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A Report from

Eastern Europe Bird Trip - Summer 2003,

Kasper Hendriks + Rob van Bemmelen

Poland – Hungary – Croatia - Austria

Includes birds, mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians.


Rob van Bemmelen, Uithoorn
Kasper Hendriks, Leiden
Wesley Overman, Zoetermeer
Ben Wielstra, Rijnsburg


July 2003 was the moment for 4 young birders from The Netherlands to do some interesting birding in the eastern part of Europe. The month July is of course not the best time to go birding, because most birds are relatively non-active in summer. But, as all the participants attain some sort of school during the rest of the year, a trip this long in spring was no option. The group departed on Saturday the 28th of June and returned on Sunday the 27th of July 2003.


Bienze Marienus Wielstra
Ben is a 20-year-old straight A biology student at Leiden University. He knows lots about birds and on this trip he was also the man behind the identification of most reptiles and amphibians. His main task was sleeping in the back of the car and discovering nice reptiles when everyone was looking in the air.

Robertus Stephanus Anthonius van Bemmelen
Rob is a 20-year-old student biology at the University of Amsterdam and writer of the Masters of Mystery, a mystery bird competition in the well-known magazine Dutch Birding. His knowledge is not confined to birds, but knows lots about butterflies and dragonflies as well. Many new butterflies to everyone’s list are owed to Rob.

Wesley George Overman
Wesbo is also 20-years old. He has just finished his study in forestry in Gouda. His main task was, apart from now and than driving the car, reading the maps. He is interested in everything that has to do with nature and is constantly alert.

Kasper Pjotr Hendriks
Kapser is a 20-year-old Marine Technology student at the Technical University Delft. Kapser’s ‘heavy’ task was driving the car. His interest is mainly birds, but seeing some nice butterflies or reptiles does not make him sick, either.


As a means of transportation we chose the old fashion car. Travelling by car is the best way to get to the most remote places in a reasonable time. The car used is a 1989 Ford Sierra station and it drove us without any car trouble, not even a flat tire. About 9000 kilometres have been driven. Lots of them on terrible roads, as you will read further on.

Most of the places visited are very hard to get to without a car and distances are considerable. Public transportation is absent or very little, mainly in Poland and Hungary. So, we cannot advise anyone to go by train and bus.


Most maps were bought in advance at a shop called Zandvliet in Leiden, The Netherlands. This shop has numerous road maps for almost every country in Europe and also lots of countries outside Europe. We bought the following maps:

Poland: Euro-regionalkarte, Polen 4, Südost (1 : 300.000) and
Euro-regionalkarte, Polen 2, Nordost (1 : 300.000);
Hungary: ADAC, Ungarn Länderkarte (1 : 350.000);
Croatia: ANWB Wegenkaart Kroatië (1 : 300.000).

These maps cost € 10 each and turned out to be quite good.

In Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia we bought some more maps, mainly of the national parks over there.


The trip consisted of a voyage from The Netherlands through Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and back to The Netherlands. In all countries it was possible to pay by credit card at the petrol stations.

No birding was done in Germany accept from the car. As one knows, highways are very good in Germany and doing a steady 150 kilometres an hour is no problem, especially in the eastern part.

As soon as one drives into Poland, beware that the roads are far from proper and the average speed may even reduce to 50 kilometres an hour! Highways are absent, except from the cities Warsaw and Kraków. Many shops can be found along the main roads, as well as petrol and gas stations. Beware though, that from the main roads there are hardly any of these and you will need up to half a tank to get to the next one. Campsites are terribly hard to find in Poland and one should inform before going to Poland. Hotels and motels are also few, mainly near Warsaw and Kraków. All is quite cheap compared to western European countries. Restaurants are good and the Polish food must be recommended. Beware that hardly any Polish people speak German or English and communication is tough, especially out of the cities. Banks with machines to cash money are only found in the larger cities.

For the birding in Poland we had lots of help from Felix Felger from Kraków. He is a freelance guide in Poland and knows extremely much about bird life in Poland, and about butterflies and mammals as well. He has lots of good contacts throughout the country to help finding some very tough species. He travelled together with us in our car from Sunday the 29th of June as we met in Warsaw until Tuesday the 8th of July as we waved him goodbye in Nowy Targ (southern Poland). We advise every birder with the slightest idea of visiting Poland to contact Felix and to consider travelling with him.

During our travel from Poland to Hungary we drove through Slovakia. The roads in Slovakia are very decent and one can travel quite fast through Slovakia. Especially the petrol in Slovakia is very cheap, so we made sure to fill up the tank before leaving the country. Some birds were observed. Afterwards, it might have been worth to do some birding in Slovakia, but at the time we didn’t find the need to do so, because all species should be found in Poland and Hungary.

Roads in Hungary are mainly good, especially the main ones. Campsites are only few, but near Hortobágy, the most interesting place to go birding, there are few. Also, near the Hortobágy, one can find lots of small hotels and zimmer frei. People speak some words German or English. The weather in Hungary was very good at the time we visited the Hortobágy, although in the afternoon one might have to keep a siesta because of the high temperature. Cashing money is possible in larger villages that can be found along the main road.

To get to the most interesting part of Croatia, the coast, one first has to travel through the northern part and pass cities such as Osijek. Stuff in this part of Croatia is very cheap. Lots of tracks relating to the past war can be observed and give a sad vision of the country. After driving through Bosnia and Herzegovina and arriving in Croatia again, the country seems totally different. Along the coast the country shows hardly any signs of the war anymore. Many tourists are on the campsites near the beaches, mainly Germans and Dutch. The prices are high and are comparable to western Europe. People along the coast almost always speak German and otherwise English. Campsites are numerous along the coast, but not to be found in the northern part near Hungary. Hotels are everywhere, though. Exceptional is the lacking of a campsite on the very touristic island Vis. Except from hotels, rooms can be found there.

For travelling to the islands of Croatia, we used the ships of Jadrolinija. Their schedules can be found on their homepage:

Also, people travelling to Croatia and Slovenia should visit the beautiful new website of GreenEye, Lajos Nemeth, part of this tour operation, provided us with lots of valuable information.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
For the journey from the northern part of Croatia (Đakovo) to the southern part of Croatia (the coast near Metković) one can choose to drive in a huge turn to stay inside Croatia or to drive in a straight line to the south through Bosnia and Herzegovina. We chose for the last option. Driving through Bosnia was no fun at all. The roads are mainly terrible, especially because of the large and smelly trucks. An average speed of 50 kilometres an hour is to be taken notice of. Also, road maps are dated and not to be used from the main roads. It is important to note that there are still a lot of landmines everywhere, especially away from the main roads.

While driving towards Austria from Croatia, our route led through Slovenia. The roads were perfect in this country. More is not to be told, since we drove through Slovenia within two hours and do not know anything more about the country.

Austria is much like Germany. Roads are good. But, prices are high and many roads aren’t for free! We stayed in hart of Tirol for a couple of days. The campsite as well as the youth hostel was very expensive.


The target species for this vacation are listed below. We only want to talk with you about the birds that are printed in bold.

Some explanation might be in place, since not every species was seen and will sometimes not be discussed further on.

Yelkouan Shearwater

Little Crake

Thrush Nightingale

Imperial Eagle

Great Snipe

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Pallas’s Gull

Eastern Orphean Warbler

Long-legged Buzzard

White-winged Tern

Moustached Warbler

Red-footed Falcon

Great Grey Owl

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Eleonora’s Falcon

Ural Owl

Collared Flycatcher


Tengmalm’s Owl

Sombre Tit


Pygmy Owl

Rock Nuthatch


Syrian Woodpecker

Lesser Grey Shrike


White-backed Woodpecker


Hazel Grouse

Three-toed Woodpecker

Citril Finch

Rock Partridge

Alpine Accentor

Ortolan Bunting

The mentioned species are in this list if it constituted a new species to one or more of the participants. Most owls were not seen, as wasn’t Capercaillie. This has got everything to do with us travelling in July, probably the worst month for these species. Unexpected species that made the pain easier have been seen extra, though. They include Steppe Eagle (Hungary) and Spanish Sparrow (Croatia), for example. Also, some species seemed impossible in summer but were observed after all (Rock Partridge, Little Crake, Great Snipe, Sombre Tit). Ortolan Bunting was especially important because three of us missed it somehow in Spain in the summer of 2002, although we have all seen it in The Netherlands before. Lanner was never seen, but its appearance in the southern part of Croatia was never certain. So, not seeing it was no unexpected thing. Pallas’s Gull is a rare but regular visitor to the Hortobágy in Hungary, but only from August onwards. Seeing one was therefore already hardly possible, as we knew in advance.


In total, this vacation cost not more than € 750 per person for almost 4 weeks. This includes food, a revision of the car in advance, petrol, accommodation, guidance in Poland for 8 days and all the other stuff.


A list of the used literature during the journey can be found below. Furthermore, some remarks must be made about these identification guides.

The butterfly guide (Lewington, R & Tolman, T) book offers beautiful colour plates and a lot of information in the text captions about distribution and food plants. It should be, according to the name [The New Butterfly Guide] be suitable for identification. It turned out, and not for the first time, to be difficult to use for this purpose as there is hardly any text on identification, neither in the main text nor in the colour plates. This results in a conflicting situation: is this difference I see in the drawing a good identification feature or just a mistake of the drawer? In addition, the distribution maps turned out to be of outstanding low quality. One can extract better info out of the distribution caption in the text. The amphibians and reptile book is a good guide, but the colour plates can never cover the whole range of variation in a species such as the Italian Wall Lizard Podarcis sicula. Also, it doesn’t have captions on the identifications of tadpoles. The rest of the text, however, is very, very good.

Although the dragonfly guide (Bos, F & Wasscher, M) doesn’t cover this part of Europe, all species could be identified without much trouble. Even Sysiothemis nigra and Lindenia tetraphylla, which are both only covered by one small piece of text without accompanying photographs, were identified without trouble.

Especially the Collins Bird Guide can not be praised enough. Excellent drawings! We advise never to do a birding trip in Europe without this guide.

The mammal guide was good, too. Note, however, that we didn’t use it very much. In the cases where we should have used it (dead shrews and flying bats), we didn’t use it always…

Arnold, N & Ovenden, D (1999). Collins Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins, London. ISBN 0002199645

Barrett, P & MacDonald, D (1993). Collins Field Guide: Mammals of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins, London. ISBN 0002197790

Bos, F & Wasscher, M (1998). Veldgids Libellen. Stichting Uitgeverij KNNV, Utrecht. ISBN 9050111017

Grant, P J, Mullarney, K, Svensson, L, Zetterström, D (1999). Collins Bird Guide.   The most complete guide to the birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins,   London.

Lewington, R & Tolman, T (1997). De Nieuwe Vlindergids. Tirion, Baarn. ISBN 9052103259


Of course this trip would not have yielded so many birds without the help of lots of people that provided us lots of information. Most of them responded to one of our replies for information through the Euro Bird Net and the Euro Bird Net NL.

We therefore would very much like to thank the following people.

Poland: Felix Felger;
Hungary: Michel Veldt, Szabolcs Kókay, Zsolt Végvári, Ab Steenvoorden, Bertus de
Lange, Prof. Dr. Peter Finke, Sander Bot;
Croatia: Nino Mihokovic, Lajos Németh, Mario Romulić;
Austria: Co van der Wardt, Jan Hein van Steenis, Hans Mom, Gertjan Mom, Martijn de Jonge, Ies Goedbloed, Sjaak Schilperoort.


