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A Report from

Hungary, April 26th - 8th May 2010 ,

Geoff Dicker

I had long been planning a trip to Hungary: firstly to visit some friends who live for part of the year in Pusztaszabolcs south of Budapest; and secondly to join a birding tour aimed at seeing some target species such as White-Backed Woodpecker.   I also wanted to access some of the remoter areas in the east such as the Hortobágy, and the Bükk Hills.

Daily account:

Day 1 – 26th April - So I arrived with my friends – Mark & Kati - late morning after being driven from Budapest and was greeted by the traditional kiss on two cheeks, then a wonderful meal – you will never go hungry in this country - and a glass of Pahlinka, and another, and another.  I phoned my wife in England – she said “are you smashed already?” – I was!

Mark, who is also a birder, was anxious to show me one or two sites, so in a “pahlinkeresque haze” we set off to an island nature reserve on the Duna (Danube) near to the town of Dunaújváros.  We parked near a Korean restaurant and walked down to the river through some small-holdings. A Syrian Woodpecker was nesting in one of the allotment areas. A walk around some lovely riverine woodland produced three River Warblers, one of which showed very well, many Nightingales, Common Sandpiper on the sandbanks, and a Black Kite – rare in Hungary – which sailed over our heads.  Roadside birds noted were Red-Backed Shrike and Crested Lark, whilst a distant raptor over some woodland had the distinctly “loose-winged jizz” of a Honey Buzzard.

On to Dinnyés which is part of the Lake Velence complex.  A notice says that you should obtain a permit to enter; luckily Mark is on good terms with the warden who gave us a friendly wave and a “Jó Napot” as we proceeded. If the new notice boards were anything to go by it would seem that the reserve is likely to be more accessible in the future.  This is a wonderful wetland site with an open puszta bordering the lake and reedbeds.  Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Spoonbill flew across the wetlands, Savi’s, Great Reed, Reed, Grasshopper, Sedge Warbler and Yellow Wagtail called and occasionally revealed themselves; a White Stork nested majestically in the car park.  The highlight, however, were three Red-Footed Falcons which hovered and scythed through the air in pursuit of insectivorous fayre not twenty yards from us – magic!

Day 2 - 27th April – This was the “grand tour” day.  We set off early with Kati’s nephew and his wife to visit their auntie in the Tisza valley, whilst Mark and I did a bit of birding. On the way we stopped at an Auchan supermarket in Kecskemét

where the quasi-surreal spectacle of a Black Woodpecker flying over the car park made us wonder whether the effect of the Pahlinka was more intense than we had imagined!  We went to a beautiful oxbow lake near to the village of Tiszaalpár – turn left opposite the sports ground and park by the lake.  The star bird here was one of my target species – Pygmy Cormorant - which were seen perched very closely on some dead trees and in flight – I would estimate around 30 birds in all were seen.  This site also produced Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Great White & Little Egrets, Spoonbill, Whiskered Tern, Black-Winged Stilt, White Stork, Marsh Harrier, Great Reed & Savi’s Warbler.

We then went back to pick up Mark’s relations from their auntie’s, who at the age of 75 still ran a small-holding, where White Storks nested in the garden, a colony of Swallows had set up home in the pig shed, and Corn Buntings called from surrounding trees. 

A quick visit to Lake Tisza where we viewed from a pumping station – the last turning after the causeway – produced Black Tern, more Pygmy Cormorants, Night Heron, Great Reed Warbler, some showy Savi’s Warblers.  Incidentally, the number of Turtle Doves seen is a heartening example of Hungary’s conservation achievements.  Although, there are reports of Italian hunters shooting birds illegally in southern Hungary, many vulnerable species are given full-protection under Hungarian law, and large fines handed out for transgressors.

Our final stop was at a motorway service station on the M3 near to the turning for Gyöngyös, where an Eastern Imperial Eagle sat majestically on a pylon on the west side of the road.  We saw the bird closer by taking the next turning off the motorway towards Adács.  The eagle was seen hunting on several occasions over farmland presumably looking for Susliks?  Unfortunately a Little Owl corpse lay by the roadside, a victim of a hit & run!

Day 3 – April 28th  - Perhaps this was a rather wasted day as we drove to the Bükk Hills because Mark wanted to try and get White-Backed Woodpecker after a previously unsuccessful attempt with Gerard Gorman last summer.  Our trip was delayed, however, by a major accident on the M0, which closed the motorway.  After a protracted drive through minor roads with almost constant roadworks, we arrived at the site just north of Csérepfalu just before midday.  From there we walked up the beautiful Hor-Volgy (valley) which was, however, a trifle disappointing in terms of woodpeckers, which were not calling.  May is definitely not the best time for ‘peckers!  We did see Collared Flycatcher, Hawfinch, Wood Warbler, and a pair of Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers, which suddenly appeared above us and then proceeded in their courtship and mating rituals.  A few Red-Backed Shrikes, Stonechats, and loafing Common Buzzards adorned motorway fenceposts.

