This two centre trip based closed to the Hortobágy National Park and in the Zemplen Hills to the north gave the opportunity to see a wide variety of species. Unseasonally warm weather in the Hortobágy made for perfect birding conditions and the rain encountered in the Zemplen Hills luckily didn’t hinder the group or stop them from finding a good collection of woodpeckers and both Eagle and Ural Owl. Highlights of the week included thousands of Common Crane heading to roost at sunset, Great Bustard close to the road on the last day, good views of both adult and juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and four species of owl all seen well. Other notable species included Greater White-fronted Geese, Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, White-tailed Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Saker Falcon, Eurasian Dotterel, Caspian Tern, Long-eared Owl, Middle Spotted, Syrian, Black and Grey-headed Woodpecker, Red-footed Falcon, Great Grey Shrike, Bearded Reedling, Penduline Tit, Moustached Warbler, Hawfinch, Red-breasted Flycatcher. In total 131 species were recorded with both nominate and the ‘white-headed’ sub-species of Long-tailed Tit seen.
September 27th: Adács, Poroszló Tisza Lake, Tiszafüred
Weather: Sunny with a slight N wind 23°C
After morning flights from London and Cyprus the group met up with guide Béla Tokoday from Ecotours at Budapest airport around midday. Once the luggage was packed into the minibus the group headed north east of Budapest towards Tiszafüred. On the way a stop was made near Adacs to scan for raptors. Many Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel were found, and some road side pools in the ploughed fields, created by recent heavy rain, held Yellow-legged Gull and Grey Heron. A longer stop at Poroszló Tisza Lake was more profitable, getting the trip off to a great start with excellent views of Penduline Tit and Pygmy Cormorant as well as many Mute Swan, Mallard, Great Cormorant, Great Crested and Little Grebe, Great Egret, Eurasian Coot and Greylag Geese. A male Black Redstart, a couple of White Wagtail, Chiffchaff and several Barn Swallow were found in the surrounding trees together with a Eurasian Jay and both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Long-tailed Tit and Tree Sparrow were added to the first day’s total before the group arrived at the Nádas Pension the base for the next four nights.
September 28th: Poroszló, Hevesi Plain
Weather: Sunny with slight wind 23°C
After breakfast the grounds of the hotel produced a singing male Black Redstart, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, many Chiffchaff and Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Common Chaffinch and European Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Barn Swallows, late migrants, were flying overhead as were some Greylag Geese. Heading towards the area around Poroszló the first stop had two Common Crane and a Western Marsh Harrier. Many Eurasian Skylark were flying around and scanning the fields at the next stop paid off as an Eastern Imperial Eagle was located and seen well by all. Two juvenile Red-footed Falcon were picked out among the many Common Kestrel. Several European Stonechat were around as were Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit, several Chiffchaff – one even singing briefly. A newly arrived winter visitor – a Great Grey Shrike was located on the top of some bare branches of a tree that also contained a Willow Warbler. Crested Lark was added to our growing list at a petrol station. A drive into the Hevesi Plain area, full of sticky mud after heavy August rains, produced more good views of two close and two more distant Eastern Imperial Eagle, while a juvenile White-tailed Eagle perched on the top of a conifer. The group’s progress was hindered by the mud but as dusk fell at least fifty Red-footed Falcon – seemingly all juvenile – were watched coming into roost. A bonus find was a Short-toed Eagle perched on a nearby pylon. Several Western Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel were also around.
September 29th: Hortobágy National Park – Gyorkerkuti Fishpools, Angyalhaza
Weather: Sunny with slight wind 23°C
The group thanked Béla Tokaday for his hard work and expertise during the first two days of the trip and welcomed Balázs Szigeti who took over. Heading towards the first of several Fishpools and wetlands visited during the morning a road side stop was made where around eighteen Great Bustard were seen flying away from the area having been disturbed by a shepherd. They were still visible in the ‘scope, but at a distant. A male Red-footed Falcon was perched on a small tree and a Pied Flycatcher in a nearby bush was a surprise find. Many small groups of Common Crane were flying over and the first wetland visited produced Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Common Snipe, at least six Bearded Reedling and a couple of Penduline Tit. At the Gyorkerkuti Fishpools at least twelve Ferruginous Duck were counted together with Common Pochard and Tufted Duck. A single Common Shelduck was also present. A Pygmy Cormorant was found and a European Hobby flew over. More Bearded and Penduline Tit were in the reeds while a male Reed Bunting was seen. While we watched eighteen Great Egret flying in the distance, a White-tailed Eagle made an appearance putting many of the waterbirds to flight. In the village of Hortobágy we found a Syrian Woodpecker in a garden and at least four roosting Long-eared Owl – some of the first arrivals to the winter roost there.
