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Scottish Highlands

Curlew Numenius arquata ©David Whitaker Website

The Highland regions of Scotland offer a great deal to resident and visiting birdwatchers. The vast area holds some habitats of prime importance in national and international terms. The flow country of Caithness and Sutherland are famous for upland breeding waders especially Greenshank. Ross-shire is a land of contrasts between the hard, high mountains and rocky coastline of the west where Black-throated Divers and Golden Eagles are the special birds, and the rolling hills and soft estuaries of the east where internationally important numbers of wader and wildfowl winter. Inverness-shire holds a little bit of everything with an impressive list of exciting birds including Slavonian Grebe, Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Osprey, Dotterel, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill and Snow Bunting; the jewels in the Highland crown.

Many of the special species that occur in Highland are sensitive, rare or have restricted range. This makes it vitally important that all birdwatchers which visit the area to be especially responsible when in the field in Highland. Of course follow the birdwatchers and countryside codes. Please do not disturb nesting birds, and take care in sensitive areas. Please be very careful and discrete with any information you have been told or on species you discover, this information should only be passed on to the RSPB (Etive House, Beechwood Park, Inverness) and not put into the public domain. Careless talk can put at risk the birds that you have enjoyed watching.

Top Sites

Abernethy National Nature Reserve

Webpage

Satellite View

Home to some of Scotland's most spectacular wildlife, Abernethy is a dramatic and awe-inspiring place. A fragile mosaic of ancient Caledonian pinewood, moorland, bog and mountain plateau, this reserve really has something for everyone. Look out for some of the pinewood residents, like the fast moving red squirrel or the restless flitting of a yellow siskin. Or head for Loch Garten and watch its most famous summer visitors, the imposing ospreys nesting high in the tree tops.

Cairngorms National Park

Website

Satellite View

The highest plateau in Britain. Rapid changes in weather can cause problems for the under-prepared, please take precautions. This is also a very sensitive area for wildlife so take care. Visitor numbers are likely to increase after the building of the new funicular in the next few years. Montane species can be found during the summer with time, although they are not straightforward, this is not a quick stop site and plenty of time should be allowed. Dotterel, Snow Bunting and Ptarmigan are the star species and in recent years lucky observers have seen Snowy Owl.

Findhorn Valley

Website

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The place to look for eagles. The long skylines and spectacular open glen offer excellent conditions, if the weather prevails for raptor watching. Wandering Golden Eagles are never far away and in recent years it has been a regular place for seeing re-introduced White-tailed Eagles. This is also an excellent site for Ring Ouzels, Red Grouse, breeding waders and upland river species including Dipper.

Glenmore Forest Park

Webpage

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This extensive area of forest holds an impressive mix of exotic plantations and ancient pinewood. All the pinewood specialities occur here and is a good place to compare Common and Scottish Crossbills. Loch Morlich is always worth spending a bit of time as it is often used by fishing Black and Red-throated Divers.

Handa Island Reserve

Webpage

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Famous seabird colony which is now a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. Magnificent Torridonian sandstone cliffs rise from the Atlantic on the north west coast of Handa Island. Each summer, nearly 100,000 seabirds breed here, including internationally important numbers of guillemots, razorbills and great skuas. These dramatic cliffs provide stunning ocean panoramas. Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake and Fulmars breed on the cliffs while inland both Great and Arctic Skuas hold territories. Access through organised boat operators from Scourie and Tarbet.

Insh Marshes RSPB

Webpage

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A RSPB reserve with visitor facilities including hides. A huge flood marsh on the River Spey just to the north of Kingussie. Many pairs of breeding wildfowl and waders use these wet meadows, marshes and pools. The birch woods hold a typical selection of Highland woodland species.

Loch Garten RSPB

Webpage

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Remnant Caledonian Pine Forest holding many of the forest specialities. However the main attraction is the pair of breeding Ospreys. Major investment by the RSPB have improved visitor facilities with a purpose built visitor centre offering excellent views of the Osprey nest but is also an superb site for watching pinewood species including Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill and Common Redstart.

Loch Ruthven RSPB

Webpage

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A RSPB reserve with visitor facilities. To see possibly the most beautiful Highland species, the Slavonian Grebe, this site is a must. Regular scanning of the loch will not only produce the grebes in breeding plumage but also Red-throated Diver which use the loch for fishing.