Day 4 – April 29th - Today we went to Pacsmag fishponds, which are south-east of Budapest.  They are not easy to find, but we took road 85 out of Tamási and turned left towards Regoly.  Once opposite the town hall we took the second left turning past some allotments, taking the right fork where the road/track divides.  We then turned right and followed a track over a field after which we turned left to the fishponds and parked the car by a bridge.  I will admit we did obtain assistance from some bemused locals over the last bit!   Was it worth it – definitely.  At this beautiful site we saw: Red-Crested Pochard; Ferruginous Duck; Great White Egret; Night Heron; Little Egret; Greylag Goose; White Stork; Marsh Harrier; Marsh Harrier; a Saker  which circled over our heads; Golden Oriole; Hoopoe; Great Reed Warbler; Savi’s Warbler; Bearded Tit and Nightingale.   A drive through Lake Velence on the way back produced several Purple Herons, and some Black Terns.  A male Black Redstart sang from the rooftop of Mark & Kati’s neighbour’s house as we sipped several cold Borsodi’s.

Day 5 – 30th April – Today’s itinerary involved the Duna Park(Gemenc) near to Baja to look at some old riverine forest.  Heading east on route 55 from Baja we turned right into the reserve, parked, and followed one of the colour-marked trails.  One problem here was the forest roads were deeply rutted because of forestry operations and recent heavy rain; walking was, therefore, somewhat of a struggle.  As a distraction each puddle had become alive with Common Frogs.   Birds noted here were: Black Stork; Kingfisher; Black Woodpecker; Collared Flycatcher; River Warbler; Nightingale; Cuckoo; Golden Oriole; and Yellowhammer, the latter being very much a woodland bird in Hungary. 

Our second site was Retimajor, a fishpond complex brimming with Carp near to Cece. Take the road to Cece and follow route 63 through Rétszilas. After Rétszilas, you enter a small village, which has some silos at the left side of the road. After these silos, take the first road to the left, and after about 5 kilometers, you will find the entrance to Retimajor on the left.  We walked for some distance around the ponds where we saw: Red-Crested Pochard; Ferruginous Duck; Great White & Little Egrets; Black & White Storks (11 Black & 2 White soaring together); Mediterranean Gull; Black & Common Terns; Wood Sandpiper (350+); Spotted Redshank; Marsh Harrier; Great Reed Warbler; Savi’s Warbler; Nightingale; Red-Backed Shrike; and Golden Oriole.

Day 6 – 1st May - This was transfer day where I left my friends to join the tour run by Hungarian Bird Tours.  I was given a lift by Kati’s nephew to the airport where I met Roy Adams of HBT at the appointed time.  As the rest of the group weren’t due to arrive until late afternoon Roy asked me if I would like to accompany him for an afternoon’s birding.  Our first stop was just outside a military base south of Budapest where Roy picked out a single Tawny Pipit.  We then drove through the Kiskunság where we had the first Rollers of the trip as well as Red-Backed Shrike, and Hoopoe.  We then went down to Szeged fishponds near to the Croatian border.  Here we saw: Great White Egret; Purple Heron; Spoonbill; Ferruginous Duck; Garganey; White Stork; Greylag Goose; Spotted Redshank; Wood Sandpiper; Ruff in its many guises; Avocet; Black-Winged Stilt; Mediterranean Gull; Black Tern; the ubiquitous Marsh Harrier; Great Reed Warbler; Savi’s Warbler; a Moustached Warbler in combat with a Sedge Warbler; Yellow Wagtail and Northern Wheatear.  On the way back to the airport we turned into some claypits and managed to see the only Little Ringed Plover of the trip. 

After picking up the rest of the party from the airport we drove to Eger, which was to be our base for the next seven days.  Before we arrived at the Villa Volgy hotel Roy took us to an urban park where not only did we see Syrian Woodpecker but several Hawfinches feeding quite unconcernedly at our feet – oh I wish I’d been able to bring my camera!  The Villa Volgy is a beautiful hotel set in its own grounds, and I was serenaded to sleep by a host of Nightingales, and awoken by a vocal Scops Owl.

Day 7 – 2nd May - This was our first full day out with Hungarian Bird tours and Roy Adams, a retired police officer, who runs the company.   I must admit to some butterflies as our first call of the day was to an active White-Backed Woodpecker nest site deep in the Bükk Hills.  Roy had asked me what my main target species were – White-Backed Woodpecker, Pygmy Cormorant, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle and River Warbler – and at even this early part of the tour I only needed the “’pecker.”  So after this I could relax a bit.

