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Hungary/Austria 5 - 15 May 2005,
This report covers a visit to Hungary and Austria from 5 – 15 May 2005. Vital & Riet van Gorp and my girlfriend Willemien van Ginneken accompanied me. Having neglected my Western Palearctic list for the last years I decided to make a visit to Hungary and Austria. In 1986 I visited the well-known Neusiedler See area in eastern Austria.
My main purpose was to find the White-backed Woodpecker and the Ural Owl, two of the very few species I have not seen in the Western Palearctic.
The official currency of Hungary is the Forint. The exchange rate at the border was 235 HUF to the €. In most of the hotels you can pay by credit card. All major credit cards and traveller cheques are accepted nearly everywhere.
We stayed at Hotel Post in Illmitz (www.gastlich.com, telephone 0043 2175 2321). This hotel was excellent and we had to pay € 90, -- for a double room, including breakfast and dinner. Hotel Post is ideally placed near the Neusiedler See. From our base at Illmitz we explored the surrounding areas for birds and concentrated on Burgenland.
In Hungary we stayed at Farm Lator (http://www.farmlator.hu/html/nhome.htm) in Saly at the border of the Bükk Hills. We had to pay € 41, -- per person per day (including breakfast and dinner). In Tiszafüred we stayed at Hotel Habléany and we had to pay € 45, -- for a double room per day including breakfast.
FOOD AND DRINK
Hotel Post and also Hotel Habléany had a very good restaurant and meals were not expensive. The food at Farm Lator was also excellent. Nearly all shops in Hungary sell bread and other stuff and we had all our lunches in the field. Drinks can also be found anywhere.
Lock your car at all times; never leave valuables in open sight.
The weather during our stay was mostly fairly good. It was sunny with from time to time overcast conditions, although we had snow at “Naturpark” Hohe Wand in Austria.
ROADS AND TRANSPORT
Hungary is easy to travel round. The primary routes in Hungary are well maintained. The relatively traffic-free roads and quiet lanes and by ways in Hungary are added attractions.
A telescope is useful at lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides.
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Grey Heron, Great Egret, White Stork, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Western Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Buzzard, Ring-necked Pheasant, Black-headed Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Common Cuckoo, Sky Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, White Wagtail, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Common Nightingale, European Stonechat, Great Tit, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, European Serin, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting.
Johan & Loes Schaerlaeckens. De Ronde van Hongarije: Zomer 2003 (Dutch)
Jan Vermeulen. Eastern Austria. 4 – 9 May 1986.
BIRDBASE & BIRDAREA
I use this software to keep track of the birds I have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously seen in that country, outside it, or both. BirdArea can produce checklists of the birds of any country of Clements’ world birds.
Chaam * Arendonk * Eindhoven * Köln * Frankfurt a/d Main * Nürnberg * Regensburg * Passau * Linz * Wien * Illmitz (Neusiedler See)
Illmitz * Hansag * Seewinkel * Neusiedler See * Illmitz
Illmitz * Marchegg – Marchauen reserve * Hundsheimer Berge reserve * Seewinkel * Neusiedler See * Illmitz
Illmitz * Naturpark Hohe Wand * Schneeberg * Neusiedler See * Illmitz
Illmitz * Györ * Vértes Hills * Budapest * Saly (Farm Lator)
Saly * Bükk Hills * Saly (Farm Lator)
Saly * Borsodi – Medöseg area * Saly (Farm Lator)
Saly * Miskolc * Encs * Fony * Zemplén Hills * Tokay * Tiszafüred
Tiszafüred * Hortobágy National Park * Tiszafüred
Tiszafüred * Borsodi – Medöseg area * Budapest * Fertö–Hanság Nemzeti Park
Pamhagen * Illmitz (Neusiedler See)
Illmitz (Neusiedler See) * Wien * Linz * Passau * Regensburg * Nürnberg * Frankfurt a/d Main * Koblenz * Köln * Aachen * Eindhoven * Arendonk * Chaam
NEUSIEDL LAKE (NEUSIEDLER SEE) AREA
Neusiedl Lake is situated at the lowest point of the Little Hungarian Plain and is Europe's westernmost steppe lake.
“Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel” is situated on the border between Austria and Hungary. Neusiedl Lake is a typical steppe lake with alkaline waters, extensive reed beds and marshes; it is also one of the largest wetlands in Central Europe, extending over 30kn in length and 8km in width. Neusiedl is nowhere deeper than 2m and it very occasionally dries up.The lake covers an area of 320 km2 whereas about 180km2 are covered with reed.
