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Tours / Cairngorm Big 5 2020

Red Squirrel, Crested Tit, Mountain Hare, Ptarmigan, Red Deer

This newly designed trip is dedicated to the Big 5 of the Cairngorms National Park. Such is the appeal of the Big 5 they really do not need to be described or sold in anyway. These creatures are some of the most sought after species in many wildlife photographers wish list. That’s what makes this tour unique, as it will give you the chance to capture them all within the duration of one trip.

Over the course of the four days we will focus on each of these fantastic iconic species. We will visit some wonderful locations and habitats from the ancient Caledonian Pine forest through majestic moorland before ascending to the high tops of the Cairngorm mountains.

The week will ensure that you have the opportunity to see and photograph the most wonderful Cairngorm secrets up-close and personal.  This trip is limited to just 3 guests so maximum attention is assured to ensure everyone gets the best opportunities possible.

Below is a basic itinerary of how the tour will play out but please note this could change due to weather conditions or any other unforeseen circumstances, which may result in days being switched around to suit.

Arrival evening – We will have a short chat about the forthcoming days and go over various points like what equipment you need, starting times etc and any questions you have about the following days.

Day 1 – After breakfast we will take the short drive to the Red squirrel hide parking area which is followed by a short 10mins walk to reach the hide. We will then spend the morning photographing the squirrels as they scamper about the various trees, perches and jumps allowing us some great photo opportunities in this fantastic natural pine wood location. Lunch will be taken in the red squirrel hide then we will depart to the Crested tit site. For the rest of the afternoon we will concentrate on these fantastic little forest sprites as they flirt between different perches giving us a variety of shots using varying light conditions, and if the suns gods are with us some backlighting which is great for crested tits.

Day 2 – Today is Mountain Hare day and after a 35mins drive we will reach the parking area where we will be able to see the hill in front of us where we will spend the remainder of the day in pursuit of this appealing mammal. After getting our gear sorted we will then start the walk across to the mountain hare area. Weather can play a part in where the hares are located so once I have judged that factor we will hopefully soon start to locate some individual animals begin our photography. Mountain Hares often like to spend the day crouched up at their form entrance and if we locate one of the more approachable ones we will aim to spend some time with it as it goes about its daily routine of snoozing, stretching, yawning, grooming and having an odd snack. All adding up to some nice photo opportunities. Of course the unexpected can always happen so we will always be on the look out for one on the move and running giving us the chance to get a more action type image. As the sun drops below the mountain that is our cue to start to head back to the car.

Day 3 – On this morning we will either have a second go at either the red squirrels or the crested tits again. After lunch we will move to the Red Deer location where we will meet the Estate Deerstalker who will take us up to the private woodland where the stags gather in the afternoon. At this location these proud majestic mammals stand amongst tall pine trees offering terrific surroundings in which you can achieve both stunning close ups and wider environmental type images.

Day 4 –  Our final days photography will see us heading to the higher tops to find this hardy member of the grouse family, the Ptarmigan. After a short drive to the Cairngorm mountain car park we will head out one of the mountain paths taking us up the mountain. This is the most strenuous part of the trip and involves an uphill walk of around and hour. This will be taken at your own pace and leisure and many parts of the walk flatten out a bit so it is not all a steep climb and any steeper parts are gradual. Once we reach the Ptarmigan area it flattens out a lot more so most of the area where the birds are although rocky its easier walking. We often hear the Ptarmigan before we see them so always listen out for their distinct croaking call. Once located a gentle slow approach is required and hopefully the birds will accept us. If we are lucky and get some approachable birds they really are a treat to photograph and watch.  If the birds are settled and behaving we will stick with them, if not we will leave them be and try our luck finding some others. When all possibilities been exhausted we will make our way back down the mountain to the car. Please note that this day is very weather dependant so will be scheduled for the day most suitable for this mountainous location, thus one of the above days could be swapped around.

Departure Morning – After your breakfast it is time to depart homeward.

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Cost: £999.00

Deposit: Non refundable deposit of £300 to secure place. Final balance payable 6 weeks prior to trip.

Guide(s): Neil McIntyre

Group Size: 3

Tour Dates

Trip 1 : Arrive afternoon Sunday 19th January - Depart morning Friday 24th January 2020
( Full )
Trip 2 : Arrive afternoon Sunday 16th February - Depart morning Friday 21st February 2020
( Full )


  • 5 nights B&B in a private single occupancy room basis
  • 4 days photography
  • All transport through duration of tour

Not Included

  • Packed lunches
  • Evening meals
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Travel Insurance
  • Any personal items


  • Digital DSLR or Mirrorless type system
  • Lenses - 500mm is ideal or a 300mm with cropped sensor or convertor.
  • 100-400mm zooms or similar are also fine.
  • A shorter zoom like a 24-70mm can also handy.
  • Tripod
  • Spare batteries and memory cards.
  • Good warm waterproof Jacket and trousers preferable with quiet material
  • Waterproof walking boots
  • Extra layer like a fleece or light thermal jacket
  • Warm hat & gloves.


fitness level image
The Ptarmigan day requires an up hill walk for about an hour carrying your camera equipment. This can be done at your own pace however if you feel this may be too strenuous and would rather do something else, then an extra day of red squirrels and crested tits can be arranged. We want this trip to be enjoyable for everyone, so we ask that you be honest with yourself about your physical capabilities for this day. The Mountain Hare day involves less walking but will still require medium level fitness. Other 3 species have minimum effort of walking.