The text regarding the introduction and days 1 to 17 has been written by Kasper Hendriks. Rob van Bemmelen wrote about days 18 to 30 and added the observations of butterflies and dragonflies to the part of days 1 to 17. Also, he provided the checklists at the end of this report. This report can also be found on the World Wide Web, which Wesley Overman made possible.


Following is a day-to-day description of our trip. At the beginning of every day some interesting data are given: the most interesting bird species of that day (birds at a glance) and the amount of kilometres driven that day. The report is written chronological and includes descriptions of most places we visited. Species of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian have their English name written in bold. The mammals, reptiles and amphibian English names are also followed by their scientific names in italics. Only the scientific names of butterflies and dragonflies are given, because we didn’t knew English names of every species and in these insects, scientific names are more well-known. They are, off course, in italics.

An exact description of the places where most species have been found in Poland is not given. It would not be very decent towards our guide over there to give everyone his special information for free. So, if one wants to know more about the birds over there and where to find them, contact Felix Felger ( For the other visited countries we did try to give clear descriptions to find places with interesting species as one might expect.

Last but not least we would like to make you aware of the fact that this report can also be found on the web at the address We have uploaded lots of photographs to this site to contribute to the text, all shot on this trip. They include photographs of birds, some mammals, lots of butterflies, dragonflies and lots of reptiles and amphibians. Also, some pictures of the surroundings can be found. Noteworthy are definitely the photographs of the rare Steppe Eagle seen in Hungary.

If, after the reading of this report, you have any questions about the travelling, birds or whatsoever, feel free to contact us.

Rob van Bemmelen:
Kasper Hendriks:

Day 1: Saturday, June the 28th, 2003: home - Koło

Birds at a glance: Common Crane, Montagu’s Harrier

1265 kilometres of driving

At 5 am we assembled in Leiden, The Netherlands, with the idea to drive as far as possible towards our destination for Sunday afternoon, Warsaw. Near Arnhem, a very nice Black Woodpecker crossed the road. From the border with Germany, we were able to follow the road E30 that goes from the border till Warsaw. All went very quickly as one is used to in Germany. Near Hanover we spotted our first Red Kites and Black Kites. Near Frankfurt (the Frankfurt at the Polish border) we saw a couple of Ravens whilst an hour of waiting at the border in pure heat.

As we drove into Poland, we immediately noticed the roads. They were terrible - compared to western standards. And the further we drove into Poland and through the countryside, the worse the roads became. Ruts of more than 10 centimetres deep, caused by heavy trucks, aren’t anything unusual. Bikers drive along the roads and are overtaken by heavy trucks while they are being overtaken by smelly cars themselves. So, keep in mind that travelling through western Poland is not possible at an average speed of more than 50 to 60 kilometres per hour, mainly because of the fact that this part of the country does not has such a thing as highways and the roads cross numerous small villages with traffic lights. A good tip for future travellers is to cash money as soon as possible after the Polish border. We didn’t and had to wait until Warsaw. Luckily we had enough food with us.

Birds we saw along the road include Common Cranes in the vast fields and Crested Larks at the MacDonald’s restaurant in Posnan. Near Kronin, still along the road E30, we observed a male Montagu’s Harrier and our first Red-backed Shrike.

As soon as we had driven through Posnan and stopped at the MacDonald’s restaurant and the petrol station, we had found out that hardly anyone in Poland spoke German or English. Finding a campsite near Warsaw would become problematic and therefore we found ourselves a nice place in the farmland between some bushes to stay for the night, just a few kilometres from the road E30 near Koło. The spot was beautiful and we saw our first nice species around the tent. The most interesting were Red-backed Shrike, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting (about 10), Fieldfare, Marsh Warbler, Little Grebe and Golden Oriole. The butterfly species Thymelicus lineola was also found here.

Although camping in the wild is prohibited in Poland, we had no problems at all. People passed by but didn’t find our presence any problem, so it seemed.

Day 2: Sunday, June the 29th, 2003: Kampinoski NP – Biebrza NP

Birds at a glance: Little Tern, Trush Nightingale, Aquatic Warbler, Eagle Owl

460 kilometres of driving

We woke up very early. Some of us at 5 am. This was because of the fact that sun rises quite a bit earlier in Poland than in The Netherlands. We started the day with some good birding near the tent and found at least 7 Red-backed Shrikes, many Corn Buntings, lots of White Storks, 2 Hooded Crows and 4 Golden Orioles. Two Issoria lathonia were found there, too.

At 8 am we drove further for the last bit of travelling towards Warsaw. At 3 pm we would meet our guide for that week in Poland, Felix Felger, at the central station over there. But, we had some time left and decided to have a look in a national park just west of Warsaw: Kampinoski Park Narodowy. Near Roztoka, in the middle of the park along the road 579, we found a small brook next to a campsite. Near the brook we observed 3 Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Black Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Black Redstart, a family of Willow Tit, lots of Golden Orioles and a Grass Snake Natrix natrix. Nice butterfly species were abundant, especially the 3 individuals of Lycaena alciphron were very beautifull. Other species found here were 1 Boloria dia, 1 Argynnis paphia, lots of Melitaea athalia, Coenonympha arcania, and C tullia. Dragonflies found here include 1 Calopteryx virgo, lots of C splendens, Coenagrion puella, Platycnemis pennipes, 2 Somatochlora metallica, 2 Libellula depressa and L quadrimaculata.

The rest of the park did not seem very interesting, though the landscape was beautiful. In a forest mainly consisting of spruce we found Wood Warbler, Crested Tit, Goldcrest and Coal Tit.

We drove north towards the river Wisła. Then we drove east along the road 575 and found a nice spot near de river in between the roads 7 and 85. This spot can be reached by driving along the 575 eastwards and passing underneath the road 7. Directly after the viaduct, one can turn left and that small road ends near the river Wisła. Birds we saw along and over the river include Little Tern (10), Black-headed Gull, Pontic Gull (2 adult and about 5 immature birds), Black Tern, Marsh Warbler, Redshank and Little Ringed Plover. In the short time we could be there, the following butterflies were found: at least 2 Cupido argiades, Lycaena alciphron, one male L dispar rutila, one Apatura iris, one Melanargia galathea and some Issoria lathonia. Dragonflies here were Calopteryx splendens, Ischnura elegans and Orthetrum cancellatum. We ran out of time and headed for the central station.

At the central station of Warsaw we met Felix Felger at a few minutes past 3 pm. After a short talk and a cold drink we pushed the five of us in the car and headed towards our first real target area: the Biebrza marshes. On our way, we saw some of the birds seen before.

We entered the Biebrza National Park from the south and drove the only main road through the area north from Strękowa Góra. Along this road, a quick stop in a nice vast area yielded a beautiful Thrush Nightingale. Also, we saw a very distant Aquila, which afterwards might have been our only Greater Spotted Eagle of the journey, for we later on heard about a bird being present there for some time. The next very special observation we did, was of a Pine Marten Martes martes standing and jumping on the road right in front of us for half a minute. Further along the road, as it crosses a small river (small in summer), we stopped and checked for Beaver Castor fiber and White-backed Woodpecker. We saw neither. Some Garden Warblers showed very nice, though.

Again we drove on northwards and stopped at a watching tower on the left side of the road. Here, we encountered our first ever Elks Alces alces! At least 15 of these magnificent animals stood in the vast fields in front of the tower. Small groups of Common Cranes flew past whilst calling very loud  - a beautiful addition to the already mighty scenery. In the bushes in front of the tower not less than 5 Aquatic Warblers sang their song, accompanied by at least 1 Sedge Warbler. None of these birds had the slightest intention of showing itself to us, unfortunately. A Red-bellied Toad Bombina bombina called from near the car.

As the night fell in, we decided to drive towards our place to stay for the night. That would be at a very good friend of Felix: Chris, the king of the marshes. Chris owns a small campsite near Budy. The place was amazing for birds. After we had put up our tents, we were overwhelmed by all the goodies. A Woodcock was displaying above the campsite till midnight and a Nightjar was calling from a distance. Also calling from a distance was a very unexpected Eagle Owl. A Tawny Owl was calling at the same time and a noisy couple of Common Cranes flew past.

Next to a cosy bonfire we eat our meals and had something to drink, together with Chris. Chris than invited us into his house. The house was a wooden one and typical for the Polish countryside, as we were being told. The interior was astonishing with lots and lots of books and old cutlery on the walls. Also, Chris had a collection of old LP’s and an old-fashion player he had to kick about before it could play. He donated us some nice cards with bird pictures on it. Than he showed his cooling cellar and his second house and later on even his third house. Filled with impressions from that first real day in Poland we fell asleep to weak up quite early the next morning.

Day 3: Monday, June the 30th, 2003: Biebrza NP - Białystok

Birds at a glance: Great Snipe, White-tailed Eagle, Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle

208 kilometres of driving

We rose at about 5 am and started the day with a walk near the campsite and the accompanying forest. Behind the campsite, not less than 15 or so Hoopoes flew around. Also, Common Cranes passed by now and then and Golden Orioles were singing everywhere.

After our walk, we drove south to the famous Great Snipe lekking place, south of Budy. The spot is reached by a muddy track that starts from a parking place and first leads through some forest and later on through vast reed lands. Along the track, we searched the fields and saw some impressive Elks Alces alces here and there, some of which were very close. Also along the track, we observed a group of about 15 Long-tailed Tits, some of which showed a largely white head. Though, we didn’t identify them as belonging to the northern subspecies caudatus because of the lacking of broad white edges to the tertials and the absence of much white on the flanks.  Felix told us these birds are observed regularly in the area, and might belong to some intermediate form. Furthermore, we found tracks of Wolves Canis lupus and Beavers Castor fiber in the mud.

Near the Great Snipe lekking spot, we didn’t find any Great Snipes, which is nothing unexpected given the season. But, as we arrived at the higher watching tower, which can be found further along the track, two of us were lucky enough to observe a Great Snipe flying very fast past the watching tower. As the bird turned, they observed the white on the outer tail feathers, barred wings and bulky appearance.

We stayed in the tower till the end of the morning and hoped for goodies such as Lesser Spotted Eagle and Black Stork, which normally can be found rising above the forest east of the tower as the temperature rises. Unfortunately, the clouds brought us cold and rain and we hardly saw anything. Luckily, a couple of White-tailed Eagles showed up at a considerable distance and 5 Great Egrets were present. Rob, however, went down to search for butterflies. This turned out to be a good choice, as one Nymphalis xanthomelas was found! Another goodie, but less rare, found in the surroundings of the tower, was Melitaea diamina. Other species here were Lycaena virgaureae, Argynnis aglaja, Melitaea athalia and Heteropterus morpheus.

We decided to walk further into the area, which brought us in a mixture of agricultural land and reed lands with some scattered trees. The birds we spotted here include Penduline Tit, 2 adult Black Storks, about 5 singing Common Rosefinches, 1 calling Aquatic Warbler, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 Great Grey Shrikes and lots of Fieldfares. The footprint of a Wolf Canis lupus was quite impressive. Suddenly a large butterfly flew towards us and landed. It turned out to be our second Nymphalis xanthomelas! Later on, another large Nymphalis, either N xanthomelas or Nymphalis polychloros was seen. According to Felix, it was probably a N polychloros, but this individual wasn’t seen well. Other butterflies found here were Polyommatus amandus, Brenthis ino and some more Heteropterus morpheus.