We arrived at the location after a long drive involving an 0630 start, and then waited; our optics trained at the nest hole from a discreet distance.  Even before I’d set up my scope a cry went up “there it is.”  I just saw a black and white shape fly down from the tree – “damm have I missed it, will it be back, how long?”  I needn’t have worried because over the next hour or so both parents fed their offsprings at regular intervals.  The others went off in search of other woodland birds, but I stayed and watched the woodpeckers. The birds were almost silent except for a Blackbird like contact call, which Roy picked up – “God this guy’s got good hearing.” The “Whitebacks” seemed longer necked and bodied than Great Spots, with the “white back” only really visible in flight.  The male was in absolutely prime condition with more definitive back markings, a red crown, and streaking on the breast and flanks.  Now I’d seen all the European woodpeckers; until the “splits” are made that is!   Frankly, I could have stayed there all day studying the “Whitebacks” but other birds beckoned as well as breakfast. Unfortunately, a nearby Ural Owl roosting tree was devoid of owls, but we did manage to see some Collared Flycatchers and heard a Middle-Spotted Woodpecker & Black Woodpecker.   On the way down we stooped at the Bükk Hills park visitor centre where we saw more Collared Flycatchers, Common Redstart (not common in Hungary), Serin and Black Redstart.  Back at the hotel a Scops Owl and Nightingales were joined by a Wryneck, which was using one of the nest boxes placed in the grounds.

The rest of the day was spent on and around the Borsodi Plains, but the first stop was to a small wetland near to Mezőkövesd.  The main attraction here was a pair of nesting Red-Necked Grebes as well as the usual warblers – Great Reed and Savi’s – a few Night Herons and Penduline Tit.  We also called in a Bogács reservoir where it was determined that a “controversial” pipit sp. was a Water Pipit still moulting from winter to summer plumage; a few “flavissima” Yellow Wagtails fed in the crop fields.  The rest of the day was spent on or about the plains where we had a wonderful day recording: Great White Egret; White Stork; Whiskered Tern; White-Winged Black Terns (the numbers of these stunning birds was a major highlights of the trip); Greylag Goose; Raven; Marsh Harrier; Avocet; Ruff; White-Tailed Eagle; a hunting Eastern Imperial Eagle; a pair of Sakers nesting on a pylon; Red-Backed Shrike; Roller; Whinchat, Bluethroat; Turtle Dove; Yellow & White Wagtails.

Day 8 - 3rd May 2010 - Today was one of the best days of the whole tour, but one of the biggest disappointment because the track to the Aquatic Warbler site was impassable due to previous heavy rain. 

Before leaving in Eger we stopped at a garage where we saw the only Swifts of the tour.  On route we visited a farm on the northern Hortobágy, which housed Europe’s largest Red-Footed Falcon colony nesting in trees with their symbiotic partners the Rook.  The farmer, a huge man sporting an impressive Hungarian “Dave Crosby” like moustache, came over to chat with our driver László, and with Roy.  The falcons were a joy to watch, catching insects on the wing and calling animatedly to each other.  A small quarry nearby also held a significant colony of Sand Martins.

It was Hortobágy day where we were lucky enough to be guided by Sandor, one of its foremost bird guides.  He has worked for the park for 19 years and is currently engaged on a project studying Great Bustards.  We drove miles into the “Halastó (fishponds)” area, where every so often we would stop and climbed a tower, after they had passed the “Sandor test”: he kicked them hard!  Before we mounted the first tower I thought, “we won’t realise how big this place is until we get up there!”  For once, I was right – this area is vast; lakes and reedbeds stretching as far as the eye could see.  Oh and birds, yes there were a few birds!  Grey, Purple, Night & Squacco Herons; Great White & Little Egrets; Pygmy Cormorants; Spoonbill; Common, Whiskered, Black, & White-Winged Black Terns; and Black-Headed Gulls, flapped, glided, swooped, fed and squabbled in their summer quarters, engaged in furthering the existence of their kind, here with the help of man: so often without it.  A Great Bittern or two boomed from deep within the reedy suburbs, and a Little Bittern barked - again unseen.  Reedbed passerines included: Bearded Tit; Moustached; Great Reed; Savi’s Warbler; and Bluethroat.  A White-Tailed Eagle was seen perched and then hunting over the marshes; Marsh Harriers, as always, were everywhere.  Another surprise was several small parties of Common Cranes.  Although they winter here in their thousands, several hundred spend the summer here, although no breeding has yet been proved.

Our next stop was an area of Puszta where we met some of Sandor’s colleagues who were studying Bustards.  Here we managed to see at least five Great Bustards, mostly males, sticking their heads out above the long grass. Other birds in the area included: Montagu’s Harrier, Red-Backed Shrike; Tree Sparrow; Hoopoe; Northern Wheatear; Yellow Wagtail; Black-Tailed Godwit; Crested Lark; and Corn Bunting.  On the way back we stopped periodically including the Red-Footed Falcon site where this time we saw a Tawny Pipit; further on we had some Golden Orioles in a small wood and several Rollers.  Red-backed Shrikes perched on roadside wires, and we obtained some distant views of a Saker, initially settled on a pylon but then in a hunting stoop.