After lunch we visited more Fishpools where we had a great selection of waders – Spotted Redshank, a Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Dunlin, a Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, a Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank. An adult and a juvenile Whiskered Tern were flying towards the back of the area and a juvenile White-tailed Eagle flew in and sat on a mud spot in the middle of the water. In the reeds there were a couple of Eurasian Reed Warbler as well as and a Common Kingfisher flew by briefly. Twelve Eurasian Spoonbill flew over the area. Heading to the steppes in the Angyalhaza area we found several hundred Common Crane in a maize field and spotted a migrating Whinchat nearby. In the steppes themselves a couple of Red-throated Pipit were heard and a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, several European Stonechat and a flock of Corn Bunting were found. The fields were full of Eurasian Skylark and a Little Owl seen on some of the farm buildings. As we left the area a large falcon was seen flying to perch on a pylon. A Saker Falcon was our final and pleasing new species of the day and as we watched it, hundreds of Common Crane were passing over us heading to their nearby evening roost.
September 30th: Hortobágy National Park – Halastó, Elep Fish Pools, Lake Kondas
Weather: Sunny with slight wind 22°C
A quick check for the Great Bustard again this morning was unsuccessful, so the group continued quickly to the Halastó Fish Pools area of the Hortobágy. A walk around the area close to the rail station produced many Bearded Tit and two were seen close up in the hand of a local ringer. Many species were found both there and on the furthest lakes, which were reached by travelling on the park’s railway. These included White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Spoonbill, Common Crane, Ferruginous Duck, Pied Avocet, Black-necked Grebe, Pygmy Cormorant, Hen Harrier and a calling Water Rail. Many passerines were found in a willow next to a look-out tower – Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest and a late Moustached Warbler. The group scanned the flocks of Greylag Geese and found several Greater White-fronted Geese but there was no sign of any Lesser.
After lunch the Fish Pools at Elep were visited. They were being drained and this meant many waders were feeding in the mud. These included many Northern Lapwing and three Common Ringed Plover as well as Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Little Stint and Ruff. More Greater White-fronted Geese were found. As the afternoon wore on the group returned to the Halastó Fish Pools but this time the area was viewed from the Lake Kondas end. The week before nearly 60000 Common Crane had been counted roosting there and the intention was to arrive there as the sun set. On arrival at a watch tower which overlooked the whole area, the group found that there were already several thousand Common Crane on the lake – some dancing and calling – while others could be seen in the fields behind. While waiting they were entertained by Bearded and Penduline Tit in the surrounding reeds, at least three calling Water Rail, a couple of Eurasian Reed Warbler and another Moustached Warbler. However, nothing prepared the group for the spectacle of thousands of Common Crane coming to roost. An unforgettable experience as at first ‘necklaces’ of birds in the sky in the distance were seen approaching the lake from all directions. Their calls could be heard all around and as the sun finally set several thousand actually flew over the view point. An amazing experience and the birds continued to pass over as the group returned to the car in the dark.
October 1st: Angyalhaza, Balmazújváros, Zemplen Hills
Weather: Hazy then rain with slight wind, 20°C
After checking out of their accommodation in Tiszafüred, the group returned to the steppe area around Angyalhaza. On arrival a Red-backed Shrike was seen, many Eurasian Skylark, European Starling and a couple of Red-throated Pipit were overhead as were small flocks of Common Crane. The target species was the migrating Eurasian Dotterel that collects to rest and feed in the area. Two Eurasian Golden Plover were seen and then five Dotterel flew up in the distance. Careful scanning of the area produced around thirty Dotterel in total – some of which came close to the car. Another three Golden Plover were found and six Eurasian Stone Curlew were a bonus. A White-tailed Eagle and Great Grey Shrike were also seen.
Heading north towards the Zemplen Hills and after a quick stop for lamb or bean goulash at an attractive roadside restaurant, the group visited the town of Balmazújváros. Here in a stand of old conifers in a small residential estate were at least twenty Long-eared Owl. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was heard and seen briefly but work in the nearby gardens seemed to disturb it and it was not relocated. After the good weather of the first days, the rain on the drive to the Zemplen Hills was disappointing. It did not prevent the group stopping at a quarry on the way. In the gloom Eurasian Blackbird, Yellowhammer, Marsh Tit, Hawfinch and European Nuthatch were found and a Common Buzzard and Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over the trees. An unexpected bird was a Eurasian Woodcock that flew over. As darkness fell an Eagle Owl was heard calling and finally located sitting towards the top of a large conifer. Slightly damp but pleased, the group finished the journey to the village of Erdobenye, the base for the next three nights.