Walking back to the car through the forest, a small open area at the northern side of the track was encountered, a few hundred metres before reaching the car. Here, lots of butterflies were present, of which Maculinea arion was the best. The two Apatura iris were very nice, too.

After having seen enough of this area, we drove back to the campsite and packed our stuff to head for the next birding place. We drove to the north and stopped in Goniądz to fill up the petrel level of the car. In the centre and around the village, Serin turned out to be numerous. In the west of this village, one can reach spots to look out over vast reed beds, all part of the Biebrza National Park. Here, we heard a nice Great Reed Warbler and some Penduline Tits. Next, we drove west from the village onwards and thereby drove strait through the reed beds. We stopped at a watching tower along the road. Once again, we heard an Aquatic Warbler sing and we found ourselves becoming more and more frustrated by the fact that we just could not see the bird. A Black Tern passed by. Normally, this spot is very good for large numbers of both Black Tern and White-winged Black Tern. Unfortunately, the low water levels had made the birds choose better places.

At the end of the afternoon, we visited an area that can be reached through Kapice, a small village north east of the road 65. Felix arranged a place for the car to be put so we could leave it save with all our stuff in it. Our main goal at this spot was to see the magnificent Lesser Spotted Eagle, a new species for all of us.

The beginning of the walk brought us through a field with some spread trees. Here, we observed lots and lots of Golden Orioles, some of which gave some splendid views. The birds were feeding their young and tended to be very noisy. Not much further along the path, our first encounter with a Lesser Spotted Eagle became a fact. And a nice bird it was, probably a 3rd cy. First we saw it fly at quite a distance and then it sat down in a spruce, also at quite a distance.

We walked further along a track that leads into a gathering of large fields with mainly grass. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the presence of tens of White Storks and Common Cranes here and there in the fields. As the track led through a dense part of bushes, we found some Red-backed Shrikes and Garden Warblers. Again some further along the track, about 4 or 5 kilometres from the car as we speak, the track again led through a vast open area with some scattered trees in a land mainly consisting of grass and some reed. It was here that we found a beautiful adult Lesser Spotted Eagle, first sitting on the ground and in a tree later on. We walked back along the track and near the car we saw not less than 4 Great Grey Shrikes and heard a Corncrake. Also, a Common Rosefinch was singing. At the end of the walk, our list of butterflies contained, amongst others, Coenonympha tullia and Heteropterus morpheus.

We sat down in the car and drove towards our next place to stay for the night and to do some birding. As the night had fallen in we arrived in Białystok. The campsite Felix intended to visit turned out to be closed for some strange reason. Some searching and asking around brought us at a campsite along the road 19 north of Białystok. It can be found by driving this road north towards Wasilków. A few kilometres from Białystok, there’s a slope downwards and after that a turn to the right into a village, which might have been Wasilków. Inside this turn, the campsite is on the left. The price for one night with 5 people at the campsite was only 100 zlotys. Strange enough, we were the only ones on the campsite.

We put up the tents and headed to the little famous Białystok fishponds on the south of Białystok. We hoped to hear Little Crake in the dark. The fishponds consist of a group of small artificial lakes, crossed by a track that may only be entered by foot. As we walked along he track, Felix stayed with the car to keep an eye on our belongings. Leaving a car here in the night with valuable stuff in it is strongly discommended. Along the track we heard 2 Great Reed Warblers and some Reed Warblers singing in the night. Unfortunately no Little Crakes yet.

Although it was round midnight by now, our day was not over yet. For a couple of years, more and more Blyth´s Reed Warblers are found singing in and near Białystok. Our guide Felix had contacted some people to find out the latest places. We searched for two hours or so, but round 2 am we gave up. The fact that we had exact places could not counterbalance the fact that we visited these places to late in the season.

Back at the campsite we heard Corncrake calling from a distance. Also, a Marsh Warbler sang its song.

Day 4: Tuesday, July the 1st, 2003: Białystok – near Białowieża

Birds at a glance: Syrian Woodpecker, Little Crake, Ortolan Bunting

C 100 kilometres of driving

As we woke up quite late we drove to the faculty of biology of the Białystok University. Here, a male Greater Spotted Woodpecker bred together with a female Syrian Woodpecker, the latter still being a new species to our lists. Within a few minutes we heard the calls of the female Syrian Woodpecker and one of her young. We could observe the hybrid young for some time and Wesley was able to take some photographs. The bird showed characteristics of both Greater Spotted as well as Syrian Woodpecker, though the call was very similar to Syrian Woodpecker. We were able to speak to some people from the university. One of them had caught the bird the day before and had measured it.

Other birds around the faculty include Lesser Whitethroat and Redstart.

At the end of the morning we headed for the Białystok fishponds again. Now, by light, we observed much more. We simply walked the only track that leads into the ponds until we encountered a forest that looked of lesser interest for the moment. In the ponds along the track, we observed very nice species. Tens of Whiskered Terns flew all around. It’s possible to observe all 5 species of European grebes in the ponds; we saw 4. But, we had some extremely good views of the beautiful Red-necked Grebe in summer plumage. Moreover, we saw about 15 of them! Also, we saw about 8 Blacked-necked Grebes and lots of Great Crested Grebes and Little Grebes. Nice was the observation of a Penduline Tit and we heard a couple of Common Rosefinches. Marsh Harriers flew around everywhere. Ducks we saw include Pintail, Shoveler and one couple of Wigeon. The most interesting bird is about the last we observed, a couple of kilometres along the track. While scanning the last pond on the right for ducks, a Little Crake suddenly started to call from the reed! This meant a new species for 3 of us, and a very unexpected one, too! Everyone at home had told us that finding this nice little bird in summer is almost impossible. As the bird kept calling, we could get closer and closer. At some moment, the bird must have been at a distance of less than two metres away from us! It was frustrating, but the bird was not to be seen.

Before we left the area, we had the luck of finding a nice Tree Frog Hyla arborea on the track. A Red-bellied Toad Bombina bomina was calling from one of the ponds. The area proved to be good for dragonflies, too. We found 11 species, of which Aeshna isosceles and Libellula fulva were the best. Felix, who had stayed near the car to guard our stuff, had observed a Little Bittern flying above the first pond near the car.

After this fantastic visit we drove to the campsite to pack our stuff with the idea to head for the famous Białowieża, with its even more famous national park. While packing, we observed a couple of nice birds on and around the campsite. A pair of Red-backed Shrikes, some singing Common Rosefinches and Serins and about 20 Black Terns flying over the water down the hill next to the campsite. In a large thermal air stream a group of 10 to 15 White Storks flew by, followed by a very welcome Lesser Spotted Eagle. The butterfly Lycaena virgaureae and the dragonflies Calopteryx splendens, Coenagrion pulchellum and Erythromma najas were found at the campsite.

As we headed for Białowieża, we stopped at a few places to look for Roller, a bird that can be found since a couple of years in this part of Poland. Unfortunately, the checking of the telephone poles did not result in an encounter with it. We did see lots of Whinchats, though. We also heard a Quail and almost at the same site found the much wanted Ortolan Bunting: 2 singing males along the road. This species tends to be not so easy to be found in summer, as we found out last year in Spain. Along this road, there is a small area with shrubs and grass at the north side of the road. At this spot, we found either Melitaea aurelia or M britomartis. Both butterfly species are rare in Poland and this spot would be a new location for them, according to Felix. Other species here were Aporia crateagi, Lycaena virgaureae, Polyommatus amandus and one Apatura sp. Two dragonfly species were found: Libellula fulva and Sympetrum flaveolum.

Near Białowieża, one can find a large artificial lake called Zbiornik Siemianowka. We visited some places around it, because Citrine Wagtail bred there in spring. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding it there. We saw a very nice adult White-tailed Eagle resting on the ground near the lake. Also, we observed tens of Whiskered Terns flying along the rail road that passes through the lake. We had the luck of finding at least one adult White-winged Tern, but at a considerable distance. This bird had a very bad breeding year in Europe in 2003, mainly caused by the low water levels. Other birds we observed here are Corncrake (2 heard), Common Snipe, Savi’s Warbler, Penduline Tit and Montagu’s Harrier (adult male).  The place was also very good for wagtails. We observed 10s of Blue-headed and White Wagtails, lots with young. The dragonfly Lestes dryas turned out to be quite numerous here.

Later on we drove to the southern side of the lake, near the border with Byelorussia. Felix took us to a watching tower at the edge of the forest area, from which one can see over the lake and its surrounding marshes. The spot was very nice and seemed very good to stay for a night in the wild. First, of course, we did some birding. Our first River Warbler of the vacation was heard and a Quail was calling from near the tower. A Grass Snake Natrix natrix was near the water and young Green Toads Bufo viridis were walking around under the trees. As the night fell, a Corncrake started calling, followed by 2 of his mates. Felix took us into the field from which one bird was calling in an attempt to get some views of it. By imitating the bird he managed to get it at a distance of less than two metres, but as we turned on our flashlight to see it, it had taken of already.

Still impressed by this amazing trick of Felix, we walked back to the car and the tower and made a bonfire. With a nice drink we sat down and lounged a bit. Meanwhile, we were very happily disturbed by a high-pitched call from the forest. An Edible Dormouse Glis glis was calling from very near the tower! That was an unexpected goodie. Quite a shame we were not able to see it.

We all slept in the tower or the car, for the weather that night was very good.

Day 5: Wednesday, July the 2nd, 2003: Białowieża

Birds at a glance: Lesser Spotted Eagle

208 kilometres of driving

We woke up in a storm with rain and lightning. Most of our stuff was wet, but we packed it anyhow. The weather did not seem to get any better soon, so we just drove towards Białowieża, a relatively small distance. We put up the tents on the campsite near Białowieża and luckily the weather got better and better. The target species for this area included White-backed Woodpecker and the Great Grey Owl that had been in the area since spring 2003.

We started with a drive in the surroundings. East of Pogorzelce we found 2 Grass Snakes Natrix natrix, one of which had been run over. Along the road near Teramiski we observed a Lesser Spotted Eagle and a Great Grey Shrike. Also some Red-backed Shrikes and Common Rosefinches were seen. Butterflies encountered were Polyommatus semiargus, Polyommatus amandus, Argynnis paphia, Brenthis ino and Heteropterus morpheus.

We searched almost the rest of the day for the Great Grey Owl at various spots, but never found it. The bird had been constantly located in spring, when many birders visited the area. But, in summer only a small amount of birders visit the place and the bird had not been seen for a week when we arrived. At one spot in one of the forests we searched, we heard River Warbler and saw very nice and tame Haw Finches. Lots of woodpeckers had to be checked but we didn’t manage to find a White-backed Woodpecker, yet. The female Neozphyrus quercus, a butterfly not rare in The Netherlands, we saw here turned out to be the first for this forest!

Day 6: Thursday, July the 3rd, 2003: Białowieża NP – near Kraków

Birds at a glance: White-backed Woodpecker, Collared Flycatcher

612 kilometres of driving

On Wednesday, we had met an English couple that had an appointment to visit the Białowieża National Park this morning with a guide. The park can only be visited together with a guide, which is quite expensive. We made the appointment to join them, so we could split the cost as well.

