Hortobagy – flatter than the Fens! (PS)
If you’ve never been there, or thought about it much, Hungary is likely to be a bit a surprise. Firstly, it’s flat – very flat. Think of the Fens on a national scale, then take away the cabbages and potatoes, and you might be close. But then think of the Fens in the grip of a heatwave previously unknown in Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire and you might get closer. We’re talking about temperatures of 38 degrees, and around 90% humidity, which was unremitting for the duration of the WBC 20-strong Away Team’s visit to the beautiful city of Eger and its surroundings.
Hungary is landlocked, so it’s no use looking for a cooling sea breeze – or any breeze at all at this particular time. What respite there was came in the form of visits to woodland sites around the Bukk Hills early in the morning searching – successfully – for woodpeckers. Most of the time however, we were out on the plains, or on the tracks between the wetlands in the Hortobagy National Park, where shade was hard to find.
Our guide for the week was Roy Adams, who retired to Hungary having fallen for the place during trips to the country looking at hawfinch populations. He also contributed chapters to Gerard Gorman’s ‘Woodpeckers of Europe’ book, concentrating on the Sikfokut oak woods, to which we made two early-morning visits. An American university made a 12-year study of woodpeckers in these woods, demonstrating their importance to the birds’ populations.
The Hotel Villa Volgy was more luxury than we’re used to on these jaunts – swimming pools, saunas, spas etc. and the limit of nine hours on minibus driver time meant we were back in time to make the most of it on most evenings. Of course, most of us spent the time in our rooms, studiously writing up our notes……the fact that Eger is the centre of production for the famous Bull’s Blood (Bidaver) might have tempted us out for 10 minutes or so, if we had the inclination. And then there was the 6am early-morning birding to consider, around the wooded suburban lanes next to the hotel, so there was no misbehaviour at all. (That’s £10 each you owe me, folks! 4000 forints will do)
Our drivers for the week were Zoltan and Lewis, apart from a couple of days when Zoltan was ‘between minibuses’ and we had to use a Bond-villain lookalike surly local driver, who wouldn’t hire ‘bus only’, ignored many of Roy’s ‘STOP!’ instructions when a major bird appeared, and obviously thought we were all crazy….
Lewis was a major competitive off-road cyclist, who took Sunday off to compete in a national race, coming in 7th in a field of 160 in 40-degree temperatures, with the first 5 places going to professionals, and was a really good bloke. He works 11 months as a municipal bus driver in Eger, and takes a month off a year to work for Roy; he’d developed an interest in birding, and had become a really good spotter as well as a great driver, being responsible for the first Montagu’s harrier of the trip. He seemed to live purely on tomatoes, was fit as a butcher’s dog, didn’t break sweat once during the whole trip and had a great sense of humour.
Eger is a very attractive place. As well as its wine vaults, where you can try out a range of local product of various styles and vintages, it has a wonderful paved centre, based around Dobo Square (named for Dobo Istvan, a Hungarian soldier who successfully defended the town against the Ottomans in 1552). Dobo Square has restaurants, bars, large-scale municipal buildings, and a water feature consisting of gentle water jets that erratically would treble in size, presenting an interesting challenge for various members of WBC to run through, while visiting the nearby H and H Restaurant.
As well as the wine, Eger also had a garishly-muralled real ale bar, conveniently situated on the route into town. The beer seemed to change regularly; the first visit led to the conclusion that Hungarian brewers had never heard of finings, with a couple of cloudy concoctions. The second however featured a really pleasant summery pale ale (called ‘Brand’ I think) which slid down like an eel down a heron. The owner seemed really pleased a bunch of Brits had visited his place.
Hospitality was thick on the ground in most places, and fortunately there was enough English-language about, as Hungarian (being part of the Uralic group of languages along with Finnish and Estonian) could be described as ‘difficult.’ In most European countries you can at least guess at some words on billboards, road signs etc., but not here.
As far as the birding is concerned, we thought this best left to individual’s personal accounts, so hopefully, this is what follows.
However, as an overview, Hungary is a great place for birders. You’d have to know the sites, as they’re not obvious, but the range of species is vast if you know where to look. The people seem robust and hospitable, the beer and wine very acceptable, the topography fairly familiar to an East Anglian and the moustaches wonderful!
Other worthy mentions are the goulash house Roy took us to one lunchtime; not the thick stew-like dish you might think, but a meat/potato/paprika ‘soup’ in a slightly opaque, oily liquid, served by a large, flat-footed waiter and accompanied by raw green Jalapeno chillies, which seemed slightly at odds with the ambient temperature of midday in a heatwave.
Elaborate and ornate graves seem to have been bought in advance in the Eger cemetery; there may be the name of a husband and wife, with birth years followed only by a hyphen. How do they feel when they walk past it?
Also; the Hungarian word for wine is ‘bor’. The word for cheese is ‘sajt.’ This is pronounced ‘shite.’
We plan a reunion bor and sajt event sometime in the future.