Numerous bird species, including Egrets, Avocets and Plover breed, and important numbers of Geese and Ducks, stop at the site during their migrations.
There are a number of small lakes (“lackes”) in the western Seewinkel which is situated to the east of Neusiedl Lake and many waterbirds are easier to see here than at the main lake.
To the south is the Hansag Reserve between Tadten and the border with Hungary. The Hansag support a few Great Bustards and there are observation towers to enhance viewing distances. The Einser Canal at the Hansag is worth walking along, in search of raptors, as well as Barred and Eurasian River Warblers.
MARCHAUEN – MARCHEGG RESERVE
In the far east of Austria on the Czech Republic border, this WWF reserve is part of an extremely important area of near-natural riverine and flood-plain forest, a habitat that has become much reduced throughout Europe.
This 800ha reserve is situated close to the northern end of the village
of Marchegg, 40km to the northeast of Vienna, about an hour by road from
Vienna on Route 49. This complex of often flooded woodlands and open meadows,
backwaters and marshes is the largest stretch of such habitat remaining in
Austria and is home to a wide range of birds.
Wetland species include Little Bittern, various herons and both storks, crakes and waders. The woodlands are home to five species of owl and seven woodpeckers as well as many other species. Raptors include Harriers, Lesser Spotted Eagle and breeding Saker Falcon as well as wintering White-tailed Eagle.
Species include: Black and White Storks, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Purple Herons, Eurasian Spoonbill, Little Bittern, Red and Black Kites, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Honey-Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, Grey-headed, Green, Great Spotted and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Ural and Tengmalm's Owls, Pied and Collared Flycatchers, Thrush Nightingale, Grasshopper, Savi's and River Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Golden-Oriole, Eurasian Penduline-Tit and Hawfinch.
HOHE WAND AND SCHNEEBERG
These two mountain areas lie to the south-west of Vienna and are within easy reach of the country's capital and Neusiedl. Meaning “High Wall”, the Hohe Wand is a vertical pine-clad rock outcrop, which rises abruptly from the plain. It is mostly wooded and is good for typical high-altitude birds, such as Rock Ptarmigan, White-winged Snowfinch, Citril Finch as well as Golden Eagle, Eurasian Nutcracker, Eurasian Crag-Martin and Alpine Accentor.
Southwest of Hohe Wand are the Schneeberg Mountains, where they arguable easier to find.
Hungary is a land-locked country at the heart of Europe nestling in the Carpathian Basin. Hungary is nowadays a very popular birding destination, thanks mainly to the steppe-grasslands and wetlands in a small area of the Great Hungarian Plain where during the spring, it is possible to see plenty of waterbirds. Hungary is also a land rich in folklore and is famed for its full-bodied wines and hearty food. Hungary recently became a member of the EU, just 15 years after the fall of Communism.
The Vértes Hills begins approximately 50 km west of Budapest and stretches for 30 km to the south-west.
The hills are on average 350 m high and are covered by mixed woodland of beech, oak, ash and some pine.
Most of interests are the woodpeckers, raptors and flycatchers here. Saker and Imperial Eagle nest here and can frequently be seen heading for the lowlands in search of prey.
A good place to start your search for birds here are the hills nearVértesboglár.
No less than 90% of this national park (sited in northeast Hungary over 43,200 hectares) is covered by forest. The forests are mostly beech (Fagus sylvatica). One wood is the renowned Ancient Forest where there has been no felling for a century now. The Bükk Hills and surrounding copses, villages, and farmlands are home to Eurasian Wryneck and all but one of the species of European woodpecker. The woodlands are alive in spring with Hawfinches and Collared Flycatchers and, if you are lucky you may spot a day-flying Ural Owl.
Famous as one of the best sites for raptors in Hungary, the Zemplén Hills are situated in the far northeast of Hungary close to the Slovakian border. These Zemplén foothills of the Carpathians are a wonderful mosaic of small peaks, forested slopes, beautiful valleys and rivers meandering through countryside dotted with tiny villages and castles.
The deciduous forests are home to Ural Owl and eight woodpeckers including Grey-headed, Middle Spotted and White-backed. Other birds include Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch, and Red-breasted and Collared Flycatcher.