We met them in the Białowieża village in the morning round 5 am. Here we heard a River Warbler and saw one Argynnis aglaja, a butterfly. Together we drove to the National Park, which entrance looks a lot like the Jurassic Park’s one. Together with Felix we walked round the park for a while. In the park, which consists mainly of very rare primal forest, we saw some immense old trees. Quite impressive. Then we observed a quick Middle-spotted Woodpecker high in one of the trees. Also a Black Woodpecker could be added to our list. Here and there Collared Flycatchers were calling from high in the trees. Unfortunately, we did not see any bird properly. We did see some nice Spotted Flycatchers, though. The best bird we saw was suddenly along the track and only a few metres from the ground: a couple of White-backed Woodpeckers! This much wanted target species definitely made our day. We were lucky enough to have good views of the female that seemed very tame. So, pictures could be teken as well. A very welcome addition to this beautiful woodpecker was the family of Grey-headed Woodpecker that we could observe near the entrance. Other birds we saw in the park include Goldcrest, Firecrest and Wood Warbler.

The tour ended at 8 am and as we walked out of the park we saw Great Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Whinchat and the butterfly Polyommatus amandus along the track that leads from the park to the village.

Next we drove back to the campsite and packed our stuff. We drove to the south with the idea to end in Kraków that evening so we could search for Ural Owl the next day. On our way to the south we stopped in a village along the main road. From a monastery in the village we had some panoramic views over the river Wisła. Here we observed 1 Little Tern and a female Redstart. A caterpillar of the rare Hyles gallii, a moth, was found. Some Sand Lizards Lacerta agilis were also seen here. In the village lots of Serins sang from the trees. In the enormous heat we sat back in the car to drive to the south again. After some hours we drove into the rain, which brought some coolness.

In the village Trzebinia-Siersza, which can be found west of Kraków, the butterflies Aricia eumedon, Plebeius argus and Melanargia galathea were found.

At the end of the afternoon, further along the drive, between Katowice and Kraków, we had a very nice experience with a much wanted species. Paul, a friend of Felix, was busy ringing Barred Warblers behind his garden. Thanks to the contact between Felix and Paul, we had the opportunity to visit Paul while he was catching the birds. We were lucky enough to observe not less than 5 birds, including 1 in hand! Unfortunately, the beautiful males did not show up that afternoon. But, the fantastic views of the other birds compensated that.

That night we stayed in the beautiful city Kraków. Felix’ girlfriend and her roomies offered a place to sleep in their apartment, which was very nice of them. In the evening we visited the handsome old city for a couple of hours and had something to eat.

Day 7: Friday, July the 4th, 2003: near Kraków – Gorczański NP

Birds at a glance: Ural Owl

153 kilometres of driving

In the morning we left from Kraków to search for Ural Owl as long as necessary. We visited a couple of forests east of Kraków. In the first forest, we found a new location for the butterfly Maculinea teleius. At least five individuals were seen, all males. In the second forest, a Ophiogomphus cecilia, a very nice dragonfly was found by total surprise. The morning brought no Ural Owl, as did the afternoon. It was in the evening, at the third forest we visited, that we finally found it, after finding another Ophiogomphus cecilia and the butterfly Nymphalis antiopa. As we walked along a track in one of the forests, a Ural Owl suddenly flew across it! After a whole day of searching we were quickly woken up again. Not every one had seen the bird, so we tried to get better views of it. Unfortunately, we could not find the bird anymore. We decided to walk on in the hope to find a bird further into the forest.

After half an hour, we walked into a juvenile bird. We scared it at first and it flew from us, but as it sat down, we had some amazing views of it. Also, a nice Lesser-spotted Woodpecker showed up. Still, we wanted to have better views of an adult Ural Owl and we decided to stay for the night and try in the morning, for the night fell in very quick. As we walked to the hide where we would stay for the night, Felix found another adult Ural Owl! This time we were all able to have stunning views of this majestic bird that was sitting in a tree just in front of us while thundering clouds approached.

We were very relieved that we had seen this fantastic target species after a whole day searching. In the night we drove to our next place to visit for the next day: Gorczański National Park. The drive was very unpleasant as we drove through the mountains with lots of rain and dense fog. As we arrived at the entrance of the national park, we put up one tent in the wild using the car’s headlights. Two of us slept in the car. In a stream near the entrance we found some very nice Fire Salamanders Salamandra salamandra.

Day 8: Saturday, July the 5th, 2003: Gorczański NP

Birds at a glance: Hazel Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Flycatcher

0 kilometres of driving

As we woke up at about 7 am, we put most of our belongings in the car, including the wet tent. Near the entrance of the Gorczański National Park Felix contacted a local farmer and arranged a place for the car to be left safely for the forthcoming night. Only with our necessary stuff we started the walk into the park. The tracks let through a mountainous landscape with dense forest.

Just near the entrance we observed Dippers along the stream that leads next to the tracks. A few hundred metres uphill, a small pond was found at the left side of the path. It was there that Wesley saw a very quick Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius. In the pool, one male Alpine Newt Triturus alpestris was seen, five dragonfly exuviae of a Anax sp were collected and one living nymph was caught. Along the path, lots of Grey Wagtails were present. Further uphill, a family of Red-breasted Flycatchers was heard and shortly seen. We walked into the park for some kilometres and round 11 am we arrived at an open area with a mountain refuge and the butterflies Lycaena tityrus and Erebia euryale. Here we left our stuff and went to search for target species such as Three-toed Woodpecker and Hazel Grouse, while Felix stayed at the refuge to guard our belongings.

Almost immediately after we left the refuge, we found a Hazel Grouse in the low berry shrub near the refuge. Unfortunately not everyone had good views of the bird as it flew down the hill very quick.

We then split into two groups. Wesley and Ben went together and walked into one direction and Rob and Kasper walked into another direction. After hours of searching, Wesley and Ben were lucky enough to find a couple of Three-toed Woodpecker that gave stunning views from a tree. Wesley tried to call up the other two, but because of the terrible connexion with the telephone network up high in the mountains he did never manage to contact the other guys. As Rob and Kasper came back to the refuge after hours of searching with only some Crossbills and Siskins, they found the others with very happy faces. Felix also had seen a White-backed Woodpecker just in a tree in front of the refuge. Although it had started to rain for an hour and everyone was soaked and cold, we all went to the Three-toed Woodpecker spot with the idea that finding these birds again would not be such a problem. But, that turned out to be a huge problem! Looking for more than an hour at the spot and looking at some other places did not help; the birds could not be found again. Only a Ring Ouzel showed up. As the rain started again, we all went back to the refuge and tried to warm and dry ourselves near a bonfire inside the refuge.

After an hour, Rob and Kasper went to look once again, hoping for some more luck this time. Through the rain they searched for some hours but never found the Three-toed Woodpeckers.

In the evening we all went into the forest once more in an attempt to find Pygmy Owl, a species that bred in the area near the refuge and was quite easy to be found in spring. But, finding these little fellows in summer is very, very tough. Felix whistled like Pygmy while walking along a track behind the refuge. The whistling attracts the birds in spring. It did not work now, unfortunately. After an hour, part of the group went back to the refuge to make a bonfire and to warm up a bit, for the nights in the mountains are quite cold. Rob and Kasper again searched some more for the Three-toed Woodies, but again without any luck. They only saw a Honey Buzzard passing over their heads. As everyone was back at the refuge, we observed a loud Woodcock flying in circles over the mountain.

The night in the refuse was very cold, because we had not packed good stuff like socks and warm trousers. We slept in our sleeping bags on the wooden floor of the refuge. That was no problem, of course, but a cold wind and rain made sleeping a bit harsh. Water leaked through the roof and the wind blew through the chinks.

Day 9: Sunday, July the 6th, 2003: Gorczański NP – south of Nowy Targ

Birds at a glance: Baltic Gull, Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Collared Flycatcher

141 kilometres of driving

As we rose in the morning, it was still very cloudy and showers kept falling now and then. The plan was to leave as soon as Rob and Kasper had seen the Three-toed Woodpeckers. But, after they had searched for some more hours in the rain and the weather did not seem to get any better, we decided to descend to the car and to drive south to our last stay in Poland.

The place we headed for is called Sromowce and is on the border with Slovakia. Sromowce is along the river Dunajec, which forms the exact border. The place can be reached by driving south towards Nowy Targ and then eastwards along the road 969. An exact route will need a good map, though.

Along the Dunajec, just west of Sromowce, we observed lots of Pontic Gulls. A Sparrowhawk and 3 Hobbies were hunting above the mountain slopes near the Dunajec. A Black Stork circled on the other site of the river, above Slovakia. A very interesting gull stood in the middle of the river: an adult Baltic Gull. This is a species that is very scarce in this region in summer. The idea was to rent a room in the youth hostel just east of Sromowce, but all rooms were occupied. Felix found us a very nice room in the middle of the village. The price was just about € 3.50 per person per night. Near the rooms we observed some Serins, a Sparrowhawk and tens of House Martins.

In the afternoon we had a warm meal at a local restaurant with a nice view on the Slovakian mountains on the other side of the Dunajec. At the restaurant, a Redstart was searching for food. A Black Stork was flying past the river and suddenly 2 large eagles were flying above the mountains on the Slovakian side of the river, and they did not look like the quite common Lesser Spotted Eagle! We left our food –which, by the way, was very good- and ran to the car to get our telescopes. The eagles turned out to be 2 fantastic Imperial Eagles, probably adult birds! For some minutes we were able to have quite good views of the birds, despite the distance.

After having finished our meals we drove westwards along the river Dunajec. Birds standing on the islands in the river include Common Tern and Pontic Gull. After a couple of minutes we arrived at a large artificial lake with a large dam. We drove past the dam to the other side of the lake. Here, we observed 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, one of which flew round with a caught snake in its claws. Along the lake’s coast, lots of Pontic Gulls were present. They breed on an island in the middle of the lake. Also, some 10s of Black-headed Gulls were present, as well as 10s of Great Crested Grebes. A couple of Hooded Crow was seen and lots of Fieldfares were in the fields. From a distance, we could hear a Collared Flycatcher call from a forest.

Near the lake, Felix knew a place to see hunting Eagle Owl in the dusk. As we arrived at the place, a beautiful Lesser Spotted Eagle was resting on the ground next to the car. We had some looks at the usually good spots for the owl, but the harsh wind probably made the owl stay away for that evening.

As we drove back to Sromowce, we stopped at a bus stop just west of Sromowce. Here, a large puddle on the roadside seemed good for amphibians. And indeed, here we found the beautiful Yellow-bellied Toad Bombina variegata. 3 animals were on the road and could be photographed; at least 3 others were calling from the ditch next to the road. In the fields north of the road a Quail was calling.

After we arrived in Sromowce, Felix proposed to go and search for Corncrake just east of the village. Here, a very aggressive male was present since spring. We parked the car and walked into the field where we heard the bird calling, accompanied by many glow-worms. Felix had a special technique to attract the male to within 2 metres, but as we put the flashlight on the bird it took of. Though, as it did, we were very well able to observe the bird flying for some seconds and observe the reddish wings and large legs.