The observation platform at Hortobagy Halisto (PS)
And now, over to views of the touring party, consisting of: Steve Piotrowski, Roger Walsh, Chris McIntyre, Tony Butler, Derek and Lesley Walduck, Rob and Helen Gooderham, Steve Howell, Dick Walden, Ali Riseborough, Eric ‘D’Weasel’ Patrick, Will Brame, Roger Buxton, John Garbutt, Carol Elliott, John and Rebecca Bedwell, Brenda Sullivan, Paddy Shaw
I was delighted to be part of WBC’s seventh foreign tour and, as leader, planning this one couldn’t have come much easier. After receiving some sound advice from WBC’s friend and veteran tour leader Richard Drew, we hired the services of Roy Adams, an ex-police Chief Inspector from the UK, but now based in Hungary. Roy liaised with Kathy back home to sort all the logistics, which included an amazing four-star hotel and took us to some wonderful birding sites. My birding highlight was the early-morning views of four species of woodpecker: Black, White-backed, Middle Spotted and Grey-headed, soaking up the first rays of sunlight on exposed perches in spacious deciduous woodland, part of the Sikfokut Project site in the Bukk Hills. All ten European woodpeckers were seen during WBC’s tour of Poland, but none were viewed as well as those in Hungary. What a sight?
It was a great fun trip and we had some wonderful nights out either at our hotel or in Eger town square. My favourite night was when Roy took us on a tour of the wine cellars. I hate wine! D’Weasel was determined to get his money’s worth, so tried samples of all the wines before paying 20p for the bottom of a barrel of Beaujolais (2010 – a disastrous year!), which they found in a backroom somewhere! He came back to our table triumphant with a beaming smile, boasting about his cunning ploy! “Must taste awful Eric” I said. “No – it’s not bad” he replied. “Let’s have a taste” I said and then proceeded to swig the contents of his glass. “Your wine cost 20p Eric, mine cost nothing” The look on D’Weasel’s face was priceless! I hate wine! We then went to a restaurant, which without doubt offered the worst service in the world! We were served by Igor the Hunchback of Notredame who was the only member of staff who could sort of speak English. We were entertained by the lounge pianist who played everything out of tune, but was richly applauded at the end of every song to which he took a bow! As the wine flowed the music got better so the pianist was even more enthusiastically applauded. The highlight came when Igor challenged us to take wine spurting from some sort of Hungarian wine vessel at a huge distance from our mouths. “I hate you Butler” won hands down as he has the biggest mouth and I’m proud to say that my effort really doesn’t warrant a mention. The service was abysmal to such an extent that it was hilarious! I hate wine, but what a night! Steve P
Steve – really hating wine!! (PS)
Hungary is truly an inspiring place that is full of surprises from fine wines to endless fields of sunflowers. My seven day trip (I left a day early to get back to work) was full of birds of the highest quality as well as lasting experiences.
Bearing in mind this was penned as a ‘birding trip’ my wife, Linda, nearly killed me when she realised what a fantastic hotel we were going to be based in. No basic 2* quarters for us – we were treated to the full 4* Villa Volgy with its pools, Sauna’s (yes there was a bit of fun in the ice sauna) spa’s and food to die for. Those of us who enjoyed a nice deep red wine were also in our element both at the hotel and in the various wine vaults in the town. Eger is a beautiful town situated above the vast Hungarian plains on the lower slopes of the Bukk hills.
Of course, I should mention the birds, because it was a balance of quality and quantity (and usually both). I saw more Imperial Eagles, Red Footed Falcons, Saker’s, Crane’s, Long-Eared Owls, Roller’s, Middle Spotted, Syrian and Grey Headed Woodpeckers, Red Backed Shrike’s and Hawfinches than any other trip I have been on. Roger Walsh
Long-eared owl, hearing that West Ham beat Liverpool 0-3… (PS)
Just exiting the plane and feeling the warm sunshine on my back at Budapest airport on the day of our arrival and I already knew that I was going to enjoy this holiday. Having left England just two hours previously where it was cold, dank and wet, I was positively lapping up this newfound warmth.
I like to make a special note of the first form of wildlife I see upon leaving the plane and in this case it was a Large White Butterfly. I could have sworn I saw one of those in my garden the day before. The first bird… Woodpigeon. That, I definitely saw in my garden just before I left!!
Of course, these humble beginnings were just the start of an amazing holiday which I thoroughly enjoyed. There were far too many great sightings to fit into this small account but highlights that immediately spring to mind was the marsh we visited on the second day where 250 Spoonbills, 100 Great White Egrets and 50 Night Herons frequented, along with hundreds of waders including several Black-winged Stilts, Wood Sandpipers and a Turnstone… a pretty good bird for a landlocked country as far as I was concerned. Of course, if you were more interested in raptors then you could enjoy any one of the five White-tailed Eagles present or maybe an Imperial Eagle or two!
A few teething problems with the mini-bus hire meant we were lumbered with substitute driver and Grumbleweed look-alike ‘Miserio’ for a couple of days. It’s a shame but if only he had the humour of a Grumbleweed he may have got through the two days a lot easier as we dragged him from pillar to post in pursuit of our Saker target species which we finally achieved on the fourth day of the holiday along the ‘raptor road’ which also produced dozens of Red-footed Falcons, a pair of Montagu’s Harriers, five Imperial Eagles and a Short-toed Eagle.