The day ended well when I managed to pinpoint the Scops Owl that had kept us awake in the hotel grounds. It was roosting in typically cryptic fashion in the fork of a Plane tree.  The owl remained at the same roost site over the next few days, giving hotel guests and staff an opportunity to see this enigmatic bird.

Day 9 – 4th May 2010 - The weather had so far been good to us, mainly hot & humid, but it was raining heavily early morning as we set off into the Bükk Hills to find some of the other woodpecker species.   The Scops Owl was still tucked up at his roost site, and a “Pavorottiesque” Nightingale sang from deep cover within the grounds of the hotel despite the rain.  Several Golden Orioles added a tropical atmosphere with their fluty whistle.  Unfortunately, we had more luck in hearing woodpeckers than in seeing them –we did hear both Grey-Headed and Black (some saw the latter in flight), but only had good views of Middle and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  There was a good range of other woodland species on offer at the sites visited, these included: Nuthatch; Common Treecreeper (called Hill Treecreeper in Hungary); Short-Toed -Treecreeper; Tree Pipit; Collared Flycatcher; Hawfinch; Cuckoo; Wood Warbler; Garden Warbler; & Yellowhammer.  The park visitor centre offered more Collared Flycatchers; Black Redstart; Serin; and a Grey Wagtail.  By this time the rain had ceased so we visited an area of scrub where we had our first Barred Warblers of the trip together with their companion Red-Backed Shrikes and a couple of Whinchats

By the time we’d had breakfast the sum was out so we returned to the Bükk Hills for some raptor watching.  At a site near Noszvaj we saw a Lesser-Spotted Eagle soaring over its territory.  The next site was an open area near to Bükkzsérc well known for raptors.  Birds seen soaring over the hills were: Eastern Imperial Eagle; Short-Toed Eagle; Honey Buzzard; and Common Buzzard.  In the foot of the valley a small marshy area produced: Marsh Warbler; River Warbler; Wryneck; Golden Oriole; and a Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker calling from some small trees.   Next stop was Bogács lake again where Roy was hoping to get a Red-Throated Pipit for me (all time bogey bird) – he’s had three figure numbers here on migration in the past.  Alas no pipits, but there were Black & Whiskered Terns; Common Sandpiper; Lesser Whitethroat; and Yellow Wagtail as compensation. 

The last destination was to some private fishponds at Gelej to which Roy has access; he even heard one of my bogey pipits, but it didn’t make an appearance.  This was a great site with Black, Whiskered & Common Terms over the ponds, a Black Kite, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Savis’s & Great Reed Warbler, Purple Heron, Great White Egret, Penduline Tit and Yellow Wagtail.  Most entertaining of all was a female Marsh Harrier – a big enough bird – mobbing a White-Tailed Eagle – a bloody huge bird!

Day 10 – 5th May 2010 - Today we spent most of the time around Roy’s own village of Novaj, commencing with a walk along a valley that started by a farm machinery workshop and storage area.  The star birds here were a couple of Lesser-Grey Shrikes, which had only just arrived.  In the same area Golden Orioles, Red-Backed Shrike and Wryneck were all common and we had another recent arrival in the shape of a Spotted Flycatcher.  A nearby river valley was alive with River Warblers and the odd Grasshopper Warbler.  We then drove over a track to a quarry with a Beeater colony, but alas they hadn’t yet arrived from Africa.  We did, however, obtain some excellent views of a Barred Warbler, which resembles a small cuckoo with a beady yellow eye and a punkoid crest that is raised when alarmed.  I’d only ever seen the non-descript, plump juveniles, lurking in bramble patches on the east coast, so to see the adults in full breeding pomp was akin to observing a new species.  Next stop in an action-packed day was the small wetland near to Mezőkövesd where the Red-Necked Grebes were doing well.  It was very hot and only a couple of Savi’s and Great Reed Warblers, and a Kingfisher showed themselves, although the first Hobby of the trip did manifest itself.  We the headed over the Heres Plains where we noted a few waders in the damp fields: Black-Tailed Godwit; Ruff; and Wood Sandpiper.   More Rollers were evident on roadside wires, as well as a small group of Red-Footed Falcons, and another two Hobbies near to Komló. In the villages that we passed through every other telegraph pole seemed to have a White Stork’s nest.   Roy also took us to an Eastern Imperial Eagle nest site where we observed the female eagle sitting on eggs.  It was slightly odd to see such a rare bird nesting in an insignificant line of trees, bordering a field, which was being ploughed.  In Britain there would be a battalion of Ghurkhas guarding the site!  Our next location was another set of fishponds at Kisköre, where we sat on the balcony outside a fishing lodge.  From there we saw: Great White Egret; Ferruginous &Tufted Duck; Greylag Goose, and more vocal Savis’s & Great Reed Warblers. On the way back to the hotel we stopped again at the small park in Eger to let some new members of the party, who had joined that day, observe the almost tame Hawfinches: a Syrian Woodpecker also put in a timely appearance.