We decided to stay for one more day and try for Wallcreeper, Three-toed Woodpecker and Capercaillie. Sleeping in a bed was a real comfort after the night in the mountain refuge.

Day 10: Monday, July the 7th, 2003: Pieniński NP – Babiogórski NP

Birds at a glance: Nutcracker, Collared Flycatcher

171 kilometres of driving

In the morning we visited a place just east of the Sromowce village and walked along a track that leads into the Pieniński National Park for some hundred metres. The track leads through a gorge and this place should be good for finding Wallcreeper. But, our visit was in early July and the Wallcreepers usually attend the place from August onwards through the fall. So, we didn’t see any Wallcreepers. We did observe 2 Nutcrackers, a Black Woodpecker and a Wood Warbler. Also at this spot, a singing Greenish Warbler had a territory in spring 2003. Now it was not to be found, though. On the fields between the park and Sromowce (the same spot as the one we saw the Corncrake the evening before) we heard 2 Corncrakes and a Quail.

At the end of the morning we drove to the Babiogórski National Park, which is about an hour driving from Sromowce. We drove through Nowy Targ and further west along the road 957. Along this road, Felix knows places for lekking Capercaillies in spring. Since it is almost impossible to find these birds in summer, we drove on towards the national park. As we arrived, the weather had turned from bright and warm into extremely humid. We were walking through the clouds, it seemed. Nevertheless we started the walk into the park. The entrance of the park cost 11 złoty per person. We walked along a track that leads towards a modest mountain restaurant. The track has a length of 7 kilometres and should be good for Three-toed Woodpecker, Caipercaillie and Hazel Grouse. The later species has a strong preference for a shrubby low vegetation in the forest and this forest is full of it. During our several hour walk to the restaurant and back we partly walked in the rain and didn’t see one of the mentioned target species. Birds we did see include Ring Ouzel (2), Bullfinch (with one very tame bird within 1 metre!), a male Collared Flycatcher, Jay and about 5 Crossbills. In the restaurant we eat native Polish pancakes and had something warm to drink.

As we arrived at the car we drove back to our rooms and after a shower we went for something to eat in the same restaurant as the day before. This was our last evening with our guide and new friend Felix and we had a good drink to celebrate our trip together with him. After a good Polish dinner we went back to our rooms and went to sleep. Plan for the next morning was to bring Felix to Nowy Targ and to drive south through Slovakia to Hungary for the next stage in our bird trip.

Day 11: Tuesday, July the 8th, 2003: south of Nowy Targ – Hortobágy NP

Birds at a glance: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Red-footed Falcon

483 kilometres of driving

This morning we took our time to get some extra and needed sleep. We started not very early, therefore. At 10 am we left the residence in Sromowce. First we drove to Nowy Targ to drop our guide and new friend Felix near the bus station. From there he would travel to his hometown Kraków. Our destination for today was Hortobágy, Hungary, so we hit the highway towards Slovakia. The directions to follow from Nowy Targ to the correct Hungarian border globally are as follows: Nowy Targ – Poprad - Prešov – Košice – Miskolc. To access some of the Slovakian highways, one is compelled to buy a vignette, which costs about € 3.50, payable in euros at the petrol stations. Furthermore, beware that it is not possible to cash money at the Slovakian/Hungarian border! There is only a possibility to change money into Hungarian money, although the signs on the door show Mastercard etc. logos…

Although we did not spent lots of time for birding in Slovakia, we did see some nice species that are worth mentioning. Along the road 67, between Spišskŕ Belá and Kežmarok, we saw an adult Lesser Spotted Eagle, as well as one Aricia eumedon, a butterfly. Further along the road, we saw a Black Stork. Near the border with Hungary, one can find a petrel station. We found some Iphiclides podalirius, a big butterfly, and heard Quail over there. Also, about 3 kilometres before the border, there is a small village called Seňa. Just north of it, there are some slopes west of the road. It is said that one can find Suslik Citellus citellus on these slopes. We did not find any, though. Maybe the grass was too tall or it might just have been a bad year for this funny little rodent.

From the border onwards, follow the road with number 3 to Miskolc. This road is good to drive, though still a 2-way road. Miskolc is the first city where you can cash money and buy food. You will find the large supermarkets along the main road, as it leads you through the centre of the city. Best is to make sure you get enough money, since the closest place near Hortobágy NP is Debrecen, 30 kilometres from it and no good to visit at all!

After Miskolc, we drove south along the road 3, and at Nyékládháza we turned eastwards along the road 35 towards Tiszaujváros and Debrecen. Directly after crossing the newly build highway M3 we turned to the right (south) towards Tiszacsege. After 19 kilometres, one arrives at a crossroad. Follow the road to the east in the direction of Balmazújváros. Along this road, which is one of the best spots in Hortobágy, we already found some very cool species. Red-footed Falcon was the best. We saw at least 8 birds hunting and resting on the wires along this road, most near Balmazújváros. Other nice birds were about 20 Great White Egrets, 15+ Marsh Harriers and small groups of Common Cranes.

But, as time forced us to find a suitable campsite, we moved on and stopped at a place along the mentioned road, for the map showed a campsite over there. You can find the place because of a small sign of a museum, as Michel Veldt told us. And indeed, the sign is very small. Michel Veldt wrote about this spot because of the Long-legged Buzzard that once bred there. We didn’t find it by then, but we encountered the owner of the museum, who is a birder as well. He told us the Long-legged Buzzard was not at the mentioned spot this year. We should look along the road between Tiszacsege and Balmazújváros near the 3km sign and the towers over there. Even better was his remark about a Steppe Eagle behind his house. He had just come back from Debrecen and was told that a sub-adult bird was seen for the last week or so!

We drove further to the next camping. According to our map, that was just east of the Hortobágy-village. And indeed, we found it. We decided to stay for a couple of nights. The price was very reasonable: about € 12.00 a day in total.

That evening, we observed our first Black-crowned Nightheron and heard some Golden Orioles.

Some remarks for the visitors to Hortobágy National Park: the one thing you should do immediately after your arrival is buying a map of the area and an admission card. With the latter, you are allowed to enter some special areas, which are otherwise prohibited. We paid 800 florins for a card for about a week. Apart from camping near the Hortobágy-village, you might as well stay at the small hotel at the same spot as the campsite.

Day 12: Wednesday, July the 9th, 2003: Hortobágy NP

Birds at a glance: Steppe Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Saker, Roller.

238 kilometres of driving

The first thing we did this morning was search for a place to get ourselves a decent map of the area. We arrived at the so-called bird clinic in the centre of the Hortobágy-village. Some very dedicated people recover injured birds over here, ranging from Steppe Eagles to Storks. Also, there was a small exhibition of the birds from the area showing some nice species, including the very rare Levant Sparrowhawk (male) that was once brought into the clinic. The bird had flown against a window of a flat at the nearby city Debrecen.

We bought a very good map (about € 4.00) and went for the Steppe Eagle. The place can be reached as follows. From Hortobágy, drive east along the road 33 and follow the directions to Balmazújváros. From there, drive in the direction of Tiszacsege (west) and leave the town by crossing a railroad. Being on the road to Tiszacsege in the northern part of the Hortobágy NP, look for the kilometre-signs along it. Between signs 9 and 10, just in front of a small forest, you can turn to the north onto a small asphalt-road. There is a sign that shows that the road is prohibited, though, and we heard about people being removed by the park rangers. Still, we drove the road towards the white-coloured farms that are visible. Just in front of them, we stopped and searched the surroundings.

The weather turned out to be very good: lots of sun and no clouds or whatsoever. Almost immediately, we found 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, Crested Larks, Tawny Pipits, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-backed Shrikes, Wheatear, a male Red-footed Falcon, Golden Orioles, and the much wanted Saker. Unfortunately, the latter was only seen very quick and at a considerable distance. Suddenly, our full attention was drawn by a large Aquila rising from the forest just a few hundred metres east of the farms. Indeed, there it was! It was about 10 am when a beautiful Steppe Eagle showed itself just marvellous. As soon as the bird disappeared behind the farms, we got into the car and passed the farms. Remember, we where on forbidden ground! But, all farmers we encountered were very nice and waved friendly. After passing the farms, we arrived at a vast farmland, very much like a steppe-area. We found the Steppe Eagle on the ground. As we stayed in the car, we could observe and photograph the bird for about 10 minutes. We could see the gape behind the bill was reaching behind the eye, a good id-feature to separate the species from Tawny Eagle when perched. Then it suddenly flew up and circled above our heads for many minutes more, allowing us to take some more photographs. The bird still showed quite a light bar on the lower wing, giving us the idea of it being a 3rd or 4th summer bird. Then it took off to the east, not to come back very soon.

Still being in a small shock by this magnificent and umexpected rarity, and still being amused by two Lesser Spotted Eagles at the same spot, our attention was again much needed as a new aquila suddenly flew above the small forest on the west side of the road. The bird soared slowly in our direction. Wesley took his camera and made some photographs, but the light-conditions were not optimal for photography. As the bird flew above our heads, it turned out to be an Imperial Eagle, probably subad.

Butterflies found here include Pontia edusa, Plebeius argus, Lycaena dispar, Coenonympha pamphilus, C glycerion, and a Pyrgus sp.

So, that was a very, very, very good start in this fantastic national park.

Next, we drove back to the main road (between Balmazújváros and Tiszacsege) and drove west. Along this road, we observed several Hoopoes, including 2 birds at the observation tower near kilometre-sign 3. These birds turned out to be at this spot every day. At the mentioned tower, we especially had our attention on the many buzzards, because the day before we were told that the area near the tower should be good for summering Long-legged Buzzard; a species that was very high on Rob’s wish list for this vacation as it was a new species for him. Unfortunately, we didn’t find one there and the heat didn’t help either. Because of it, we could not get any good views of birds at a distance of more than 2 metres or so.

We drove further along to Tiszacsege (where one can find a nice supermarket) and from there to the south in the direction of Egyek. Near kilometre-sign 8 we found 2 Lesser Grey Shrikes and everywhere lots of Marsh Harriers and Tree Sparrows. Then we drove through Egyek and south towards Félhalom. The road between these two small towns turned out to be good for some species characteristic for the area. Again we saw Lesser Grey Shrike and now we also found a small colony of Bee-eaters just 50 metres east of the road in a small quarry-like gap. At least one family of these magnificent birds was still feeding young near the nest holes. Butterflies found here were lots of Colias erate, Melitaea phoebe and 2 Pyrgus armoricanus.

Following the road south we arrived at the main road 33 again. We drove it in the eastern direction and suddenly arrived at a very nice breeding colony of Red-footed Falcons. The place is easily found near kilometre-signs 52/53 and can further be recognised by a sign on the south side of the road showing KAPARO SCARDA 600M. Here, you will see a white-coloured farm north of the road with a small forest just behind it. In the forest lots and lots of Red-footed Falcons breed. We saw at least 50 birds at once, including adult males, adult females and 1st summer males. Other birds there include Tree Sparrow, Kestrel, Blue-headed Wagtail and a Lesser Grey Shrike. On the south site of the road we observed a foraging Roller feeding its young.