Moray Firth

Webpage

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Complex estuary system with numerous bays, saltmarshes and inter-tidal flats. The majority of the smaller firths have industrial developments, which have resulted in major encroachments at key sites. Huge numbers of wintering waterfowl and waders use this whole complex as a wintering and passage site. Many sites and watchpoints around the coastline, two major sites are; Nigg Bay NH790730 - Extensive area of mudflat and saltmarsh. Important winter numbers of Dunlin, Redshank, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Wigeon and Pintail. Udale Bay NH71/65 - Sheltered mudflats and saltmarsh. RSPB hide overlooking saltmarsh west of Jemimaville. In winter Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, and Bar-tailed Godwit use the saltmarsh as a high tide roost. Large numbers of Wigeon and Greylag Geese also present. This is also an excellent place for passage waders. Offshore scan for wintering Slavonian Grebes, Scaup and Long-tailed Duck.

*See places other birders go Birding...

WebBirder Hot Spots

**Latest Sightings

Sightings

Contributor

County Recorder

Peter Stronach

Clachan, Boat of Garten, Invernessshire PH24 3BX

01479 851272

highlandrecorder@gmail.com

Caithness - Sinclair Manson

7 Duncan Street, Thurso KW14 7HZ

01847 892379

sinclairmason@btinternet.com

Number of Species

County [Sutherland] Bird - Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata

Checklist

Checklist

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Useful Reading

Best Birdwatching sites in the Scottish Highlands

By Gordon Hamlett | Buckingham Press | Paperback | Feb 2014 | Edition: 2 | 288 Pages | 218 Colour Maps |
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 9780956987655

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Birds of the Outer Hebrides

by Peter Cunningham, Paperback - 243 pages (June 1983) The Mercat Press

ISBN: 0906664195

Buy this book from NHBS.com

In Search of Birds in the Scottish Highlands

Brian O'Shea, John Green Paperback - 86 pages (1990) Artery Publications

ISBN: 0951390910

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Skye Birds

By R L McMillan, 2005

ISBN: 0955025303

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

Mike Madders and Julia Welstead - 297 pages, b/w illus, maps - Christopher Helm

ISBN: 071365693X

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Aigas Field Centre

Tour Operator

Wildlife, Birdwatching, History & Nature Holidays in the Highlands of Scotland…

Heatherlea Birdwatching Services

Tour Operator

Every birdwatcher loves the special birds of the Scottish Highlands. Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, Dotterel, Scottish Crossbill, Osprey, Crested Tit, Blackcock at the lek, Divers and Grebes in breeding plumage… the list goes on and on! Heatherlea organise birdwatching holidays in Strathspey throughout the year, and we think this gives us an unbeatable knowledge of the area and its bird life. Our expert guides use first-hand local knowledge, and our wide range of contacts help us find the birds that others simply won't see.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Cruises

The unique and elegant way to cruise - Hebridean Princess and Hebridean's European River Cruises…

Puffin Express

Tour Operator

Special interest holidays and trips…

Speyside Wildlife

Tour Operator

Speyside Wildlife - Friendly, fun and number one for guides to the Scottish Highlands. They know the terrain, are great for beginners and can find the specialities. Golden Eagle, Slavonian Grebe, Scottish Crossbill, Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pine Marten, Red Squirrel and, well, everything else (!) with a day among Sea Eagle and Puffin, Otter and Minke Whale. Or go travel the world with them in search of wildlife!

Swallow Birding

Tour Operator

On Swallow Birding trips we are enthusiastic, relaxed, friendly and fun. Small groups mean Leader Steve Grimwade can give the time and attention necessary to make your trip a great birding experience!

The Birdwatching and Wildlife Club

Tour Operator

Birding and wildlife breaks in the Cairngorms. Millions of people now enjoybird and wildlife watching. For some it’s a consuming passion. For others it is just an excuse for a good walk…

Birding Ecosse

Tour Operator

Welcome to Birding Ecosse, the new way to bird in the Scottish Highlands. From an afternoon or morning trip to a full day in the field or even just a spare hour don't feel like you are part of a crowd…

Highland Nature - John Poyner

Guiding

Professional Birding & Wildlife Guide Service based in the Scottish Highlands. Based in Nethybridge at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park along with my wife Lucka, and sons Mattias and Jakub, I work as a professional Tour Guide and freelance Field Ornithologist. For the past twelve years I have led many tours for two of Scotland's leading Wildlife Holiday companies, both in Scotland and abroad, while undertaking survey work between this and during winter months…

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2007 [08 August] - David Brown

Report

The trip started wet and windy, which was to remain with us throughout this two week trip to Scotland visiting areas such as Loch of Strathbeg, Speyside, Applecross Peninsula…

