fantastic in the autumn sunshine. We stopped at a favourite viewpoint and set the telescopes up and scanned the surrounding ridges for birds of prey. It was almost too warm in the sunshine and felt more like June than September and we have never seen so many raptors here. Almost the whole time we were here, all morning and into the early afternoon at least one bird of prey was pretty much always on view. Common Buzzards were by far the most obvious species with often as many as eight in view at one time! Common Kestrels were the next most obvious with at least five birds being very active throughout our stay with some birds coming right overhead. But of course we did not come all this way to see Buzzards and Kestrels all be it wonderful species, it was eagles we hoped to see. Our scanning paid off with sightings of at least three Golden Eagles, two adults and a juvenile, enjoyed through the telescopes. These really are magnificent birds especially when seen in this Highland landscape. We also saw two White-tailed Eagles one of which was in the same view as one of the Golden Eagles! Always such a thrill to see eagles in wild landscapes and add in Peregrine, Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite and that is a superb outing! But there was more we also saw a male Ring Ouzel, lots of red deer and enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch in the sunshine, brilliant.

Chanonry Point

On the 21st we went north to the Black Isle and Channory Point was our first stop – a famous dolphin watching location. It was a very different day with a chilly wind and overcast skies but at least it was dry. Julie soon spotted botllenose dolphins in the bay and we had many views over the next couple of hours with some of these big animals coming in pretty close to the point. Plenty of birds here too including Red-throated Divers, Razorbill, Common Guillemots, Shags, Gannets, three species of tern – Sandwich, Common and Arctic.

We then headed over to RSPB Udale Bay on the north coast of the Black Isle where lots of Pink-footed Geese were resting on the mudflats but the tide was a long way out so few waders were present. Further east we scanned the fairly calm sea and were rewarded with six Slavonian Grebes, Scaup, Eider and lots of Red-breasted Mergansers. A lovely lunch went down very well in the nearby pub and then back to Udale Bay for the incoming tide. A very different scene to our visit before lunch with masses of birds in the bay right opposite our viewpoint all being pushed closer by the rising tide. Hundreds of Wigeon here and lots of Curlew, careful scanning produced much more with Knot, Dunlin, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Common Gulls all showing well.

On the 22nd we again headed north past Inverness and into the mountains to visit Alladale Wilderness Reserve and what an inspiring place! This private estate is being transformed from a shooting estate into a haven for wildlife. Over one million trees have been planted with many more planned and the habitat is greatly improved as a result. A huge thank you to Innes, the Reserve Manager, for spending the whole day with us showing us this amazing project to bring these glens back to life. So much to write about this it will be the subject of future blogs and articles. We were also privalaged to be show the Scottish wild cat reintroduction breeding programme on the estate and what wonderful animals these are, we look forward to them enjoying the recreated habitats on the estate. Red squirrels delighted us too but the grim weather kept bird sightings to a minimum, we will be back to see more in the future.

On the 23rd we headed up to the coast and our first stop was at Findhorn Bay and it was another glorious day, blue sky, sunshine and pretty calm. What a sight greeted us as we scanned the mudflats – huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese were on the mud and the noise of their “wink-wink” calls filled the air just stunning. More Pink-feet were dropping in as other took flight and headed off to feed it was beautiful to watch and listen to. As we enjoyed the geese an Osprey appeared over the bay and we saw dive into the shallow water but it came up empty taloned. Flocks of Pintail and Wigeon were out in the bay and a flock of Golden Plover dropped in. A Yellowhammer posed in the bushes on the edge of the car park.

Next we visited Roseisle where we stopped to watch beautiful Northern Wheatears along the approach road to the forest car park near the beach. Walking through the trees we reached the top of the dunes and scanned the bay but it was slim pickings. Latter in the winter this is a fantastic place to see wintering ducks, grebes and divers, today a few Goosander, Red-breasted Mergansers and Razorbills were the best. Back in the trees we watched Treecreeper and Goldcrests. As we were leaving Roseisle we stopped to look through a flock of Common Gulls feeding a bare field and were rewarded with a stunning adult Mediterranean Gull – a scarce bird this far north.

A short drive took us to the headland town of Burghead and we scanned the sea from the east side of the headland. The previous day a basking shark had been seen here but despite a lot of scanning we did not spot it. We were now hungry and headed a little further east to Hopeman where we found a café open. Back at Burghead the food must have helped as we saw so much more after lunch, or it may have been the change in the tide now coming in fast. It was a case of where to look so much to see!

On the bird front wave after wave of Pink-footed Geese were arriving from the north out of the clear blue sky a magical sight and sound, migration happening right above us. On the rocky shoreline we watched Turnstones, Common Redshank, Curlew and Rock Pipits. On the sea were Eider, Razorbills, Common Guillemots and some lovely Red-throated Divers two of which were still in breeding plumage. Sandwich Terns were feeding just off the rocks and these pulled in first a Great Skua and then a juvenile Long-tailed Skua that came amazingly close in the lovely sunshine giving us super views. Loads of Gannets were feeding offshore too along with a few Kittiwakes – superb birding here.

But there was more! We scored with basking sharks to, amazingly there were at least seven, perhaps nine, of these monster fish off the headland. They are very weird looking indeed, the dorsal fin is huge and black and can be seen a long way away through the binoculars and telescopes. Through the optics we could also see the tail fin a good way behind the dorsal fin, this was a first for Julie and she had always wanted to see one, now she was spoilt for choice which one to look at. But there was more, a shout from other folks on the headland above us told of dolphins in the bay round to our left. At first we could not see them but we didn’t have to wait long they soon came into view. At least sixteen bottlenose dolphins came right past us really close to shore and gave a fantastic show. These wonderful animals were leaping clear of the water at times and we were all oh and ahhhing as they showed off. What a wonderful finish to our Scottish Highlands tour!

Huge thanks to Steven and Julie for their wonderful company and to all the team at the Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey for their warm welcome and wonderful service. If you not stayed at this amazing wildlife hotel do give it a go it makes the perfect base for a wildlife holiday. You can always join us there for a Birdwatching Trips tour, we can tailor a custom trip perfect for you, just like this one. Just drop us a line and we can do the rest.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you.

We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….


We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

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