Again driving east along the road 33, we turned north near kilometre 62/63 in the direction of Ohat. This road leads through the so-called Egyek-Pusztakócs area, a group of fishponds not as popular as the well-known Halastó fishponds.  As the road crosses a small river, we parked the car to search the surroundings. We checked the nearby ponds and the river and found two Squacco Herons, a Little Egret, 5 Great Egrets, a Ferruginous Duck, a Pygmy Cormorant, some calling Penduline Tits, a Reed Bunting and a strange sound from the reed beds near the road which later turned out to be a contact call of the Savi´s Warbler. Also, we heard the calls of the Red-bellied Toad Bombina bombina near a small wooden house just 50 metres north of the road and just east of the river that is crossed by the road. Also, the first Orthetrum albistylum, a dragonfly, was seen here as well as another Pyrgus armoricanus.

After feeding ourselves, we drove to the famous Halastó fishponds. They can be easily reached by turning north from the mentioned main road 33 near kilometre 66. Just following the signs towards Hortobágy-halastó brings you there. You will cross a small railroad and afterwards directly turn left along a smelly fish factory. Behind the factory, one can park the car and follow the track by feet into the ponds. Note that one is obliged to carry the already mentioned admission card, which can be obtained at a museum in the Hortobágy-village, just near a bridge in the west.

The fishponds are very good fun. You can follow the track into them for about 7 kilometres and at the end you can also make an extra circle around one fishpond. All ponds are numbered. Beware: when you decide to walk into the ponds for a long time, you are to take lots of water with you for the heat and the absence of shadow in the afternoon will make you sweat a lot!

Following the track into the ponds, we constantly ran into birds such as Purple Heron, both egrets, Squacco Heron, Night Heron and quite some Little Bitterns. Also, we saw at least 6 Grass Snakes Natrix natrix in the small channel that is along the track and also along the railroads that leads far into the pond area. This channel is also the best place to see Orthetrum albistylum. Some Orthetrum brunneum were found there, too. Furthermore, we saw and heard tens of Savi’s Warblers all around, as well as Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. The fishponds are also the place for seeing Pygmy Cormorant. We saw 6 on this day. Cormorants are also found. We were astonished by the number of Sand Martins. Above and around pond II we saw thousands and thousands flying and searching for a place in the reed to stay for the night. Also hundreds of House Martins and tens of Barn Swallows flew over the ponds.

This day, we did not walk further along the track then to pond II, because the day started to end and we figured out we could just be in time at the Saker spot we obtained from Michel Veldt. We drove there, but the drive took more time then we thought and it was quite dark as we arrived. Still, we found 4 birds near a nesting box in a large electricity pole. The place is reached as follows. Drive along the main road 33 west to Tiszafüred and further west through Poroszló and then after about 2 or 3 kilometres west of the latter town, the main road crosses large electricity cables above the road. Stop here and look at the 3rd pole to the north. This is where the nesting box is found.

Near this spot, Michel Veldt also observed Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Great Bustard at this same spot in the summer of 2000. Unfortunately, we were to late for any eagles. We did here a Quail, though.

Through the dark we drove back to the campsite and made ourselves something to eat.

Day 13: Thursday, July the 10th, 2003: Hortobágy NP

Birds at a glance: Pygmy Cormorant, Syrian Woodpecker, Steppe Eagle, Saker

121 kilometres of driving

Text Box:

The main place to be visited this day would be the Halastó fishponds to search for Moustached Warbler. Our visit the day before was far from complete since we only searched the first two ponds. Besides, an observation of a possible Moustached Warbler near pond II urged us to go back and search more. The best place for Moustached Warbler is the track between ponds VI and VII. At 5 am we stumbled along the track to first search near those ponds VI and VII. Hours of searching did not help us. Luckily, we saw many interesting birds and butterflies in the fishponds and we stayed until 2 pm. Following is a list of (semi-)interesting species we observed, followed by their number and the numbers of the ponds we observed them. The numbers of the ponds are to be found on official maps of the area and are given here in a schematic drawing.

Little Grebe– 4 in pond Kondás
Great Crested Grebe – every pond
Cormorant – 100s
Pygmy Cormorant – about 50, mainly ponds II, III, IV and V
Little Bittern – about 10, including some seen resting in reed near pond VII
Night Heron – in total about 200, between ponds VI and VII at least 50 in trees
Squacco Heron – 10s, to be found everywhere
Little Egret – 10s, mainly ponds V and Kondás
Great Egret – 100s, mainly last ponds
Purple Heron – 10s, everywhere
Blue Heron – 10s, mainly last ponds
Stork – some near and behind ponds V and Kondás
Spoonbill – 10s, mainly ponds V and Kondás
Mute Swan – 4, pond III
Grey-lagged Goose – 10s, every pond
Gadwell – 10s
Shoveler – every pond
Teal – 1, pond Kondás
Pochard – about 10
Ferruginous Duck – 3 flying by, pond II>III; 1 male, pond II
White-tailed Eagle – 1 probable 2nd cy on the ground, pond VI
Marsh Harrier – everywhere, about 40 in total
Hen Harrier – 1 male over parking place in the afternoon
Common Crane – about 50, behind pond Kondás
Avocet – about 50, pond V
Black-winged Stilt – at least 5, pond VI
Grey Plover – 1, pond VI
Lapwing – 10s
Wood Sandpiper – 10s, pond VI
Green Sandpiper – about 10, pond VI
Common Sandpiper – only pond VI
Redshank – pond VI
Spotted Redshank – some 10s, ponds VI and Kondás
Black-tailed Godwit – 10s
Curlew – 100s, mainly ponds VI, V and Kondás
Ruff – about 150, pond VI
Yellow-legged Gull – about 20 adults and some imm., ponds V, VI and Kondás
Common Tern – everywhere
Black Tern – 10s, mainly pond Kondás
Whiskered Tern – about 25, mainly ponds V and Kondás
Kingfisher – 1 along track near pond II
Hoopoe – 2 near watching tower between ponds I and II
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1, pond I
Sand Martin – 1000s, mainly pond II
Blue-headed Wagtail – 10s, mainly last ponds
Trush Nightingale – adult and juv., pond I
Bluethroat – birds still singing and about 5 juv., between ponds  VI and VII
Whinchat – 1 family, east of pond VI
Sedge Warbler – very common, lots with young
Savi’s Warbler – amazingly common, in total about 50
Reed Warbler – very common, lots with young
Marsh Warbler – only few, including 1 singing, pond III
Great Reed Warbler – especially around pond VI, in total about 15-20
Bearded Reedling – everywhere
Penduline Tit – everywhere, including male in nest along main track
Red-backed Shrike – 3 pairs in trees along main track
Hooded Crow – ponds VI and Kondás
Golden Oriole – some singing and showing very well near parking place
Tree Sparrow – common
House Sparrow – even more common
Reed Bunting – some, all ponds
Corn Bunting – 1 family, east of pond VI

Besides all those birds, some dragonflies were seen too. Like yesterday, lots of Orthetrum albistylum were seen. Other species we found were Ischnura elegans, Erythromma najas, Anax penelope, A imperator and 2 Sympetrum meridionale. Also some butterflies were seen: one Papilio machaon, Lycaena dispar, Plebeius argus and Issoria lathonia.

After this long time in the fishponds, we went to the campsite for lots of drinks and eating and a cold shower. We decided to go to the Steppe Eagle site this evening to see if the bird would show up before dark to go and rest in the forest again.

From the campsite, we drove the way as described before to the site. While driving out of Balmazújváros, we crossed the mentioned rail road. Just near this crossing, some trees are along the road and the rail road. Over there, we observed our first Hungarian Syrian Woodpecker, a female. The bird stayed in the trees for some minutes and gave some splendid views. Then if flew to the other site of the road and disappeared.

We drove along to the Steppe Eagle site while enjoying some beautiful Red-footed Falcons, which over our few day stay in the national park always turned out to be along the road between Balmazújváros and the Steppe Eagle site on the telephone cables.

At the Steppe Eagle site we immediately drove past the farms this time and some further along the road behind the farms than last time. This road turned out to be amazingly good for raptors. Indeed, we again observed the Steppe Eagle. The bird was on the ground once more. As it took off after some time, we searched the place the bird had been on the ground and found the remaining of a Grass Snake Natrix natrix, which apparently had just been eaten by the eagle. Also, the 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles were present, both of them probably being adults. As we drove further along the road, we found not less then 5 Sakers driving the 10s of Common Buzzards and the Hares Lepus capensis in the fields insane. Also, 3 Bee-eaters flew past. A butterfly that we found at this spot and didn’t mentioned yet, is Melitaea phoebe.

The last place to visit that evening would be the watching tower near kilometre-sign 3 along the road between Balmazújváros and Tiszacsege. We still had not found a sign of Long-legged Buzzard, and this time would not be any better. But, we did see a Roller, a Hoopoe, 6 Common Cranes and a male Lesser Grey Shrike.

Day 14: Friday, July the 11th, 2003: Hortobágy NP

Birds at a glance: Great Bustard, Lesser Grey Shrike, Ferruginous Duck

245 kilometres of driving

Great Bustard was the keyword for this morning. Last day, we had some quick looks in a Dave Gosney book a friendly Belgium birder showed us at the Halastó fishponds. We drove to the described fields, which can be found as follows. From the main road 33, just a few metres east of the above described Red-footed Falcon colony, one can take the road south to Nagyiván. Exactly after 5.2 kilometres from the road 33, take a smaller road east and drive this until a T-crossing. It is prohibited to drive any further to the left or to the right from there, as the park rangers we encountered there told us. But, the signs do not say so. Very strange situation. However, from that crossing, we were very surprised to really find an adult male Great Bustard!  We had really not expected that, because everyone told us that it is almost impossible to find this species in Hortobágy, especially without the guidance of a park ranger. Once again a nice start of the day!

Other beautiful birds near the Great Bustard were about 10 Red-footed Falcons, 1 Lesser Grey Shrike, 1 singing Grasshopper Warbler and about 15 Purple Herons. Besides, how many times in his or her life is a birder so lucky as to see a Quail? Well, we were this time at least! Not less than 2 birds of this fantastic species dove into the shrub just a few metres next to the car. And as we got out, we even had the opportunity to see them run and very soon choose the air once more.

So, all good observations. But, still no Long-legged Buzzard for our good friend. Therefore, at the end of the morning, we once again drove to the watching tower near the kilometre sign 3 along the road between Balmazújváros and Tiszacsege to try our luck. Unfortunately, we still could not find any Long-legged Buzzard. Luckily, we saw another very nice raptor over there: a Short-toed Eagle was hovering a few hundred metres from the road. Also 4 Red-footed Falcons showed well, as well as 3 Lesser Grey Shrikes, a male Hen Harrier and a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Apart from about 20 Common Cranes in the fields, a group of 100 birds or so past by over our heads.

The evening was spent in the Halastó fishponds again. We still wanted to try and find a Moustached Warbler. We walked all the kilometres to the track between ponds VI and VII for the second time, hoping that a visit in the evening would bring us more luck. We stayed till dark, but did not see any other birds than the ones we had seen the day before. Nice were the very tame juvenile Bluethroats and the always loud Black-crowned Night Herons gathering in a tree for the night, adults as well as juveniles. In addition, a few hundred large gulls gathered at pond VI, but we failed to find a Pallas’s Gull there. Also, we observed a female Ferruginous Duck with 6 downy young in the small pond just next to the car parking when we arrived.