Not having any experience of birding in hot weather countries before, I must admit that I felt almost scared of being exposed to the full glare of the sun in the middle of the day in temperatures which never dropped below 32 degrees and which at their hottest, climbed to 38. I was even contemplating backing out of the trips for a couple of days in favour of staying around the cool surroundings of the hotel but I’m so glad that I decided to dig deep, persevere and stick with it as best I could. In the end I surprised myself with how well I coped, and for the most part warded off the extreme humidity. This was definitely helped by the fact that there were so many good birds around. On one particular morning we encountered a flock of up to 50 Bee-eaters, Red-necked Phalarope, Moustached Warbler, Icterine Warbler and one of my birds of the trip, an adult Short-toed Eagle skilfully hovering right above heads during the lunch stop.
The early morning forest walks towards the end of the holiday were notably memorable and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking of in particular, that twig on that branch on that tree, which one after the other, pulled in (in order of size!) Middle Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker…all within a few minutes of each other. Wonderful happy birding!!
Apart from the birds themselves, there were several other plus points adding to the all round good holiday experience. We had a luxurious four star hotel awaiting us upon our return each day after a hard days birding and it was everything you would expect it to be with such a rating. And there were some lovely nights in the beautiful and historic town centre of Eger where apart from some excellent local cuisine, we also indulged in some wine and beer tasting (on different nights I might add!) fountain skipping (has to be seen to be believed) and general naughtiness which could warrant its own reality TV show “Senior Birders Behaving Badly Abroad”. I’m sure Channel 4 would be interested next time!! Steve Howell
Crested Lark (WB)
Two things come to mind when remembering the Hungary trip – the birds and the heat.
The heat first. Leaving Stansted at 8.30am in the morning at around 15 degrees and arriving in Budapest at around midday to pick up our guide in very hot conditions, Carol still wearing her thick jacket!
We were told the weather was hot and the temperatures soaring. At first it was rather pleasant to have some heat after the miserable weather at home but as the days went on the heat built.
“Switch on the air conditioning!” “It is on!” These refrains were the most often heard in the bus, even more than Eric and his numerous sightings! We were hot! And there was nothing we could do about it.
The thought of a swim in the luxurious wellness centre at the end of a hard days birding was a thought I kept in my head. As soon as we got back we rushed to the pool and dived in – absolute bliss!
We all had time in the pool and a few members of the party indulged in ice bucket challenges and crushed iced escapades – no need to say more!
Now back to why we came – the bird watching. This was fantastic and every so often looking up to see another cracking bird, the heat was momentarily forgotten.
For me the birds that stay in my mind overall were the long eared owls in the trees – from the older birds with their big eyes looking threateningly down on us to the younger ones stretching or preening – looking oddly back at us wondering what an earth we were doing.
“Oos and ahhs” and “look at that one” coming from all of us as we gazed up into the branches.
These birds were a sheer delight. We were told by Roy that as many as 600 roost over the winter in these trees – what a sight that must be. John and Rebecca Bedwell
We spent wonderfully cool early mornings in the beech and hornbeam forests of the Bukk hills near the hotel searching for woodpeckers. Later in the week we were at the very different and vast, impenetrable wetlands of the Hortobagy National Park fed by the magnificent Tisza River with its strange saline ecology and prominent sea lavender.
But maybe the real Hungary is on the plains, the Great Hungarian Plain part of the vast Eurasion Steppe. This is a semi- agricultural landscape, very flat with vast fields of maize and blackened triffid like sunflowers. This is the unlikely habitat of Saker Falcon where nesting boxes are visible in the upper sections of distant pylons. No tradition or history here of hedges, but ragged field boundaries, wild groups of black and white poplars, an edge-land which is very isolated and non-intensive and provides a habitat that is so beneficial for a specialised bird life.
With our now warm water bottles to hand, we drove slowly and sweatily down the 10 kilometer baked mud track, often leaping from the van as our usual companions including Common Buzzard, Red-backed Shrike, flocks of Corn Buntings and notably Red-footed Falcons appeared in abundance. As we neared the end of the track, a large raptor suddenly burst from nearby low trees, quickly followed by a second….we had astonishingly close views of two magnificent Short-toed Eagles. Rob Gooderham
Strolling around Balmazujvaros in the heat of the afternoon members of the WBC counted in excess of thirty Long-eared Owls, the birds were seen roosting in trees above the pavements and gardens, eventually the heat tempted the group to seek out and sample the wares of the local ice cream shop. Four stragglers following the main group were treated to great views of two Syrian Woodpeckers in a tree positioned, rather awkwardly, in a children’s play area. The group of binocular wielding men met no response here from the locals, however, back home this innocent behaviour would almost certainly have meant missing the ice cream for an unscheduled visit to the local constabulary. Whilst watching the woodpeckers a couple of Hawfinches were also seen flying over.