Day 11 – 6th May 2010 - The day started in the Bükk Hills where it was raining heavily.  Most birds were lying low although we did see a Wryneck, several Hawfinches, and heard a distant Grey-Headed Woodpecker.  We paid another visit to the White-Backed Woodpecker site, but they were sheltering from the rain.  Strangely enough a River Warbler was heard singing in the vicinity of the woodpecker nest site, which was near to a stream.  Cutting our losses we returned to the hotel, in the hope of better weather, which materialised in the form of hot and humid conditions.  So we headed south towards Lake Tisza, where we viewed the lake and some riverine forest from a raised bank.   The now expected residents of the reedbeds revealed themselves: Purple Heron; Night Heron; Squacco Heron; Spoonbill; Great White Egret; Great Reed Warbler; Savi’s Warbler; and Penduline Tit.   A couple of Black Storks flew over, and a Hoopoe gave its eponymous song from various points around its territory; a Bittern boomed from deep cover.  A huge White-Tailed Eagle glided over like an ancient plane.   Instead of sandwiches for lunch we boarded a ferry over the river – the only ferry I’ve seen with nesting Swallows on it – and stopped at a rather good fish restaurant.  Here we sampled a huge bowl of spicy, colourful fish soup eaten in Hungarian fashion with sour cream and raw chilli.  “Post prandium” we heard the rumblings of a gathering storm, so we quickly headed out over the northern Hortobágy.  Near Arokto we had our best views of a Saker perched on a pylon guarding its nest.  Pools in the damp fields produced Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and Redshank, whilst marsh terns – Whiskered, Black and the beautiful White-Winged Black – dived and darted over the wetlands.  We stopped at a birding tower in an area called Darassa where we saw a stunning Long-Legged Buzzard perched on a wooden water pump handle.  A distant eagle was determined to be a Short-Toed Eagle; Marsh Harriers and a male Montagu’s Harrier were also seen hunting, and a distant Quail called.  Another grey male harrier then flew low towards us.  Initially called as another Montagu’s, there was something different about its flight, which was more hawk-like and direct.  It was only when it tuned and revealed no dark barring across the secondaries that we realised what it was – a Pallid Harrier!  Further on several Rollers and Red-Backed Shrikes were seen on roadside wires, and a Barred Warbler gave its song flight from roadside scrub.  We checked out an empty Long-eared Owl site, and then went to Balmazújváros sewage works which has a good reputation for migrant waders; there was, however, no mud and no waders.  We did obtain some marvellous flight views of Red-Footed Falcon before Roy summoned us to return to the car as the storm was catching up with us: and catch up with us it did!  No sooner had we left the sewage works when it unleaded its full fury with wind, rain and hail, that sounded like ball bearings being fired against the body of the minibus.  It had wreaked havoc in Balmazújváros town centre where a tree had fallen across a road onto a car.  Our driver, the phlegmatic János, steered us safely through the raging storm as far as a service station where we took refuge until the worst had passed.

Day 12 – 7th May 2010 – This was our last full day and we set off again after breakfast the Bükk Hills, with some drizzle in the air.  This time our stop at the nest site proved successful and the White-Backed Woodpeckers were feeding their young consistently.  Still we had little success with the other woodpeckers and only heard another Grey-Headed calling distantly.  Around the park headquarters and campsite near to Felsőtárkány we saw a couple of Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers, Common & Black Redstart, Collared Flycatcher, Hawfinch and Redstart.   The weather patter remained constant and improved later in the morning.  We obtained cracking views of a Lesser-Spotted Eagle soaring over its territory.  We then drove for some miles along forest tracks following the Hor-Volgy (valley) into Csérepfalu.   Along the valley we saw a photogenic Fire Salamander, heard a Red-Breasted Flycatcher, and added further sightings of Wryneck, Collared Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, and Hawfinch.    An area of scrub near to the M3 motorway yielded more Marsh Warblers offering their incredible range of avian imitations.  One of the Yellow Wagtails was identified as a “thunbergii” race instead of the normal “flavissima.”  The next port-of-call was to an old Soviet airfield where along with deserted buildings including the control tower – very spooky!  The main birds of note were Tawny Pipit, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, and Whinchat, although the hoped-for Saker didn’t materialise.  Lastly we drove along some lanes near to Novaj seeing the usual roadside birds, Red-Backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Crested Lark and even a River Warbler singing from a tall tree.  This was a last-ditch effort to secure a decent sighting of a Black Woodpecker for the group, and at last we were successful in hearing and seeing one noisily defending its territory.