Breeding raptors are the main ornithological interest with species such as Imperial, Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kite, Eurasian Honey-Buzzard and Saker Falcon. Eurasian Eagle Owl breeds and Ural Owl is present in years of high rodent populations. White Stork is a common breeder in many local villages but Black Stork can be very elusive and found only in the most remote parts of the hills as is Hazel Grouse. Hawfinch is common and the orchards and more open woodlands have Eurasian Wryneck, Wood Lark, Tree Pipit and Lesser Gray Shrike.
HORTOBÁGY NATIONAL PARK
Sweeping east towards Russia, the Great Hungarian Plain is a vital refuge for some of Europe’s rarest breeding birds. For so long hidden behind the tightly drawn veil of the Iron Curtain, it is only in the past 15 years or so that travelling birdwatchers have really been able to see this wonderful region for themselves.
The sweeping landscapes of the steppe country extend across a huge swathe of temperate Eurasia, eastwards to Mongolia and beyond. In only one place does a part of this vast steppe wilderness extend a finger into Europe - the plains of Eastern Hungary. This is the Hortobágy (pronounced Hortobarge), an ancient flood-plain of steppe grasslands - green and lush in May - and ancient meadows interspersed with marshes and pools.
One of Europe's largest national parks, the Hortobágy offers some of Europe's most exciting birdwatching. Due to the variety of habitats it is possible to see over 100 species in a day here during the spring. Numerous fishponds teem with birds.It is necessary to obtain permits to visit most areas (375 HUF per person).
Specialities here include Great Bustard, White-tailed Eagle, Saker Falcon, Pygmy Cormorant, Little Bittern, Great Bittern, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Caspian Gull, Common Crane, Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns, European Roller and Lesser Gray Shrike.
Borsodi-Mezöség (30.000 ha) is an extensive area of steppe-like grassland and wetlands. The local people call it the Little Hortobágy, has more or less the same birds as Hortobágy, although there are no fishponds, which decreases Heron numbers. At the same time, European Roller and Lesser Gray Shrike are more numerous. Black Stork, Imperial Eagle, Saker Falcon, Red-footed Falcon and Great Bustard and many waders are all possible.
Thursday May 5
At 5.30 we left Chaam by car and 12 hours later we were in Burgenland in Austria near the Hungarian border.
We checked into Hotel Post in Illmitz, a hotel where Vital I also stayed on a birding trip in 1986. Later that evening we ventured out from our hotel and made a stroll along the extensive reed beds near the Neusiedl Marina and amongst the birds encountered were Western Marsh-Harrier, Pied Avocet, Common Redshank, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Great Reed-Warbler and Reed Bunting. We had an excellent diner at our family-run hotel.
Friday May 6
Our first full day in the field involved a slow and leisurely drive along the Seewinkel pools and searching the Hansag Plain for Great Bustard. Our first stop was at the Lange Lacke. This lake was almost dry and we hardly saw any birds here. Amongst the few birds seen here were Greylag Goose, Northern Shoveler, Gray Partridge, Little Ringed Plover and Yellow Wagtail.
Hereafter we headed to the Hansag Plain near the Hungarian border. There were many birdwatchers here and most of them were watching a group of 12 Great Bustards, amongst them a few displaying males. We also had good looks of a group of 5 Red-footed Falcons and a few hunting Montagu’s Harriers and a single Short-eared Owl. We spent a few hours on the Hansag along the Einser Canal, where we added amongst others Eurasian Wryneck, Icterine Warbler, Tree Pipit, Barred Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Short-toed Treecreeper and Corn Bunting to our bird list.
In the afternoon we visited the information centre of “Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel” in Illmitz, buying a few maps.
The rest of the afternoon we spent along the Seewinkel pools. We explored the Darscho Lacke, the Oberstinkersee and the Unterstinkersee. It was a quite disappointing experience, because nearly all the pools were dry.
Amongst the birds seen here were Garganey, Red-crested Pochard, Pied Avocet, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Snowy Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Tern and Savi’s Warbler.
Saturday May 7
Early morning found us driving northwards to the Marchegg – Marchauen WWF reserve near the village of Marchegg on the Czech Republic border. There were still a lot of White Stork nests in the trees at the entrance of the reserve, as I remembered having seen in 1986. Vital and I spent all morning in this flood-plain forest and we saw a host of woodland birds. Amongst the more interesting birds seen were 2 Black Storks, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Syrian Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Spotted & Collared Flycatcher, Eurasian Nuthatch and Eurasian Golden-Oriole.
In the afternoon we headed to the Hundsheimer Berge reserve, where we had lunch along the soccer field. Hereafter we made the climb to the top of the hill. Vital spent most of the time trying to identify the butterflies, while I was more interested in the birds. Amongst the few birds seen here were European Honey-Buzzard, European Bee-eater, Long-tailed Tit and Corn Bunting.