Re-grouping outside the ice cream shop someone shouted ‘Crested Lark’, there then followed amazingly close views of this daredevil as it dodged the speeding traffic to feed on the tarmac, eventually the Lark rested with wings spread and beak open on the verge allowing approach to within three metres, a remarkable bird! Dick Walden
There were many potential favourite moments on this excellent trip. We enjoyed the flocks of Red-footed Falcons, Night Herons and roosting Long-eared Owls, but our favourite birds were the Black Woodpeckers seen following two early starts to get to the Bukk (Beech Tree) Hills. We first had fleeting views on the 31st August but, with maximum telescope magnification, did manage to watch one climbing around the base of a distant tree before it disappeared into the adjacent wood. The following day, at the same site we had one of those memorable rarities – a bird that seems to want to be seen and stays in view for long enough for you to have a close look at it. This Black Woodpecker landed nearby in full view on a dead branch at the top of a tree, with only the bright blue sky behind. This species is big for a woodpecker (as big as a crow) and, if ever there was a bird “with attitude”, this is it – jet black plumage, white eye and bright red crown. It was one of those exceptional episodes that will stay in the memory forever. John Garbutt and Carol Elliott
Our Hungarian Hadventure
Our first overseas club trip. A month on and what were our impressions?
What a lot of knowledge there is in the club. Helpful and skilled spotters. Fiendish heat, especially on the Hortobagy plains. Two bustards like flying turkeys. It’s a mistake to sit at the back of a minibus on bumpy roads. Unexpectedly tasty food including a grilled duck liver salad – sounds suspect, tasted marvelous (three times). A flock of yellowhammers bigger than any we’ve seen. Lots of mickey-taking and in-jokes. What a comfortable hotel, even better if you master the aircon before your leaving day. Hungarians don’t conform to the dour central European stereotype – they’re as smiley and friendly as anyone else. Several lifers – white-tailed eagle, Montagu’s harrier, lesser-spotted eagle, Syrian woodpecker to name a few. Isn’t Hungary flat? “The Log” is actually quite enjoyable when treated as a piece of performance art. Long-eared owls roost in large numbers in the middle of villages. Some people can sleep no matter what the circumstances. Hungary is the next big thing in wine. And finally, what a great job Kathy does for the club. A trip to remember. Derek & Lesley Walduck
Hungary to me was an ex eastern – bloc country but that was as far as it went all apart from knowing the people ate some sort of stew called Goulash travelling there was going to be a completely new experience.Passing through the Hortobagy area I could not help notice how flat this region was with wide open grasslands dotted with farmhouses and low single storey white painted buildings that are used to house the herds of Hungarian Grey Cattle during the harshest months of winter.These cattle,Magyr Szurke Szararasmarha in Hugarian, pronounce it how you will,are mostly responsible for shaping the landscape as traditionally an enormous amount of acreage of the Puzsta was given over to grazing pastures for these historically and economically viable beasts.Even today the Grey Cattle with their long elegant uprising horns are grazed within the National Parks to keep the region as it was but they are no longer driven on foot sometimes up to 620 miles by Hungarian “cowboys” the Gulyas which brings me neatly back to my meagre knowledge of this fine country,the word Goulash being derived from this name and thanks to Helen we all had a real taste of this dish. Will Brame
The major highlight of the Hungary trip for me has to be the birds, not only individual species but the sheer numbers at times.
Seeing a Saker Falcon for the first time ever was a real, personal thrill, especially after the group had worked so hard in the blistering heat to find one. The final tally of four was a real bonus. However, I never want to seen another electricity pylon for as long as I live!
Equally exciting were the two Great Bustards seen flying over the plains of the Hortobagy, again a lifer for me.I think we were very fortunate to get them, probably our one and only chance given the merciless conditions.
Moustached warbler was also another Hortobagy lifer.
Eight species of woodpecker on the trip was a further big plus, especially enjoyable were the stunning views of black woodpecker obtained. I’d only previously ever had a brief and rather distant flypast in Estonia.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was also nice to see, especially given how scarce they are locally.
Hungary was also eagle heaven – the stunning views of Eastern Imperial, White-tailed and Short-toed Eagles will long live in the memory and, of course, not forgetting the Lesser-spotted Eagle on the last morning.
The sheer mumbers of birds at times was also a memorable spectacle.The sheer numbers of Red-footed Falcons, Great-white Egrets and Night Herons was incredible. It is not very often one can return home from a bird outing boosting a ‘flock’ of Red-footed Falcons!
A further memorable highlight was getting back to the hotel mid afternoon cooked to a cinder, drowning oneself in a life-affirming shower and then emerging to the delights of a couple of cool beers. Satisfying heaven! Tony Butler
The second visit to tranquil Lake Tisza was even better than the first. It was still very hot indeed although the Pigmy Cormorants were no longer in the dead tree we had seen them in the first time. However the sun was behind us so we could now enjoy the shade of the bus at the top of the grassy slope as we viewed the lake. Still sitting at the water’s edge were the same two men outside their makeshift tent, the tiny patch of earth with the ripening tomatoes and their punts waiting for hire.
Across the first expanse of water were wonderful views of a Purple Heron standing, preening and showing itself to us for the whole time we were there.We were speculating about seeing a Little Crake when one appeared balancing on weeds and mud right in front of the heron, foraging to and fro. Someone suggested the heron might grab the crake and gobble it up. Nothing so terrible transpired and eventually two of us couldn’t resist following our driver and his son in to the farmhouse behind us, past the cow that produced the milk to buy a cheese studded with pumpkin seeds and walnuts from the farmer’s wife.