Day 13 – 8th May 2010 –  Another day of transfers.  Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Roy and the rest of the group.  Roy’s partner Deanna gave three of us a lift back to the airport from where I shared a taxi with the other couple who were staying in Budapest.   I then caught a train back to Pusztaszabolcs to stay another couple of days with my friends, arriving late morning.

After lunch Mark & I spent the afternoon at Dinnyés where we saw: Red-Crested Pochard; Garganey (a drake already moulting into eclipse); Great White Egret; Spoonbill; White Stork; Whiskered, Black & White-Winged Black Terns; Marsh Harrier; Tree Sparrow; Bluethroat; Red-Backed Shrike; and Black Redstart.  We also heard the distinctive call of a distant Quail.  Not bad for a local patch!

Day 14 – 9th May 2010 – My last day was spent going for a long walk with Mark around the lanes near to Pusztaszabolcs.  In what was mostly farmland we observed some interesting birdlife, the highlights being: a Wood Sandpiper on a puddle behind a haystack; Red-Backed Shrike; Golden Oriole; Tree Sparrow; Marsh Harrier; Crested Lark; Turtle Dove; Sparrowhawk; Yellow Wagtail (including a dark-headed bird that resembled another of the “thunbergii” race); Lesser Whitethroat; Cuckoo; and several calling Quail.

Hungarian Bird Tours

I can highly recommend HBT and Roy Adams who runs the company.  Roy conducts the tours in a very relaxed manner, but in terms of finding birds he is as “sharp as a razor.”  He must have phenomenal hearing and picked up calls that I had certainly never heard before or didn’t realise were avian in nature.  He also managed that most difficult of balancing acts in giving all members of the group what they wanted from the tour. The group ranged from mad eurotwichers like me, whilst others were content to see anything that popped up.  A great guy from Kent called Alan, for example, managed over 70 lifers on the trip.  The rest of the group were a pleasure to be with, and we learned many a thing from each other during our evenings together. The hotel, Villa Volgy in which we stayed, was of a very high standard both accommodation and foodwise. The town of Eger with its castle, and its wine cellars, and superb restaurants, was charming. I would also like to thank our drivers László, Peter and János for their skills and humour.


Hungary is a country of contrasts.  Much of it looks like a western democracy, whilst still retaining remnants of the Soviet era.  Most Hungarians to whom I spoke, through an interpreter or in a mixture of broken English and German, looked on the communist era as one of stability and were uneasy in the current economic and political climate, where unemployment is high and immigration a major issue.  The wonderful taxi driver who drove me back across Budapest on the way home showed me where the 1956 uprising was brutally quelled by troops from Russia and Rumania, but still preferred socialism (not communism he emphasised) to capitalism.  The country faces many challenges both economically and socially, as does the rest of Europe, and for the sake of conservation at least, I hope that it will not entirely embrace, except to their advantage, the insidious spread of soulless American-style corporatism that infests Western Europe.

Hungary seemingly has an excellent approach to conservation.  For me this was typified by the Turtle Dove, which were everywhere when compared to my family holiday in France last year.  The penalties for shooting or interfering protected species are high, although it was sad to hear that some hunters from elsewhere in Europe, where they’ve managed to slaughter most of their own birds, are now expanding into Eastern Europe.  As conservationists we have a duty to protect our biodiversity and the Hungarian record with rare species is something to be proud of.  Special birds such as, Ferruginous Duck, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker, Long-Legged Buzzard, Red-Footed Falcon, White-Backed Woodpecker, and Ural Owl are all expanding.  Another success story is the Roller, which is declining in the rest of Europe.  Roy told me that Spanish scientists have even visited Hungary with the aim of establishing how check the downward trend in their own Roller populations. 

Fire Salamander
Scops Owl

(Both photos courtesy of John Lowe)

This is a country that I’d like to return to, where I felt free to roam, where the people were friendly, the food and wine (try the Tokaj!) were exceptional, and the birds – oh yes, they were pretty good as well!


Red-Necked Grebe – a nesting pair seen near Mezőkövesd.

Black-Necked Grebe – seen only at Hortobágy Halastó.

Great-Crested Grebe – fairly common.

Cormorant – common throughout.

Pygmy Cormorant – seen in the eastern part of the country and at Hortobágy Halastó.

Coot - fairly common.

Moorhen - fairly common although quite elusive.

Great Bittern – heard from reedbeds in the Hortobágy Halastó.

Little Bittern (heard only) – heard in the Hortobágy Halastó.

Grey Heron – seen on most wetlands.

Purple Heron - seen on most wetlands.

Great White Egret - seen on most wetlands.