Day 15: Saturday, July the 12th, 2003: Hortobágy NP – Balmazújváros village

Birds at a glance: Roller, Saker, Syrian Woodpecker

155 kilometres of driving

This day would be the last day fully spent in the fantastic Hortobágy national park. In the morning we once again drove to the Steppe Eagle site, with a chance on seeing Long-legged Buzzard in our minds. In the bushes north of the mentioned farms we found a Roller. The Steppe Eagle was not seen for sure. At least 3 eagles flew above the forest west of the road, but to far to be identified as Steppe or Imperial. Though, the 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles will surely have been there. Birds that again showed just how good that specific spot is for raptors were a Goshawk, a Saker (just 1 this time), about 10 Kestrels, about 30 Common Buzzards, a Red-footed Falcon and an adult Hobby. The dragonfly Orthetrum brunneum was seen and photographed here.

At the end of the morning we left the place and drove east again to Balmazújváros to buy water and food and to get some shadow. Having seen a nice park in the centre of the small town Balmazújváros the days before, we decided to visit it and try for Syrian Woodpecker because the habitat seemed perfect. And indeed. Within 2 minutes the first Syrian Woodpecker, a female, was found, followed by a second one, a juvenile. Also interesting is the fact that Red-backed Shrikes were breeding inside the village. Small bushes between the houses and flats seemed already enough for the birds to have a territory.

In the afternoon we drove in the direction of the campsite, so westwards along the main road 33 towards Hortobágy-village. Near kilometre sign 79 we stopped at a stupid information centre where stupid people could drive with stupid tilt-cars onto the vast plains to disturb the foraging Common Cranes and domestic geese. From the parking place, we walked round the small forest and found a watching tower in the north side of the forest. We were told by our guide Felix Felger from Poland that this should be a good spot for Suslik Citellus citellus, the favourite food of Steppe and Imperial Eagle. Unfortunately, we did not see any. Some birds did show, however, despite of the heat. They include Lesser Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit and Crested Lark. All in small numbers. A good find was the dragonfly Sympetrum depressiusculum. Butterflies here included Lycaena dispar and Papilio machaon.

After dinner at the campsite, we drove to the Steppe Eagle site again. Yes, again! Just because we could not live with the fact that we had not yet seen Long-legged Buzzard, while it should be a yearly summer visitor to the Hortobágy national park. And again, we did not find what we were looking for. No Long-legged Buzzard. Also no Steppe Eagle this time. But, we did see 1 Lesser Spotted Eagle, Tawny Pipits, 2 Lesser Grey Shrikes and we heard some Common Cranes. Also, 2 juvenile Sakers were resting in a tree at the end of the road that was described above for the Steppe Eagle site. We found a nest box in another tree next to the resting birds. It might just have been the breeding box for the Sakers over there. It turned out to be the best spot for the butterfly Coenonympha glycerion of which photographs could be taken.

Good fun were two little Hungarian children near the Sakers, dancing on funny pop music from their radio in the middle of nowhere on an old truck.

Day 16: Sunday, July the 13th, 2003: travelling south

Birds at a glance: none

544 kilometres of driving

Next in our planning was driving to the Delta Naretva in the south of Croatia. We knew that to get there, we were to drive at least a thousand kilometres. So we decided to cut the trip into two parts, especially because we would drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina and the roads would be far from convenient.

In the morning we packed our stuff into the car and cleared the campground from all the empty water and cola bottles. We had the plan of driving to the northern part of Croatia and to stay there for the forthcoming night. And so we did.

The directions we followed are the following: From Hortobágy-village we drove to Debrecen and from there we took road 47 to – Berettyóújfalu – Szeghalom – Mezóberény – Békécsaba – Orosháza – Szeged. Make fun of yourself and try to pronounce all that right!

From Szeged we took road 55 westwards to Baja. Being in Szeged, it is not easy to find the way to the 55 and Baja. We asked several times before finding it. We did especially not drive towards the south, towards Subotica, because that road leads through Yugoslavia and one needs a visum to enter that country. Still, that drive should be a bit shorter.

After reaching Baja, we drove further west towards Bátaszék and from there south to Mohács along the road 56. From there we drove in the direction of Osijek, a rather large city in the north of Croatia. Crossing the border to Croatia was no problem. As we arrived in Osijek we got ourselves some money, kunas, and went to eat at the despicable MacDonald’s restaurant. We were quite shocked by seeing lots of buildings with shot holes and some even blown apart by granites in the middle of the city.

As the evening was still young, we followed our way further towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and drove till we arrived at Đakovo. This part of Croatia does not have any campsites at all and we were forced to find something else. That turned out to be the one and only hotel in the city: Zelena Laguna. The hotel was very good with toilet and shower on every bedroom and the breakfast was of course included. The price per person per night amounted about € 17.00.

A little stroll through the city in the evening only yielded about 20 Hooded Crows, a family of Kestrels and lots of Common Swifts near the church. Serins sang from every large tree.

Day 17: Monday, July the 14th, 2003: roads through Bosnia – Delta Naretva

Birds at a glance: Alpine Swift, Pallid Swift

512 kilometres of driving

Today we had to drive through the ‘very, very scary’ country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Afterwards, that might have been not so smart. Later on, in Croatia, a Dutch couple told us that people need a special allowance from their insurance company to be covered by the company while travelling through Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Just after leaving Đakovo at 9 am we filled up the petrol tank and drove to the border. To get to the border formed a real problem. It turned out that there is not a main road leading into Bosnia and Herzegovina. We got lost in small villages and arrived everywhere but near the border passage. Luckily, some people spoke little German and English and were able to show us the right directions.

The reason for the absence of a clear main road leading into Bosnia and Herzegovina and the absence of any signs showing the right direction must be the war. People only recently found the need for travelling into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is hard to explain the route to follow for the people that might once want to travel here, but one should try to follow the main route from Đakovo to the south, also through the smaller villages. This seemingly main road will lead towards the border, although no signs show the way to it. Be not distracted by a small white sign showing something about Bosnia and Herzegovina and leading you onto a small road and into a small village. It will not get you anywhere! So, keep following the main road.

At the border leaving Croatia was no problem. Entering Bosnia and Herzegovina was, though. People hardly spoke anything else than their own language. The custom officers wanted us to hand over a so-called green paper. Afterwards we understood that it must have been about the insurance stuff. Also, they seriously searched the car and asked us what we were up to. So, we showed them our telescopes in combination with bird books and explained that we were just travelling to the Croatian coast to do bird watching. After a while, they suddenly told us to get along and so we did.

The next thing that brought us in some trouble was the fact that every sign along the road suddenly was written in some sort of Greek language. All deltas and gammas and stuff. So, how could we possibly be able to find our way, especially given the fact that we had to drive about 500 kilometres trough this country?!

We tried to buy a map somewhere, written in this language, but that seemed impossible. We asked the way for Sarajevo some times and drove along the road that seemed to be the main road. Luckily, out of the blue, the signs were again written in ‘normal’ European language after a couple of kilometres.

We constantly drove in the direction of Sarajevo. Driving went quite slowly, mainly due to the large amount of trucks not being able to drive the slopes. One should bear in mind that an average speed of 50 kilometres per hour is maximum! Also, we encountered an accident along the road. We had to wait for about an hour before it became clear we could not drive any further (during this hour, we scored the butterfly Satyrium w-album)! So, we drove to Doboj and took a smaller road to Sarajevo. Doboj is still far in the north of the country and we had serious doubts about whether we would reach Croatia in one day. The smaller road was no good at all except for the Parnassius appollo, a large butterfly, Wesley saw! We had to ask the directions a million times, for the signs were very incomplete. Moreover, the road became smaller and smaller, ending into a small mountain road for tens of kilometres. Some bridges were even of the wooden girders type! Our speed was now reduced to about a 30 kilometres per hour.

We decided to find ourselves a hotel in Sarajevo and to drive the last part in an extra day. We arrived in Sarajevo at 4.30 pm. Sarajevo turned out to be a very busy city and a traffic jam kept us for another hour more. But, the presence of a small number of Dutch and German cars gave us the feeling that the road to Croatia had to be better. Therefore, we decided to give it a try and drive further to the south. We choose the direction of Mostar, for that road leads towards the Delta Naretva in Croatia, our next stop to do some serious birding. As we drove past Mostar, we now were really shocked by all the ruined buildings. Every house and flat showed at least a 100 bullet holes! That in contrast to Sarajevo, that clearly had been quickly rebuild, probably because it is the country’s major city. Also, KFOR troupes from Germany and Canada drove around everywhere and lots of mines had to be in the fields next to the road, as was clear from the signs and the mine cleaning trucks driving by now and then.

Of course, our eyes were also still pointed on birds! The most interesting birds we saw along the road include the vacations first Alpine Swifts, Pallid Swifts and Crag Martins. Also, we saw Hooded Crow, Turtle Dove, Red-backed Shrike, Honey Buzzard, Little Egret, Grey Wagtail and Raven. Most of these observations are from Sarajevo southwards.

We drove towards Metković, the first village in Croatia behind the border. The borders formed no problem at all and the drive towards the Delta Naretva from the border took only about 20 minutes, for Croatia is very small here. Inside the Delta Naretva, we found a nice campsite called ‘autocamp Rio’. One can find this campsite by driving along road 9 from Metković towards the sea. This road follows the river Naretva. As the river ends in the delta, the road splits into a direction north along the delta and one south along the delta. One should follow the southern direction, which can be done by following the direction of Dubrovnik along the road 8. After a few hundred metres from the split, a very small white sign on the right site of the road shows the way to Blace. Take this road, which leads into the delta, and drive the road for 6 or so kilometres. Now, follow the signs that show the way to the campsite.

Day 18: Tuesday, July the 15th, 2003: Delta Naretva

Birds at a glance: Western Rock Nuthatch, Golden Eagle, Spanish Sparrow, Sombre Tit

220 kilometres of driving

The night was spent on a campsite called ‘autocamp Rio’. During our stay, we recorded the following species at the campsite: Little Egret, Common Quail, Long-eared Owl (calling young), European Bee-eater, Tawny Pipit, Great Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Woodchat Shrike and Tree Sparrow. Dragonflies recorded here were Orthetrum cancellatum, O brunneum and I elegans. Also a male of an unidentified Coenagrion species was seen. Furthermore, the butterfly Colias croceus was seen. More interesting, however, were the Dice Snakes Natrix tessellata. One big and one small individual were seen.

Just before reaching the campsite from the main road, a juvenile Woodchat Shrike, some European Bee-eaters and a Common Quail were recorded. At least three individuals of the butterfly species Melitaea didyma were seen. Further along this road, towards the main road, two males Little Bittern and at least four Lesser Grey Shrikes were seen.

We searches for Sombre Tit on a mountain slope near the village Kula Norinska. This slope can be reached by driving from Kula Norinska to Desne (thus, turn to the right, away from the railway). We couldn’t find any Sombre Tits, but a Short-toed Eagle, perched on a dead tree, was also quite nice. Furthermore, we saw three European Bee-eaters, European Serins and Lesser Whitethroats. A Green Sandpiper flew over.