In the late afternoon we stopped at the Ober and Unterstinkersee and made another stroll seeing the same birds as the day before yesterday. We again had an excellent diner at our hotel and the splendid buffet meals everyday added a few centimetres to ours waistline.
Sunday May 8
Today we spent most of our time in the eastern Austrian Alps, 1½ hours driving from Illmitz. We made a stroll along the forested limestone outcrop known as Hohe Wand (High Wall), a very popular tourist attraction.
Amongst the birds seen along the outcrop and in the forest were Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Crested Tit, Red Crossbill and Eurasian Bullfinch.
Hereafter we drove to the top of Hohe Wand Naturpark and had lunch at one of the many restaurants there. We then made a stroll on the top trying to find one of the high-altitude species, but the snow hampered our efforts to find these birds, although we did see 2 Chamois.
In the afternoon we headed to the Schneeberg Mountains, but we were 5 minutes too late to take the rack-and-pinion railway from Puchberg to the top. Very disappointed we left the Schneeberg and decided to make a stroll in the nearby lower Alps. On one of the lakes we discovered a drake Falcated Duck, maybe an escaped bird, who knows.
Other birds we saw here were Red-crested Pochard, Gray Wagtail, White-throated Dipper and Lesser Whitethroat.
We ended our day with another visit to the Neusiedler See and made a stop at Purbach, where Great Reed-Warbler was very common.
Monday May 9
Leaving Burgenland behind we drove to Hungary. We bought a highway vignette at the border (€ 11 for 10 days) and then headed to the well-known Vértes Hills approximately 50 km west of Budapest.
We spent a few hours near the small village of Vértesboglár exploring the hills. Here a wealth of species were to vie our attention and amongst the birds seen were Imperial Eagle, Common Cuckoo, European Bee-eater, Eurasian Wryneck, Barred Warbler, Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting.
Following lunch we drove up to a disused quarry near Csákvár in search of Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush, but we were not successful. A single Tree Lark was heard singing and was then seen flying across the quarry. There were a number of Black Redstarts about, plus an Eurasian Sparrowhawk.
Hereafter we headed to eastern Hungary, had some trouble in finding our way in Budapest, but finally arrived at 17.00 hours at Farm Lator, near the Bükk Hills in the small village of Saly. Our Dutch host biologist Rob de Jong and his Hungarian wife Barbara greeted us and showed us the brand-new cottage, where we would spend a few nights.
Vital and I made a stroll around Farm Lator noting amongst others Eurasian Turtle-Dove, Black Woodpecker, Grey-faced Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, Eurasian Nuthatch, Hawfinch and a great surprise 2 Red-rumped Swallows, a vagrant in Hungary.
At dinner we met John and Nolly van der Woude well-known birders from my own country. They told us where to find the nest of a White-backed Woodpecker in the Bükk Hills.
Tuesday May 10
A pre-breakfast saunter revealed nearly the same birds as yesterday evening, but we also spotted a Middle Spotted Woodpecker and a Collared Flycatcher.
After breakfast we drove out to Bükki Nemzeti Park (Bükk Hills NP). It took us about 50 minutes before we arrived at Répástruta in the centre of the forest.
We immediately headed to the White-backed Woodpecker stakeout and after a short while we had prolonged views of a very obliging bird entering the nest-hole.
We searched the rest of the day in vain for Ural Owl, a lifer for me, but did see a second White-backed Woodpecker.
Of course we saw a good supply of forest birds here amongst them European Honey-Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Black Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, many Collared Flycatchers, Marsh Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch and Common Raven.
More effort was needed to find the Red-breasted Flycatcher, although eventually we managed to get good views of no less than 4 birds in the beech forest close to Répástruta
Hereafter we returned to Farm Lator and we made another stroll in the vicinity of the camping site, noting amongst others Black Woodpecker, Eurasian Wryneck, Wood Warbler and European Serin.
Wednesday May 11
In the morning we met many birdwatchers from all parts of Hungary trying to find the Red-rumped Swallows, apparently a very rare bird in Hungary.
After breakfast at the farm we headed to the Borsodi Mezöség Puszta Reserve (Little Hortobágy). On our way to this place we made a stop at the Imperial Eagle nest in a poplar between the villages of Mezóherestes and Szentistván.
After a few minutes the Imperial Eagle arrived at the nest and we had excellent views of this raptor in my telescope.