This subsequently inspired Waveney Bird Club’s first cheese and wine party. A plastic bottle of rather dodgy wine had been kindly provided by the lunchtime goulash restaurant the day before in grateful thanks for having twenty customers and the cheese proved good. Helen Gooderham
We had the privilege of visiting Hortbagy National Park – the Puszta in Eastern Hungary, rich with folklore and cultural history. It is a world Heritage site and Hungary’s largest protected area and the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe. It is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape which preserves intact and visible evidence of its traditional pastoral use over more than two millennia and represents the harmonious interaction between people and nature
Hortobagy is a steppe, a grassy plain with Hungarian Grey cattle, racka sheep,water buffalo and horses. It provides habitat for various species including 342 birds species.
The Red-footed Falcon, Stone curlew, Great Bustard and Aquatic warbler are represented by breeding populations. The area is also an important stopover site for migrating Common cranes, Dotterels and Lesser White-fronted geese. The birding was spectacular Moustached, Great reed warblers, Red-necked Phalarope, Saker and Red-footed Falcons, Squacco heron and impressive views of Short-toed Eagle….I could have spent a week there. Chris McIntyre
The open landscape of the Southern Palins, Hortobagy was the venue for hopefully sightings of Great Bustard amongst other species of bird. The vastness of an extraordinary empty landscape, totally treeless broken occasionally with a puszta well for watering the grazing cattle and with a dome of cerulean blue sky punctuated with the occasional fluffy white cloud. Where are the birds one asks in this huge empty plain, all are scanning the distance with their scopes and bins with the interminable sun beating down creating a heat haze making it more and more difficult to find our target birds. Time goes by and we’re on the point of giving up when a shout goes up, two Bustards flying right, there they are in tandem like two huge bomber aircraft their light plumage making them very distinct against a deep blue sky. What a fantastic site. Roger Buxton
Wednesday: Our first stop for refreshments it wasn’t long before we were watching two Imperial Eagles, quite a spectacular show for the start of our trip.
Thursday: Polga wetlands, most impressive was the sight of seventy plus Night Heron.
Friday: Our first visit to the Hortobagy today, target species Great Bustard, amazing to see these wonderful birds in flight, “we were very lucky”.
Saturday: Our first Saker Falcon, also perched and hunting Red-footed Falcons, Montagu,s Harrier and a very close encounter with a Short-toed Eagle, on the Hortobagy Plains.
Sunday: We visited the fishponds today with a wonderful selection of wetland birding although quite trying in 37 degrees
Monday: After breakfast we visited a valley near Roys village where several Long-tailed Tits of the white headed variety were seen “what a treat”
Tuesday: One of my favourite birding experience of the week this morning while watching a Middle-spotted Woodpecker on a dead branch it was then replaced by a Grey-headed woodpecker to be then replaced by a Black Woodpecker
Wednesday: A great finish to the week this morning with a Lesser Spotted Eagle on the deck in a hillside meadow followed by Rock Bunting. Ali Riseborough
Water buffalo, buffaloing in water (WB)
I was asked to give my thoughts on the recent WBC trip to Hungary in 200 words. I can do that in one – Great! Great birds, great weather, great food, great people; in fact, the whole holiday was simply great, and there’s nothing more to say! Eric Patrick
I think ‘best birds’ and ‘best birding moments’ are quite different, and this is usually down to the context. In terms of best birds, seeing Saker Falcons and Little Crake take some beating. The Moustached Warbler was just a glimpse really and Red-necked Phalarope – although a major strike for where we were – was quite distant and didn’t really rival the three Grey Phalarope we saw close-up and repeatedly at Cley last year.
But then, you get into ‘best birding moments,’ and there might be four for me.
First up was the Black Woodpecker in the Sikfokut Woods – early morning oak woods covering rolling hills, with plenty of dead branches, and one particular tree that seemed to be a woodpecker magnet. Perhaps the Grey-headed woodpecker may have been more of a tick, but when the Big Boy just suddenly appeared, like a big black fridge magnet being thrown at a metal tree; that it gave the best views of this stunning bird I personally have ever had – a very special moment. That it came in a stunning bill of Grey-headed and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers made it even better – all using the same tree.
Second was the Red-footed Falcon. A dusty track runs through the middle of the Borsod-Mezo Plain, and it was a haven for raptors. At a rare lightly-wooded section, we got glimpses of these stunning falcons from the windows of the buses. We stopped, only to find the count of three birds instantly escalated, until at least 30 were swooping above our heads. And then – they were gone. Why? Slowly floating from right to left over the track came a Short-toed Eagle – enough of a beast to ensure the falcons got out of the way. The same frantic 30 minutes had produced a Saker Falcon chasing a cuckoo, Montagu’s Harrier and Imperial Eagle, in one of those sessions when everything seems to be happening at once. A later scoped view of a beautiful male Red-footed Falcon capped it off – like a kestrel dipped in black and vermillion.