2009 [10 October] - Mark Finn

Report

…Unusual and scarce species were in short supply although Whooper Swans, Greater Scaup and Pink-footed Geese had arrived earlier than expected. During the week we had exceptional views of Red Grouse, Rock Ptarmigan, White-tailed Eagles, Velvet and Common Scoters and a host of the more common species…

2009 [05 May] - Mark Finn

Report

…Summer migrants were generally thin on the ground although excellent views were obtained of Common Redstart and Wood Warbler. In Wester Ross and Sutherland we were treated to exceptional views of Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers and returning Great and Arctic Skuas on Handa Island…

2010 [05 May] - Mark Finn

Report

…Along the coast we visited the seabird cliffs of Handa along with Great and Arctic Skuas and further north in Durness where we found a pair of Garganey and two lingering Black-tailed Godwits of the islandica race. In the woodlands and forests we observed Crested Tit, Common and Scottish Crossbills, Wood Warblers and all too brief views of Capercaillie….

2010 [09 September] - Mark Finn

Report

…Off Wester Ross two groups of Black-throated Divers numbering 55 birds was a highlight for many. In the same area Grey Phalaropes and a wide selection of seabirds. Black Grouse at Corrimony was another highlight as was the sheer number of terns at Burghead which may be a record count for Moray…

2011 [06 June] - Peter Welch - Handa Island

PDF Report

In late June I was fortunate to be able to take some leave whilst in the far north of Scotland and after studying Gordon Hamlett’s excellent guidebook and doing some research, decided the best plan would be to visit the Island of Handa…

2016 [04 April] - Oriole Birding - Speyside

PDF Report

Places to Stay

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Altnaharra Hotel

Accommodation

Situated 21 miles north of Lairg and 17 miles south of the north coast village of Tongue, on the A836. Whilst this is primarily for anglers it does say It is also a birdwatchers paradise with the full range of birds of prey including osprey and golden eagle as well as waterfowl such as divers, swans and ducks. Game-birds are plentiful too. Other animals to see are otters, deer, roe buck, seals, rabbits, foxes, badgers and the occasional pine marten.

Ardnamurchan

Accommodation

REMOTE but easily accessible, the Ardnamurchan Peninsula hosts a huge range of rare animals, birds and plants. Within just 25 by 40 miles, you will find all of Scotland`s breathtaking scenic variations, based on a glacial and volcanic geology - mountains, moors and white sandy beaches; forests of ancient oaks and woodland reserves. Crystal waters tumble in countless burns and waterfalls; the River Shiel meanders gently past wild flower meadows.

Ardverikie Estate - Kinloch Laggan, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire

Accommodation

The houses and cottages are scattered within the bounds of the estate which is situated mostly on the southeast side of Loch Laggan, set amid striking scenery with lochs, woods and mountains, blending to produce some of the most spectacular landscape in Scotland… [BBC`s Monarch of the Glen - Glenbogle]

Beechwood Lodge

Accommodation

Beechwood Lodge offers confortable Bed and Breakfast accommodation in the small village of Ardross in Easter Ross in the Northern Highlands of Scotland.

Belladrum - Nr. Loch Ness

Accommodation

Luxury self-catering cottages and lodgings in romantic settings on an 1100 acre family estate in the Scottish Highlands - near to the Highland capital of Inverness, Loch Ness and some of Scotland's most stunning scenery. The perfect place to base your Highland holiday - and available all the year round.

Ben View Hotel - Ardnamurchan

Accommodation

Haunt of finches and capercaillies and even the occassional pine marten or wildcat, the Ben View's setting is a renowned view in an area where stunning panoramas are plentiful.

Dunallan House - Grantown on Spey

Accommodation

Dunallan is a splendid example of Victorian elegance, oozing with the charm of a bygone era. Original period fireplaces in the residents lounge and dining rooms exude extra warmth to cheer you on those cooler evenings. Beautiful cornice work, pitched and Oregon pine woodwork and magnificent stained glass windows also feature in this lovely Highland villa.

Inchbae Lodge Guest House

Accommodation

We are almost there, after almost six months of hard work we are near to completing the first phase of our refurbishment of Inchbae Lodge and reopening to the public...

Insh House Guest House - Nr. Kingussie

Accommodation

With views to the Monadhliath and Cairngorm Mountains, Insh House is at the edge of an extensive birchwood which now forms part of the RSPB Insh Marshes Reserve and only a few hundred yards from Loch Insh and its extensive watersport activities.