October 2nd: Újhuta, Tokaj
Weather: Rain, dull with slight N wind, 18°C
The change of location meant not only different species but unfortunately different weather. Low cloud and rain persisted all day but in the end it probably had little effect on the birds seen. A Syrian Woodpecker was heard outside the hotel and a Northern Raven was seen on the drive to the Újhuta forest. A stop in the village produced Grey-headed Woodpecker, the caudatus race of the Long-tailed Tit, Mistle Thrush, European Siskin, Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, European Nuthatch, Winter Wren, and Grey Wagtail with Eurasian Jay, European Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and calling Firecrest added during several woodland walks. The main target was the Ural Owl but the morning locations didn’t produce one. Travelling through the Tokaj wine area a White Stork was seen which was wearing a ring. It had been ringed in Spain – from a non-migratory population – and although now in Hungary it did not migrate and remained there all year.
As the day got gloomier the group made its final attempt to find a Ural Owl in an area close to a ski slope. Common Crane were heard migrating over and a Black Woodpecker called. Finally as the rain got heavier a Ural Owl called and was located in the thickly wooded area. Good views were had through the scopes and another was heard calling in the distance. Buoyed by success the group headed to a nearby local quarry where an Eagle Owl was calling. This was soon out in the open and again all the group had good views despite the fading light.
October 3rd: Hideg Patak Valley, Erdobénye.
Weather: Cloudy with slight N wind 14°C
A slight change of plans to the morning’s birding as the track through the first valley was impassable due to the recent rain although Great Grey Shrike, Eurasian Yellowhammer, Syrian, Great Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpecker were all seen as the group left that area. Several hours were spent in the Hideg Patak Valley where more Grey-headed, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker were seen along with at least one Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Black Woodpecker were heard but only seen flying in the distance. The usual woodland species – including Eurasian Nuthatch, Coal, Marsh, Long-tailed and Blue Tit, Eurasian Jay, Goldcrest and European Treecreeper – were seen as was a small flock of European Siskin and a male European Bullfinch.
In the fields and vineyards around the village of Erdobénye large flocks of European Goldfinch and Chaffinch were seen. Hawfinch was spotted in with them and eventually a flock of more than ten was seen flying over with one obligingly staying on the top of a tree long enough to be viewed through the scope. Flocks of Stock Dove sat on the electricity wires and in the distance a Saker Falcon was seen on a pylon. A visit to some Tokaj wine cellars rounded off yet another great day’s birding.
October 4th: Ósca, Kiskunság National Park, Apaj
Final species total - 131.
Weather: Cloudy, slight wind 16°C.
After a final breakfast at the comfortable Zemplen Hills ‘pension’, birding while loading the car produced a flock of migrating geese, ID unclear, late migrating Common House Martin and a Syrian Woodpecker. Heading south towards Budapest a few hours birding close to the airport had been planned on the edge of the Kiskunsag National Park. In the swampy wood at Ósca, Black Woodpecker could be heard but the group finally gave up hope of getting good views of one. Several Hawfinch were in the wood and a Short-toed Treecreeper called and then flew into view. Several Stock Dove flew over and Marsh and Long-tailed Tit were heard.
Driving towards the Apaj Fish Farm thirteen Great Bustard were seen in the fields and the group stopped to watch them. Nine Grey Partridge flew over and on continuing another group of 17 Great Bustard were spotted, this time much nearer to the road and the opportunity to take photographs was not missed. One of the highlights of the trip in its last hours! An unusual find at the Fish Farms was a Caspian Tern. Four White-tailed Eagle were hunting over the area which had many of the wetland species seen throughout the trip including Caspian Gull, Greater White-fronted Goose and Eurasian Golden Plover, plus the only Eurasian Moorhen and Little Egret seen during the trip. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk was hunting among the flocks. At least eighty Corn Bunting were on electricity wires nearby and two White-tailed Eagle were spotted perched on a look-out tower. It was time to leave for the airport but the last day had added six new species to the week’s total of 131. Thanks to both Béla and Balázs for their enthusiasm throughout the week and determination to ensure that the group’s target species and the area’s specialties were all seen well.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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