Third – the Short-toed Eagle itself. After a gruelling walk back from Hortobagy wetlands on the hottest day of the trip, I got back to the covered shade of the visitors’ centre picnic area just short of heatstroke. 2 litres of water later and dehydration a retreating possibility, and a call went up for a raptor. Another slow approach by one of these stunning eagles, who seem to have a great curiosity regarding birdwatchers, and like to put on a bit of a show. With a clear blue sky behind it, I got it dead-centre of the bins just as it started to hover above us. This is nothing like a kestrel-hover; this is a big, slow-motion business, with the tail rippling laterally. I’d seen it before from a distance, but not in such detail or so close. Definitely a big birding moment!
Last one: Night Heron. Again, not so much the bird, as the circumstances. We were heading back from an afternoon on the Polgar wetlands, when the first of the herons was spotted. Either leaving the roost for an evening of feeding, or put up by a raptor, suddenly there were Night Herons everywhere – probably over 70, in flocks the way we might be used to Rooks. This rivalled the spotting of two Squaco Herons in the middle of the Hortobagy wetlands, and the sight of a Purple Heron at Lake Tisza with a Little Crake stepping delicately across the algae almost at its feet.
To be honest, I could have picked a completely different four. Two flying Great Bustards on Hortobagy, White-tailed Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Penduline Tit, a fleeting glimpse of a Little Bittern, the roosting Long-eared Owls….a trip extremely rich in great birding moments. Paddy Shaw
Pics: Will Brame, Lesley Walduck, Steve Howell, Paddy Shaw, Roger Walsh
Diary of events
Wednesday August 26 (Day 1): We had a very early start, ready and waiting for the coach at our pick-up points along the Waveney Valley for our pre-breakfast Ryan Air flight to Budapest. We arrived on time at midday and were met by our guide, Roy Adams together with his two drivers Lewis and Zoltan. It was hot and sunny with cloudless skies and a temperature of 32 degrees C. It was birding straight away and we swiftly made our way to our first stop, which was the OMV motorway service station at Km83 on the M3 motorway for refreshments. The next stop was Lake Tisza, then (via a Long-eared Owl roost) back to the luxurious Hotel Villa Volgy in the Szeppasszony Valley on the outskirts of Eger where we were to spend the week.
Thursday August 27 (Day 2): Some of the group participated in some pre-breakfast birding near the hotel and after breakfast we went to a riverine wooded area alongside the River Tisza near Tiszafured. Late morning was spent by an area of lakes at Polgar and after lunch we explored the other side of the lakes. It was getting hotter!
Friday August 28 (Day 3): More pre-breakfast birding by some and then a longish drive to the Hortobagy, where we were introduced to the Ranger. He took us to an area known as the Southern Palins to look for Great Bustard and Saker Falcon. Scored with Great Bustard but failed with Saker despite scouring every pylon in the area! It was getting even hotter and temperatures were now up to 35 degree C, so an ice-cream stop at Valmazaubaros was a welcome relief. The Long-eared Owl roost in the town was amazing. It was Friday night so it was off to a lovely restaurant (H, H and H) for dinner beside the beautiful Dobo Square in Eger.
August 29 (Day 4): Today’s main birding venue was the Bukk Hills and then to Bogacs Lake en route to another part of the Hotobagy Plains. Our hotel had been taken over by a wedding party, so it was off to town again for dinner. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants in town were also hosting weddings – the last Saturday of the summer being a very popular day to get married in Hungary. Roy had arranged a visit to the wine cellars and then to a restaurant in town. It was all quite bizarre, with a pianist – see Steve P’s notes above for musical critique.
August 30 (Day 5): It was back to the Hortobagy where we caught the tourist train to the fishponds. We stopped out there for a while and then walked from halfway back. After lunch we returned to Tiszafured. Birding in scorching temperatures (37 degrees C) was challenging, but we were rewarded with some very good birds.
August 31 (Day 6): It was an early start for the whole team in some woodland known as the Sikfokut Project site in the Bukk Hills in search of woodpeckers. We returned from a late breakfast before going to Novaj, a more open area of Bukk Hills. After lunch we visited Mezokovesd Ponds. It was yet another hot day with temperatures exceeding 37 degrees C.
September 1 (Day 7): It was another early start at the Sikfokut Project site and after breakfast back to the Hotobagy site to check pylons for Sakers. We stopped for lunch at a doughnut restaurant overlooking the ponds at Poroszlo. Most of the savory doughnuts were fed to the fish. It was by now exceptionally hot at 38 degrees C.
September 2 (Day 8): Our morning was spent in the Bukk Hills to look for Lesser Spotted Eagle and Rock Bunting. After breakfast most took a leisurely work along the Szeppasszony Valley before bag packing, last-minute shopping and then the airport for our 21.00 hrs flight home. The weather was still hot with temperatures again to 37 degrees C.