Lazy Duck Hostel - Nethybridge

Accommodation

Location - have a look at our maps of Nethybridge and Strathspey. Find us by the Fhuarain burn & waterfowl ponds in a 3 acre forest clearing homestead, 300 metres off the Nethybridge to Tomintoul road, at the village boundary. OS map Landranger Series Sheet 36 Grid reference 016204. Sheltered by pine trees we look south across a neighbouring 100 acre grazing moor of heather, Caledonian pine, birch, rowan and juniper to Cairngorm (1245m) and Bynack (1090m) just 9 miles away. Nearest neighbours – aylesburies - chiloe wigeon – mandarin - red billed and bahama pintails - brecon buffs – then roe deer – a family of red squirrels – and (rare but there) crested tit & capercaillie.

Mount View Hotel - Nethybridge

Accommodation

Located in Nethybridge in the heart of Speyside - Heatherlea Birdwatching and The Mountview Hotel are the ideal choice for your group holiday. We cater for groups of two to twenty, and can offer you a full range of services.

Mounteagle Self-catering Cottages

Accommodation

4-star Luxury self-catering accomodations on the beautiful Mounteagle Estate. Buntings to bullfinches, linnet to lapwing, songthrush to skylark and siskin - feathered friends too numerous to mention take up residence at Mounteagle and Loch Eye. Whooper swans in their hundreds glide effortlessly across the loch…

Rhiconich Hotel

Accommodation

At the head of Loch Inchard on the beautiful North West Coast of the Scottish Highlands. Close proximity of wonderful wildlife; Golden Eagles seen soaring in pairs and deer on the hill. They are close to the Scottish Wildlife Trusts Handa Isle Bird Sanctuary where Sea Birds flock in their thousands to nest on the cliffs and the great stack…

The Birdwatching and Wildlife Club - Grant Arms Hotel - Grantown-0n-Spey

Accommodation

BWWC has recently taken over the imposing 55 bedroom Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park, one of the best birding and wildlife areas in the UK. Few places can offer the year round range of diversity. Golden Eagles, Capercallie, Pine Martens, Red Squirrels, Mountain Hares, Ptarmigan, Otters, Red and Black Grouse, Red Deer, Crossbills and, of course, Ospreys in Spring and Summer…

Tom-na-Creige B&B - Nr fort William

Accommodation

A family run B&B with stunning views over Loch Linnhe- an ideal base for the keen bird watcher…

Hoki Mai Cottage

Accommodation

Hoki Mai means “keep coming back” and reflects a New Zealand heritage. Our holiday cottage in Glenborrodale, on the west coast of Scotland, is surrounded by beautiful woodland of larch, rowan, oak, birch and rhododendron. It is located in over an acre of ground and has a sunny south facing aspect with views to the surrounding hills and Loch Sunart. Wildlife abounds with red deer and pine martens as regular visitors to the garden. White tailed sea-eagles from Mull are sometimes to be seen. Telephone Colin George: 01786 831054…

Organisations

Aigas Field Centre

Website

Wildlife, Birdwatching, History & Nature Holidays in the Highlands of Scotland…

Highland Foundation for Wildlife

Website

The Highland Foundation for Wildlife is a non-membership charitable trust dedicated to wildlife conservation and research, with a special emphasis on species recovery projects and the restoration of natural ecosystems. It was set up by Roy Dennis in 1995…

Scottish Ornithologists Club - Caithness Branch

Website

Angus McBay 01847 894663

Scottish Ornithologists Club - Highland Branch

Website

Kathy Bonniface , Alt Dubh, North End, Tomatin, IV13 7YP, Tel 01808 511740 kathybonniface@aol.com

Wildlife Scotland

Website

West Highlands & Islands, Loch Lomond, Stirling & Trossachs…

Reserves

Cairngorms National Park

Website

Satellite View

The Cairngorms was made a National Park in September 2003 because it is a unique and special place that needs to be cared for - both for the wildlife and countryside it contains and for the people that live in it, manage it and visit it. It is Britain's largest national Park…

Blackmuir Wood

Webpage

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If you walk through ther wood and up onto Knockfarril hill this will give the visitor a good chance of watching the Red Kite…

Culloden Wood

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This local woodland consists mainly of conifer trees such as Scots Pine, Norway & Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir, of which there are several huge examples here in Culloden Wood. Broadleaved trees are retained throughout the forest during all operations, and Beech, Alder and Birch are planted to enhance the conservation and landscape value of the area…

Daviot Wood

Webpage

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Look out for Siskins, Crested tit, Crossbill and the Common Buzzard, souring majestically above the forest…