Little Egret - seen on most wetlands.

Squacco Heron- single birds seen at Tiszaalpár oxbow lakes, on the Tisza and the Hortobágy Halastó.

Night Heron - seen on most wetlands and very visible and active.

Spoonbill - seen at Dinnyés, Tiszaalpár, Szeged fishponds, and Hortobágy Halastó.

Black Stork – seen in and around riverine forest in the Tisza valley, and at Retimajor.

White Stork- a common bird much revered in Hungary.

Common Crane – small groups seen on the Hortobágy.

Mute Swan – fairly common.

Greylag Goose – the only goose seen around most wetlands.

Mallard - common throughout.

Gadwall – several seen at Hortobágy Halastó and at Dinnyés.

Wigeon - a single bird seen at Tiszaalpár oxbow lakes.

Shoveler – seen at most wetland sites.

Garganey – seen at Szeged fishponds & Dinnyés.

Ferruginous Duck – surprisingly common on various fishpond complexes.

Tufted Duck – seen only at Kisköre fishponds.

Red-Crested Pochard – seen at Dinnyés, Retimajor & Pacsmag fishponds.

Pochard - seen at most wetland sites.

Marsh Harrier – the most common raptor seen in a variety of habitats.

Montagu’s Harrier – several bids seen on the Hortobágy, and one on the Kiskunság .

Pallid Harrier - a single male bird at Darassa on the Hortobágy.

Black Kite – single birds seen near to Dunaújváros  and at Gelej fishponds.

Common Buzzard  - common throughout.

Long-Legged Buzzard – a single bird seen at Darassa on the Hortobágy.

Honey Buzzard – one seen near to Dunaújváros; several seen in the Bükk Hills.

Sparrowhawk – seen regularly at Pusztaszabolcs.

White-Tailed Eagle – several bids seen around fishpond complexes including the Hortobágy, and near to Lake Tisza.

Eastern Imperial Eagle – birds seen at the famous site near to the M3 motorway, hunting on the Borsodi plains, at a nest site, and in the Bükk Hills.

Lesser Spotted Eagle – seen only in the Bükk Hills.

Short-Toed Eagle – seen in the Bükk Hills and one bird near Darassa.

Saker – seen nesting on pylons on the Borsodi plains and on the Hortobágy puszta.

Red-Footed Falcon – three birds seen at Dinnyés, many seen at the largest European colony on the Hortobágy, also seen around Balmazújváros sewage works.

Kestrel – fairly common.

Hobby – one bird seen at the small wetland near Mezőkövesd, others on the Heres plains near Komló.

Great Bustard – several birds seen on the Hortobágy.

Pheasant - common throughout.

Quail – heard on the Hortobágy, and near Pusztaszabolcs.

Little Ringed Plover – one seen at some gravel/sand pits near to Szeged.

Lapwing - fairly common.

Avocet – seen at Szeged, and on the Borsodi plains.

Black-Winged Stilt - seen only at Szeged fishponds.

Black-Tailed Godwit – a few seen on the Hortobágy.

Wood Sandpiper – by far the most common passage wader, a flock of 350+ was seen at Retimajor.

Ruff – fairly common passage wader, particularly in the marshy areas of the Hortobágy.

Redshank – a few seen on the Hortobágy.

Spotted Redshank – birds seen at Szeged and Retimajor fishponds.

Common Sandpiper – seen on the Duna near to Dunaújváros, and at Bogács Reservoir.

Yellow-Legged Gull  - common throughout.

Black-Headed Gull – large colonies in the Hortobágy.

Mediterranean Gull – seen at Szeged and Retimajor fishponds.

Common Tern – small numbers on a number of fishponds and the Hortobágy.

White-Winged Black Tern – good numbers of this stunning bird on the marshy areas of the Hortobágy, and the Borsodi Plains, also at Dinnyés.

Black Tern – seen in most of the marshy areas and fishponds.

Whiskered Tern - seen in most of the marshy areas and fishponds.

Woodpigeon - common throughout.

Turtle Dove – fairly common throughout.

Stock Dove – several seen in the Bükk Hills.

Collared Dove – a fairly common urban bird.

Kingfisher – seen at the Gemenc Duna park, and the wetland near Mezőkövesd.

Hoopoe – fairly common throughout.

Golden Oriole – a common bird in Hungary.

Roller – fairly common on the Pusztas – a Hungarian success story.

Scops Owl - seen and heard in the Villa Volgy hotel grounds.

Little Owl (a dead bird by the minor road to Adács near to the Imperial Eagle site on the M3 motorway).

Cuckoo – a common bird in Hungary.

Great Spotted Woodpecker –fairly common.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker – the most visible woodpecker in the Bükk Hills.

Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker (heard only) – one heard from woodland near Bükkzsérc.

White-Backed Woodpecker – a pair seen at a nest site in the Bükk Hills.