U = ‘present/seen’ (formatting conversion problem when uploading!)
|Little grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis||2||7|
|Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus||6||4||1||1||12||3|
|Eared grebe, Podiceps nigricollis||1||1|
|Great cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo||10||200||500||7|
|Pygmy cormorant, Phalacrocorax pygmaeus||3||22||1||25|
|Grey heron, Ardea cinerea||3||30||40||40||50||1||12||2|
|Purple heron, Ardea purpurea||2||4||5|
|Little egret, Egretta garzetta||10||6||3|
|Squacco heron, Ardeola ralloides||3|
|Black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax nycticorax||79||4|
|Great bittern, Botaurus stellaris||1|
|Black stork, Ciconia nigra||1||13||3|
|White stork, Ciconia ciconia||12||3||5||6|
|Eurasian spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia||250||3||10|
|Mute swan, Cygnus olor||30||100||200||4||2|
|Greylag goose, Anser anser||76||150||1500|
|Eurasian wigeon, Anas penelope||3|
|Gadwall, Anas strepera||50|
|Eurasian teal, Anas crecca||1||2||50||9||250|
|Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos||20||800||2||20||1000||1||5||1|
|Northern pintail, Anas acuta||7|
|Garganey, Anas querquedula||6||1|
|Northern shoveler, Anas clypeata||3||25|
|Red-crested pochard, Netta rufina||1|
|Common pochard, Aythya ferina||62|
|Ferruginous pochard, Aythya nyroca||2||5|
|European honey buzzard, Pernis apivorus||1||2||1||2|
|White-tailed eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla||5||6|
|Short-toed snake eagle, Circaetus gallicus||1||1||1|
|Western marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus||3||20||30||20||25||4||10||1|
|Montagu’s harrier, Circus pygargus||1||2|
|Eurasian sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus||3||2||2||1||2||2|
|Northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis||1|
|Eurasian buzzard, Buteo buteo||100||50||40||30||11||20||30||50|
|Lesser spotted eagle, Aquila pomarina||1|
|Imperial eagle, Aquila heliaca||2||1||1||3||5|
|Eurasian kestrel, Falco tinnunculus||10||5||12||50||2||12||20||2|
|Red-footed falcon, Falco vespertinus||100||30||12||4|
|Eurasian hobby, Falco subbuteo||2||1|
|Saker falcon, Falco cherrug||1||3|
|Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus||1|
|Grey partridge, Perdix perdix||1|
|Ring-necked pheasant, Phasianus colchicus (I)||1||3||1||1||4||1||1|
|Common crane, Grus grus||85||51||500|
|Water rail, Rallus aquaticus||10|
|Little crake, Porzana parva||2|
|Common moorhen, Gallinula chloropus||2||1||2||1|
|Eurasian coot, Fulica atra||1||20||2||40||8|
|Great bustard, Otis tarda||2|
|Black-winged stilt, Himantopus himantopus||8||2|
|Pied avocet, Recurvirostra avosetta||2||10|
|Northern lapwing, Vanellus vanellus||80||2||20||24||2|
|Common ringed plover, Charadrius hiaticula||1|
|Little ringed plover, Charadrius dubius||4||3||6|
|Common snipe, Gallinago gallinago||30||3||10|
|Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa||42||150|
|Eurasian curlew, Numenius arquata||20||150|
|Spotted redshank, Tringa erythropus||20||10|
|Common redshank, Tringa totanus||1||6|
|Common greenshank, Tringa nebularia||2|
|Green sandpiper, Tringa ochropus||4||1|
|Wood sandpiper, Tringa glareola||30||4||10||1|
|Common sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos||2||2||2|
|Ruddy turnstone, Arenaria interpres||1|
|Little stint, Calidris minuta||3||1|
|Dunlin, Calidris alpina||30|
|Ruff, Philomachus pugnax||8||30|
|Red-necked phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus||1|
|Mew gull, Larus canus||1|
|Caspian gull, Larus cachinnans||2||3||50|
|Yellow-legged gull, Larus michahellis||2||50||3||15|
|Black-headed gull, Larus ridibundus||2||350||300||10||300|
|Little gull, Larus minutus||1|
|Common tern, Sterna hirundo||3||1|
|Whiskered tern, Chlidonias hybridus||20||5||100|
|Black tern, Chlidonias niger||1||3|
|Rock pigeon, Columba livia (I)||ü||ü||ü||ü||ü||ü||ü||ü|
|Stock dove, Columba oenas||3||1||1||2||1|
|Common wood pigeon, Columba palumbus||50||20||20||20||6||3||24||15|
|European turtle dove, Streptopelia turtur||6||12||4||5||1||3||1||1|
|Eurasian collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto||10||26||500||20||40||6||30||6|
|Common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus||1||1||2||1||1||1|
|European scops owl, Otus scops||1|
|Long-eared owl, Asio otus||3||32||15|
|Common swift, Apus apus||1||4|
|Common kingfisher, Alcedo atthis||6||7|
|European bee-eater, Merops apiaster||50||1||11||50|
|European roller, Coracias garrulus||22||2||10||15||3||15||2|
|Lesser spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos minor||2||4||1|
|Middle spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos medius||1||3||2||5|
|White-backed woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucotos||1||1||2|
|Great spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major||4||6||7||10||1||14||7||12|