Glenmore Forest Park

Webpage

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A walk in these woods will give you the opportunity to spot Crested Tits and the Scottish Crossbill…

Inshriach & Inshriach Forest

Webpage

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This Pinewood is home to Crested Tits and Crossbills…

Lael Forest Garden

Webpage

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There maybe an opportunity to spot the magnificentGolden Eagle as soars above the Forest. As the Dusk begins to take a hold start looking out for the Tawny Owl…

Ord Hill

Webpage

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The Black Isle gives the observer a great opportunity to watch the Red Kite. This area is also very good for the Common Buzzard. Within the forest look out for Crested Tits and Crossbills…

Reelig Glen

Webpage

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The burn gives an opportunity to spot Dippers and Grey Wagtails…

Slattadale

Webpage

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Black Throated Divers can be seen on the Loch…

Torrachilty Forest

Webpage

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Huge forest, mostly spruce & pine but with some native broadleaves which make for interesting colour in autumn. Thought to be home to wildcats, otters & pine martens - so look carefully and you may see something special. Contin car park gives access to 3 walking trails & Rogie Falls another 4. Careful on the Rogie falls footbridge. Here there is a chance to spot Crossbill, Crested Tit and Buzzard…

Loch Garten RSPB

Website

Satellite View

Loch Garten is famous for the ospreys that can be seen from the Osprey Centre in summer. As well as an excellent view of the nest, live video pictures are relayed back to the centre, where staff are on hand to explain what is happening…

Corrimony RSPB

Webpage

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..Loch Comhnard which in summer attracts common sandpipers, greenshanks and curlews, along with occasional red-throated divers and ospreys…

Fairy Glen RSPB

Webpage

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A typical range of woodland and stream birds are present, including dippers and grey wagtails…

Forsinard Flows RSPB

Webpage

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Forsinard lie at the heart of the internationally important Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. Birds including golden plovers, dunlins and merlins breed on the reserve…

Glenborrodale RSPB

Webpage

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In spring, wood warblers nest, along with a range of woodland birds such as redstarts and spotted flycatchers…

Insh Marshes RSPB

Webpage

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The Insh Marshes are the most important flood plain mire in Britain and have a very distinctive flora plus important populations of breeding and wintering wetland birds as well as nationally scarce mammals and invertebrates.

Loch Ruthven RSPB

Website

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It is the most important site in the UK for the rare Slavonian grebe…

Nigg Bay RSPB

Webpage

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Large numbers of wading birds, such as bar-tailed godwits and knots, use the bay for feeding and roosting from October to March…

Udale Bay RSPB

Webpage

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From late summer to April the reserve supports large numbers of wildfowl and wading birds. Best visited within two hours of high tide, there can be spectacular views of flocks of birds. In autumn, up to 5,000 wigeons feed on the beds of eel-grass…

Tollie Red Kites RSPB

Webpage

Satellite View

With stunning views across Easter Ross to Ben Wyvis, Tollie Red Kites provides close-up views of our most graceful bird of prey. A team of volunteers feed the birds every day and you can watch them feed from the comfort of a specially-converted farmstead building. Tollie Red Kites is a partnership between RSPB Scotland and the Brahan Estate.

Blogs

Dave Slater - Birding Ecosse

Blog

Birdwatching for beginners Workshops. These relaxed and enjoyable workshops will be held on dates at end of March beginning of April 2011 in the Moray area….

Pelagic Birder

BLOG

Pelagic birding work voyages/local patch & occasional twitch birding news…

eBirder

Blog

Bird photography workshops, tours and holidays based in the Scottish Highlands…

Other Links

BINOCULARS-UK

Website

BINOCULARS-UK are specialists in providing quality vision accessories. Inpro Optics binoculars are designed for people who expect extraordinary performance at a very competitive price. The quality of your binoculars can have a lot to do with the sucess of your days outdoors, Inpro Optics bring you a comprehensive range that will satisfy the most demanding of users.

Caithness Bird Watching

Website

Links to local sies etc…

Skye Birds

Website

A comprehensive guide to birding on the Island of Skye in the Scottish Hebrides. The site features an interactive map, constantly updated sighting reports andan events diary…

Photographers & Artists

Photographer - Neil McIntyre

Gallery

Being based in Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands makes it ideal for me to make the most of the fantastic scenery and wildlife that surrounds me. Over the years I have concentrated on many of the local species…

Photographer - David Whitaker

Gallery

Welcome to HIGHLAND WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY, a web site dedicated to the appreciation of the wildlife and environment of the Scottish Highlands…