Syrian Woodpecker – seen in the centre of Eger, on the Hortobágy and near the island nature reserve on the Duna.

Black Woodpecker- seen at Gemenc Duna Park, and seen and heard in the Bükk Hills.

Green Woodpecker – fairly common.

Grey-Headed Woodpecker - heard only in the Bükk Hills.

Wryneck – fairly common and vocal – a pair seen in a supermarket car park.

(Hill) Treecreeper – seen only in the Bükk Hills where it inhabits higher altitude than its other congener – hence the local name “Hill Treecreeper”.

Short-Toed Treecreeper – seen only in the Bükk Hills.

Skylark – fairly common.

Swift – a small party in Eger were the only birds seen.

Swallow - common throughout.

House Martin - common throughout.

Sand Martin – a large colony on the Hortobágy.

Water Pipit – one seen at Bogács fishponds.

Tree Pipit – seen only in the Bükk Hills.

Yellow Wagtail (race flavissima or Blue-Headed Wagtail and a couple of the race thunbergii - also known as Grey-Headed Wagtail) -  common throughout.

Pied “White” Wagtail  - common throughout.

Northern Wheatear – a few seen on the Hortobágy.

Redstart – seen only at a campsite near the Bükk Hills visitor centre.

Black Redstart – seen at Pusztaszabolcs, and around the campsite in the Bükk Hills.

Stonechat – a fairly common roadside bird.

Whinchat – several noted from scrubby areas on the plains and in the Bükk Hills.

Robin – a few typically skulking birds seen in the Bükk Hills.

Nightingale - common throughout.

Bluethroat – birds seen or heard at Szeged, at a wetland on the Borsodi plains, and at Dinnyés.

Blackbird  - common throughout.

Song Thrush – fairly common.

Mistle Thrush – fairly common particularly in the Bükk Hills.

Grasshopper Warbler – heard only at Dinnyés and near Novaj.

River Warbler – fairly common – birds seen on an island nature reserve on the Duna, at Gemenc Duna Park, in the Bükk Hills, and in valleys around Novaj.

Savi’s Warbler – very common and visible in most reedbeds.

Reed Warbler - common throughout.

Great Reed Warbler – very common in most reedbeds.

Sedge Warbler – fairly common.

Moustached Warbler – seen only at Szeged and heard at Hortobágy Halastó.

Marsh Warbler – heard in the Bükk Hills and near to Mezőkövesd.

Blackcap - common throughout.

Garden Warbler – heard only in the Bükk Hills.

Barred Warbler – fairly common in scrubby habitat in the east of the country.

Whitethroat – fairly common.

Lesser Whitethroat - common throughout.

Willow Warbler – one only seen in the Bükk Hills.

Chiffchaff - common throughout.

Wood Warbler – common in the Bükk Hills and suitable woodland.

Nuthatch – noted only in the Bükk Hills.

Spotted Flycatcher – one seen at Novaj.

Red-Breasted Flycatcher – one heard in the Bükk Hills at the top of the Hor-Volgy.

Collared Flycatcher – common in suitable habitat, particularly in the Bükk Hills.

Red-Backed Shrike - common throughout.

Lesser-Grey Shrike – seen only at Novaj – this species doesn’t arrive until mid-May.

Great Tit - common throughout.

Coal Tit – a few seen in the Bükk Hills and around Villa Volgy.

Blue Tit - common throughout.

Long-Tailed Tit (white-headed continental race) – seen in the Bükk Hills.

Penduline Tit – seen nest building at the small wetland near Mezőkövesd, and at several other wetland sites.

Bearded Tit – noted from Pacsmag fishponds, and the Hortobágy Halastó.

Magpie - common throughout.

Jay – noted only from the Bükk Hills.

Starling  - common throughout.

Carrion Crow – a few noted in western Hungary.

Hooded Crow - common throughout.

Jackdaw – the odd bird seen on the northern part of the Hortobágy – a rare bird in Hungary.

Raven  - several birds seen in the Bükk Hills whilst raptor-watching.

Rook – fairly common.

Hawfinch – the most common finch, seen at close range in a park in the middle of Eger, and very common in and around the Bükk Hills.

Chaffinch - common throughout.

Goldfinch – fairly common throughout.

Greenfinch - fairly common throughout.

Serin – seen and heard in the Bükk Hills particularly around the campsite near to Felsőtárkány .

Linnet – several seen at Bogács reservoir were the only ones noted on this trip.

House Sparrow common throughout.

Tree Sparrow - common throughout.

Reed Bunting – seen in suitable habitat.

Yellowhammer – seen in different types of woodland.

Corn Bunting - common throughout.

154 - species seen or heard


Roe Deer
Red Squirrel


Duke of Burgundy
Common Blue
Dingy Skipper
Grizzled Skipper


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