|Syrian woodpecker, Dendrocopos syriacus||1||1||3||1||1||1||3||2|
|Black woodpecker, Dryocopus martius||1||2||3|
|European green woodpecker, Picus viridis||2||5||1||5||1||3|
|Grey-faced woodpecker, Picus canus||1||2||4|
|Crested lark, Galerida cristata||7||7||4||3|
|Eurasian skylark, Alauda arvensis||4||1||1|
|Sand martin, Riparia riparia||6||6||12||10||100||10||6||2|
|Barn swallow, Hirundo rustica||250||25||100||1000||200||100||100||20|
|Common house martin, Delichon urbicum||20||250||300||100||100||70||212||60|
|White wagtail, Motacilla alba||30||10||8||20||10||3||1||30|
|Yellow wagtail, Motacilla flava||1||2||8||2||5||9|
|Grey wagtail, Motacilla cinerea||1|
|Tree pipit, Anthus trivialis||1||1|
|Meadow pipit, Anthus pratensis||1|
|Goldcrest, Regulus regulus||4|
|Winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes||2||1|
|Eurasian blackbird, Turdus merula||2||20||10||20||6||10||20||8|
|Song thrush, Turdus philomelos||1||6||3||2||1||8||6||4|
|Moustached warbler, Acrocephalus melanopogon||2|
|Sedge warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus||8||1||2|
|Eurasian reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus||10||1||2|
|Great reed warbler, Acrocephalus arundinaceus||6|
|Icterine warbler, Hippolais icterina||1||1||2||1|
|Willow warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus||4||1||3||2|
|Common chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita||6||15||15||4||6||20||10|
|Wood warbler, Phylloscopus sibilatrix||2||2||3||4||2||1||5|
|Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla||20||7||20||3||10||5||10|
|Garden warbler, Sylvia borin||1|
|Greater whitethroat, Sylvia communis||1|
|Lesser whitethroat, Sylvia curruca||1||1||1||1|
|Spotted flycatcher, Muscicapa striata||1||10||4||6||10||4||4||6|
|European pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca||1||1|
|European robin, Erithacus rubecula||2||1||3||2||2||4|
|Bluethroat, Luscinia svecica||2|
|Black redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros||1||10||8||5||3||8||4||6|
|Common redstart, Phoenicurus phoenicurus||1|
|Whinchat, Saxicola rubetra||1||2||1||5||3||1||4|
|European stonechat, Saxicola rubicola||10||2||1||1||1|
|Northern wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe||1||6||5||1||1|
|Bearded reedling, Panurus biarmicus||20||4|
|Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus||4||15||30||20|
|Marsh tit, Poecile palustris||2||6||4||2||4|
|Coal tit, Periparus ater||1||1||6||1||1||2|
|Great tit, Parus major||8||4||10||4||20||10||6|
|Eurasian blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus||3||4||10||5||20||12||10|
|Eurasian nuthatch, Sitta europaea||4||2||6||3||20||10||20|
|Short-toed treecreeper, Certhia brachydactyla||2||1||14||1|
|Eurasian penduline tit, Remiz pendulinus||3||20||4|
|Eurasian golden oriole, Oriolus oriolus||3||3||4||2||1||4||1||1|
|Red-backed shrike, Lanius collurio||40||10||20||10||40||12||30||10|
|Lesser grey shrike, Lanius minor||2|
|Eurasian jay, Garrulus glandarius||1||6||13||10||4||10||15||20|
|Eurasian magpie, Pica pica||6||12||20||15||20||1||10||40|
|Eurasian jackdaw, Corvus monedula||2||50||6|
|Rook, Corvus frugilegus||800||50||150|
|Common raven, Corvus corax||3||68||6||7||17||2||2|
|Hooded crow, Corvus cornix||10||6||10||50||30||50||6|
|European starling, Sturnus vulgaris||100||50||300||200||300||40||100||50|
|Yellowhammer, Emberiza citrinella||6||1||1||300|
|Rock bunting, Emberiza cia||2|
|Reed bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus||1||5|
|Corn bunting, Emberiza calandra||200||30|
|Common chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs||2||12||6||5||30||10||10|
|European greenfinch, Carduelis chloris||12||20||1||6|
|European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis||16||30||10||10||60||5||11|
|Eurasian linnet, Carduelis cannabina||3||6|
|Eurasian bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula||1|
|Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes||2||3||1||12||6||8|
|House sparrow, Passer domesticus||200||300||200||150||60||30||100||20|
|Eurasian tree sparrow, Passer montanus||50||300||100||130||10||60||100|
|Southern Small White||6||10|
|Eastern Bath White||1||2||3||4||2|
|Lesser Clouded Yellow||1|
|Pale Clouded Yellow||6||6||ü||ü|
|Berger’s Clouded Yellow||1||6||10||10||6|
|Northern Brown Argus||2|
|Queen of Spain Fritillary||1||1|
|Lesser Purple Emperor||1||2||1||1||1|
|Dusky Meadow Brown||1|
|Great Banded Grayling||3||1|
|Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper||1|
|Hummingbird Hawk Moth||1|
|Red Underwing sp.||1|
|Ringed China Mark|
|Swift Moth sp.|
|Common Winter Damselfly||6|
|Siberian Winter Damselfly||10|
|Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly||2||1||6||20||1||20|
|GRASSHOPPERS AND CRICKETS|
|OTHER INSECTS OF NOTE|
|Carpenter Bee sp.|
|Hungarian Silver-grey Horned Cattle||ü||ü||ü|
|REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS|