Monday, March 14, 2011

Scottish Highlands––This Autumn!

Calling all adventurers!

I invite you to join me on a Naturalist Journeys tour this fall to Scotland. We'll focus on the Scottish Highlands and (for the trip extension) on the remote and wild Outer Hebrides. Fall is a very fine time to visit here––the Highlands glow with autumn color, all the specialty birds are present in good numbers, and seabird and waterfowl flocks are staging for migration. Minke Whales ply the northern waters enroute to the Hebrides.

Scotland is a land of deep roots, and all the wildness of the ages still resounds in its bagpipe music. I've been drawn to return here time and again––alone, with family, with friends, guiding tours––and have explored its byways by rail, by bus, by ferry, by small boat, on foot, hitchhiking, by rental car (the stick shift is located where? on which side of the steering wheel?!). I sorta speak the language.

We'll be based for an entire week at the Mountview Hotel in the heart of Cairngorms National Park (Britain's largest park), and will use it as a jumping-off point to explore seabird colonies and quaint villages along the Moray coast. Here in the ancient Caledonian pinewoods and upon the heather-covered moorlands, the birds are a very fun twist on groups we're familiar with in North America: kinglets become Goldcrests, sporting fancy crowns. Our American Robin has cousins in the Redwing, the Fieldfare, and the Song Thrush. Crested Tits are as charming as a chickadee can be. Scotland has its own species of crossbill, which we hope to find. You may also hear Red Deer, bellowing as they rut in the woods. European Badgers burrow; Pine Martens haunt this ancient forest.

Along the coast, thousands of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese will be massing, joined by small numbers of Brant and Barnacle Geese, with rarities like Red-breasted Goose possible.

Western Capercaillie (Pen and ink by Narca)

And the grouse! Black Grouse will be lingering at their leks. Rock Ptarmigan will be molting into winter plumage. Imagine a Western Capercaillie, the size of a Wild Turkey, gorging on autumn berries! We'll be at the heart of their range in Britain. (Once on the shore of Lake Baikal, a Black-billed Capercaillie came exploding out of the thicket at my feet: just a little startling! But I've not yet seen the Western species.)

Then it's across the Minch! The trip extension is an exciting voyage by ferry to the Outer Hebrides, where we will base at a comfortable hotel on the Isle of Harris. The ferry is large and steady, and gives us an excellent opportunity to see migrating seabirds like Great Skua, European Storm-Petrel, and possibly Balearic Shearwater. Marine mammals like Gray Seal and Harbor Porpoise can also join the show. The rugged, evocative Isle of Harris defines "remote." We'll visit the Stones of Callanish, a stone circle thought to be 4500 to 5000 years old, and enjoy fabulous birding here at the "Outer Limits."

Scottish seabirds sketched in the field by Narca

Are you as intrigued by Scotland as I am? Check out the full itinerary on our website at, and give us a call! (Paste the website into your address line; I'm not getting the direct link to work.)

The dates are September 17-24 for the main trip, and September 24-27 for the extension to the Outer Hebrides.

Time is getting short for signing on, and you don't want to miss Scotland in autumn! I hope to see you there.

(No, I won't be driving!)

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