Other birds we encountered here were Red-footed Falcon, Syrian Woodpecker and Northern Wheatear.
Then the first drops of rain started to fall and it was impossible
to enter the “Little Hortobágy” by car. We tried to
drive on the slippery sandy roads, but it cost us a lot of trouble to return
to the tarmac road.
Although we spent all day on the tarmac roads around this reserve, we sampled a long list of birds amongst them Purple Heron, Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Owl, Barred Warbler, Lesser Gray Shrike and Reed Bunting.
In the late afternoon we returned to Farm Lator.
Thursday May 12
We left early as we had a bit of a drive to another area. We spent all morning in the forests of the Zemplén Hills.
In these green, rolling, forest-swathed hills we stopped many times searching for ‘new’ birds.
Most noteworthy of the birds we encountered along the way here were Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Cuckoo, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, and Hawfinch. We did not concentrate on finding woodpeckers, as we had our main target the White-backed Woodpecker already seen.
We then drove to Tokay with its vineyards. We had lunch in this small town and of course drank a few glasses of the famous vine. Leaving the Tokaj-Zemplen Hills we drove towards the Great Hungarian Plains, the Hortobágy. On the way we had some good views of Black-crowned Night-Heron, Eurasian Bee-eater and Yellow Wagtail.
On our way to Tiszafüred we obtained permits for Hortobágy at the visitor centre. We checked into Hotel Habléany in Tiszafüred along the River Tisza.
Friday May 13
In the early morning we made a pre-breakfast stroll along the River Tisza, encountering a rich variety of birds along the way, including Great Cormorant, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common Tern, Eurasian Wryneck, Syrian Woodpecker, Eurasian River Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Eurasian Reed-Warbler, Great Reed-Warbler, Barred Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Eurasian Golden-Oriole and Red-backed Shrike, to name but a few. We saw 41 species in half an hour.
The rest of the day we spent in Hungary’s most famous bird site,
Hortobágy National Park. It was a very warm day.
We spent all morning at Hortobágy Halasto, the biggest fishpond of the area.We had a long walk to get to the various observation towers and hides. What a superb area for birds! Birding highlights are hard to single out though Pygmy Cormorant (here at the north-western edge of their world range), Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Eurasian Spoonbill, impressive numbers of Ferruginous Pochard, Wood Warbler (!) and Bluethroat all ranked highly. Often we heard Eurasian Penduline-Tits, and could wonder at their marvellous suspended nests, as well as hearing Bearded Reedlings “pinging”. We had excellent views of both birds.
The rest of the day we visited other fishponds, but also the steppe country. Amongst the birds seen were a colony of Red-footed Falcons, Little Gull, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Tawny Pipit and Lesser Gray Shrike. One of birds that did prove elusive here was Moustached Warbler and it was close to the end of our stay in Hortobágy before good views of two birds were had. We again spent the night at the hotel in Tiszafüred.
Saturday May 14
Vital and I made a short pre-breakfast walk along the River Tisza, where we saw the same birds as yesterday and a few other birds such as Common Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher and Eurasian River Warbler.
Unfortunately today we had to pack our bags on to our car
and head to Austria and home. The last days were blessed by wonderful sunshine
and therefore we made a stop at the “Little Hortobágy”. Now we were
able to enter the area by car. On our final morning in Hungary we encountered
near the electricity pylons the real star of our trip, a hunting Saker
Falcon. I had not seen this bird since my last trip to Turkey many years
ago. Amongst the other birds we encountered were breeding Red-necked Grebe,
Tufted Duck, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-footed
Falcon, Tawny Pipit, Whinchat and Lesser Gray Shrike.
We then headed to Austria making a stop at Fertö–Hanság Nemzeti Park on the Hungarian side of Burgenland, where we did not add any new birds to our trip list.
At 17.00 hours we were back in Illmitz and of course checked into Hotel Post of the Egermann family.
We had some time to visit the Stinkersee where we had good views of the last Eurasian Hoopoe of this area at a nest box.
Sunday May 15
After a last visit to the Neusiedl Marina we left Burgenland and began on our long drive to the Netherlands (1185 km). Near Frankfurt in Germany we saw our only Red Kites of the trip. At 7.30 p.m. I was back in Chaam.
The final group total was 179 species. I had one lifer, White-backed Woodpecker, but I dipped Ural Owl, a species I certainly expected to see this trip. It seems I have to return to Hungary.
Chaam, 20 July 2005,
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4861 AH Chaam