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A Report from

Spring in Hungary, May 8th 2000,

John Wilson

This report first appeared in the Lancaster and District Birdwatching Society Newsletter.

May 8th 2000, found Robin, Graham, Jarrod and I heading for the Kiskungshag National Park on a weeks  exchange visit with Leighton's Hungarian twin.   Just an hour's car journey from Budapest, Kiskunshag protects the traditional wildlife and landscape of the Great Hungarian Plain or Pustza. But unlike most National Parks, it covers seven unconnected and widely spread areas.

We were based at Lake Kolon; a reedbed area ca 8 times the size of Leighton.   Superficially it has many similarities to Leighton, a failed drainage attempt earlier this century and the National Park have been trying to re-instate it.  There is a causeway running across the centre, only passable in wellingtons!  But there is only a small area of open water.  We marvelled at the height of the new reed, well above our heads, Leighton's would be only about waist height by this time, and the stems were almost twice as thick.  Eight species of heron nested in the reedbed, making our one species look a bit sick.  Great reed warblers were abundant along the edges while last year they caught just over 3,000 moustached warblers, although because they were busy feeding young we heard very few singing. Savi's warblers were abundant.  The scrub held Black woodpeckers, Wrynecks, River warblers Penduline tits and many Golden Orioles and a nesting pair of White-tailed eagles.  But bird song was really rather poor, it took us 6 days to find a wren, but the many nightingales did rather make up for this!  I had sent them details of our bearded tit nest boxes as Lake Kolon like Leighton is a very wet reedbed.  They said that only one was occupied of the 18 they had made.  They took me to this nest and I was surprised to find it occupied by five ready to fly Moustached warblers.  They had changed the design somewhat making the nestbox much slimmer and I doubt very much if they would be suitable for bearded tits.  I have never seen so many dragonflies, in the early mornings many tree trunks were festooned with hundreds, a banquet for Red-footed falcons and Hobby

Highlights in the parks other areas were many. Forty eight displaying Great bustard; the park protects the largest population in Hungary of ca 400 birds.  They have a full time worker who liaises with the local farmers who inform him of any nests they find when working their crops.  He replaces the eggs with dummy eggs to cut down predation; the eggs are kept in an incubator until almost hatched then replaced back in the nest.  This, they claim, has materially increased the survival rate.

A boat trip to another eight species heron colony on a reed island in a flooded area, to help with a population count produced at least 4 pairs of Pygmy cormorant.  Bee-eaters and Rollers were common. The latter are being encouraged by a new nest box scheme and the park are putting up ca 50 nestboxes. Red-footed falcons are also provided with artificial nests as are Saker Falcon.

Habitat management is on a different scale to Britain.   Many new wetlands have recently been re-created mainly by simply bunging up the drainage dykes or occasionally scraping areas.  These new wetlands held breeding Avocet, Black-winged stilts, Ferruginous duck, three marsh terns with whiskered the commonest, and Kentish plover.   Spring wader passage was almost over but there were still a few hundred Ruff, Wood sand and Little stint with smaller numbers of Spotted red and Greenshank.

The open grasslands produced more Great bustards, Collared Pratincole, lots of lapwing, redshank and blue headed wagtails.   Saker and Buzzard nesting in isolated trees, while Montagu's harrier were well distributed and Marsh harriers were abundant.   Whilst Bitterns boomed from even the smallest reed area and Corn buntings and Tawny pipits were everywhere.

A visit to another 1000 ha. reed-bed produced the highest numbers of Bitterns.  Up to 12 could be heard from one area and on occasions three were booming at once.  Two Black storks fed in the shallow water areas.  But the bird of this area though was a White tailed plover, an Asian vagrant and only the eighth Hungarian record.  The local twitcher (nick-named Piggy) was called on his mobile, he was 5 km away and started to try and reach us across country by pushbike!  An hour later he was still 5 km away so Emil our guide went to pick him up in the Land Rover, another car load of birders appeared and that was the total twitch!  We wondered how many birders would have arrived if this bird had turned up in Britain!  Visitor facilities are very rudimentary just a few tower hides holding 5 people at most, and almost all would have failed on H&S grounds in Britain!

If you would like to visit Kiskunshag please contact Robin or my self for details.  Ringers are especially welcome. They ring from mid July to early November and can guarantee an average of 200 birds per day.  It says something for the Hungarian weather that during that period last year they only missed four days due to bad weather!

The hospitality and company was superb.  Six or seven of the Parks staff are visiting Leighton in mid June. Hungarian birding to us was really superb; I wonder what they will think of Britain, we intend to take them to several sea bird colonies, as some of them have never even seen the sea, never mind nesting sea birds!  I am sure they will be just as equally impressed.

John Wilson

*The White-tailed Plover was one of several recorded during the period across Europe, including Scandinavia.  See European News in the various birdwatching magazines for further details.  Alas, none in Britain (or Ireland!).  Ed

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