More to the west there is another slope, which we visited. This one can be reached by driving the main road along the northern side of the Naretva river, which runs along a railway. There is a very steep small road crossing the railway and then going up towards Istočna Pina. This road leads to a church, which is surrounded by a graveyard, and can be seen from far away. This point gives a nice panorama view on the Delta Naretva. More important, however, were the nice Western Rock Nuthatches on the steep rocks above the church, a new species for the four of us. At least three individuals were seen and clearly heard (already from the church, were the car was parked). We climbed to the foot of the rocks, but the terrain was quite rough. Some Sardinian Warblers and a Corn Bunting were noted there, as well as a male Balkan Green Lizard Lacerta trilineata. A large dragonfly flew over, probable a Lindenia tetraphylla, a dragonfly very high on the wish list. Kasper was the first to find one sitting on the road downhill from the church. Rob and Ben later twitched this individual. While searching for the Lindenia tetraphylla, two males Spanish Sparrow were found, as well as House and Tree Sparrow. A second calendar-year Golden Eagle made the list of eagles somewhat more complete. Sadly, the bird disappeared quickly behind the rocks. Other dragonflies there were Orthetrum brunneum, Aeshna isosceles (one individual hunting near the road), and a fresh unidentified female Coenagrion damselfly.

The next visited spot was the tip of a pier, which can be reached by driving the way to the campsite and then drive further along the beach towards the Naretva River. While doing so, you pass a mudflat, which produced Little Egrets, 10 Whimbrels, an European Oystercatcher and some Spotted Redshanks. From the tip of the pier, the following birds were seen: Eurasian Spoonbill (3), a loudly singing Zitting Cisticola, one Sand Martin, one Cormorant and one first-summer Sandwich Tern. The rocks of the pier proofed to be very good for some nice animals. Lots of colourful fishes and crabs were seen, but the two Dice Snakes Natrix tessellata were the absolute highlights. One of them was caught and produced an awful smell. The other individual, which was more contrastingly coloured, tried to swallow an enormous dead fish, in which it failed. Some butterflies here: about five Papilio machaon and two Carcharodus alceae.

At the end of the afternoon, we visited Ploče and Gradac at the northeastern side of the delta. This produced almost nothing worth mentioning, except one Lindenia tetraphylla passing by in the town Ploče. Later on, we went to a small peninsula in the Bosnian part of the coast. This was extremely boring and produced no interesting birds at all. It was, however, very easy to pass the border. They didn’t even look at the passports…

The evening was planned for searching for Sombre Tit in the hills around the river Naretva. While entering Croatia from Bosnia through Metković the day before, we noted that the area near the border seemed to provide better habitat for them than the very dry hills further south. We decided to try for them in the hills south of Metković. In the village of Metković, turn southeast at a crossing with a kiosk. Then pass the “Posta” and search for signs to Dubravica and Bijeli Vit. This road is close to the border with Bosnia. Between Dubravica and Bijeli Vit, there is a small house at the right side, just before a bend to the left. At the right side of the road are shrubs and low bushes. It was here that we scored one Sombre Tit, with the help of some tape luring. The bird reacted strongly on the tape and showed very well. In the shrubs a juvenile Subalpine Warbler was seen, a Cetti’s Warbler was heard singing and a Eurasian Hoopoe was seen. Suddenly a police car stopped. Two policemen came out and ordered to show our passports and driver licences. They didn’t speak any English or German and it was totally unclear what they wanted from us. One of them began to search the car by opening bags and checking the dashboard. It turned out that two police men, who turned out to be hunters, were interested in buying our CD’s with bird sounds, especially those with goose and duck sounds… After a long time, while one of the policemen was phoning, they pointed out that we had to go with them to the police headquarters of Metković. There, we had to wait another hour, after which we got back our papers. They said ‘no problemo’ and we could go, while half of the staff was waving at us… By now, the sun was gone. On our way to the campsite, we heard one Great Reed Warbler and one European Reed Warbler. The Tree Frogs Hyla arborea, however, were more of a surprise.

Day 19: Wednesday, July the 16th, 2003: Delta Naretva – Mljet island

Birds at a glance: European Scops Owl, Alpine Swift, Eastern Orphean Warbler

164 kilometres of driving

This morning some birds mentioned before (Tawny Pipit, Cetti’s Warbler) were heard or seen again at the campsite, during packing our stuff for the journey to Mljet island. We drove to Dubrovnik to take the ferry to Sobra (biggest village on Mljet island) at 12:00. We arrived at Sobra at about 14:30. From the boat, we only saw some Yellow-legged Gulls. At Mljet, there is one main road from one tip of the island to the other tip. We drove west to Polače. Here, we saw some more Yellow-legged Gulls. Along the road, lots of Limenitis reducta were seen, an extremely beautiful butterfly. Selysiothemis nigra, a nice small dragonfly, proofed to be common everywhere along this road. One Orthetrum brunneum was also seen here.

We planned to stay at the campsite in Ropa (we paid 166 Kuna per night in total). While driving to Ropa, we saw three Alpine Swifts along the main road, as well as a Common Kestrel. At the campsite, 6 Pallid Swifts were seen. Sharp-snouted Rock Lizards Lacerta oxycephala were seen also there.

In the evening we birded along the road to Blato and Kozanica. In the latter one is a small harbour. We entered the main road and after just about a kilometre turned left downhill towards the village Blato, where Common Swifts were hunting. Just after a bend to the left (just before reaching the village) we stopped. We saw lots of Red-backed Shrikes with young in the bushes along the road, making a lot of noise. A few Sardinian Warblers were heard calling but were difficult to see. Highlight were the two Eastern Orphean Warblers of which a young bird was seen reasonably well. When driving to the village Kozanica, one sees a pattern of small fishponds downhill behind the village. We drove towards it and wandered through the small ponds and accompanying farmland with sheep for a while. A Common Kingfisher was present, as well as a calling Common Nightingale. Some Alpine Swifts were heard and seen here and above the small harbour. In the open shrub surrounding the fishponds, a Hermann’s Turtoise Testudo hermanni was easily traced by its noisy way of walking. More turtles were found in the water of the fishponds: European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis. At least three individuals were projecting their head (just rarely more than that) above the water surface. Dragonflies were represented by one Anax penelope, A imperator, one male Crocothemis erythraea, one female Cercion lindenii and of course lots of Ischnura elegans. Two Dalmatian Wall Lizards Podarcis melisellensis were seen.

On the first evening on Mljet about four European Scops Owls were heard and two were seen very well in the surroundings of the campsite. One young bird could be observed for a long time in the light of the maclight. It was visited two times by an adult bird! Very cute were the Eastern Hedgehogs Erinaceus concolor which walked around there. Turkish Geckos Hemidactylus turcicus were found on the walls of the campsite buildings.

Day 20: Thursday, July the 17th, 2003: Mljet island

Birds at a glance: Eastern Orphean Warbler, Cirl Bunting

115 kilometres of driving

We searched for Black-headed Bunting on some small cultivated lands in a valley south of the main road, west of the campsite, but without success. There were, however, families of Sardinian Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes. Some butterflies were found there: Melitaea didyma, Hipparchia statilinus and Coenonympha pamphilus.

Another spot with some cultivated ground, along the circular road along Govedan, just after a turn, near the entrance of the National Park, was visited too. Black-headed Buntings were also absent here, but present were at least one male Eastern Orphean Warbler, more than ten Sardinian Warblers and three Cirl Buntings. Butterflies were represented by Limenitis reducta, Hipparchia statilinus, Iphiclides podalirius, a male and female Gonepteryx cleopatra and Carcharodus alceae. Two species of lizard were found here: Sharp-snouted Rock Lizard Lacerta oxycephala and Dalmatian Wall Lizard Podarcis melisellensis.

By this time, it was so hot that birding was almost impossible. We searched for a more or less quiet place to swim, but at the few places where swimming seemed possible (because of the rocky coast) people already crowded the place. We drove to Sobra. Just before reaching Sobra from the west side, there is a large (but drying out) pond on the right side of the road. After passing it, the road bends to the left. Here is a path downhill to the pond. At the end of this path is some sort of installation, probably for pumping water. Anyway, some nectar-rich plants can be found here, with lots of butterflies. The best discovery here was the butterfly species Libythea celtis!! A butterfly very high on the wish list. At least three individuals were found. Other butterflies recorded here were Limenitis reducta, Hipparchia statilinus, Iphiclides podalirius, Gonepteryx cleopatra and Vanessa cardui. The pond itself was drying out rapidly. Some Yellow-legged Gulls were standing in the last remains. One juvenile seemed to be ill and was approachable to about five metres… Dragonflies recorded here were five males Crocothemis erythraea, about 30 Selysiothemis nigra, Anax penelope, A imperator, Orthetrum cancellatum and O brunneum.

At the edge of the small harbour of Okukje we finally cooled down in the fresh water. During swimming we scored some Yellow-legged Gulls and the dragonfly Sympetrum fonscolombii.

After that, we made our way back to the campsite. On our way, we stopped in Babino Polje. Near the mini market in that village, we saw a male and a female Cirl Bunting, Sardinian Warblers and one Alpine Swift. A bit further along the road, just west of Babino Polje, two Alpine Swift, a Pallid Swift and a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk were seen. Pallid Swifts were also noted on our return at the campsite.

That evening, we returned to the same road as yesterday, the road to Blato and Kozanica. Near the graveyard of Blato we noted the butterflies Lycaena phlaeas and Aricia agestis. At the fishponds of Kozanica, again one Hermann’s Tortoise Testudo hermanni was seen. Other species seen here were a male Crocothemis erythraea (again), a male and female Cercion lindenii, Anax imperator and Ischnura elegans. A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was walking with the goats.

Back at the campsite, we saw four Turkish Geckos Hemidactylus turcicus. At the parking place, one Eastern Hedgehog Erinaceus concolor was seen and one European Scops Owl flew past the lantern. Two Scops Owls were calling.

Day 21: Friday, July the 18th, 2003: Mljet island – Adriatic Sea - Split – Vis island

Birds at a glance: Scopoli’s Shearwater, Mediterranean Gull, European Scops Owl

37 kilometres of driving

We took the ferry from Sobra to Split at 10:00. This 8-hour journey through the Adriatic Sea and along the beautiful Croatian coast can only be made on Fridays. By incident we wanted to leave the island on Friday! Otherwise, one has to take the boat to Dubrovnik again and drive to Split.  We arrived – with a delay of about an hour – at 19:00 in the harbour of Split. During this boat trip we saw one Scopoli’s Shearwater halfway between the tip of the small island of Ščedro and Hvar. In the harbour of Split, many hundreds of Common Swifts were seen hunting above the city and harbour. One of them was partially leucististic on its flanks and undertail coverts. We took the next ferry, from Split to Vis. Just before leaving the harbour at 20:00, a first-summer Mediterranean Gull passed by.

After some problems finding a place to spend the night, we ended up in Komiza. An old lady, Marija Ratkovic has some nice rooms for hire. Her house is situated close to the harbour. We paid her 100 Kuna per person per night. While searching for miss Ratkovic in the village Komiza, we encountered two Eastern Hedgehogs Erinaceus concolor and two calling European Scops Owls. Three Turkish Geckos Hemidactylus turcicus were seen on the wall across our rooms.

Day 22: Saturday, July the 19th, 2003: Vis island

Birds at a glance: Eleonora’s Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

125 kilometres of driving

The morning was started excellent with a light morph Eleonora’s Falcon seen from the window of our room in Komiza. The bird flew above the harbour of the village. A few minutes later, an Alpine Swift passed by.

We had left the car that night at a parking place opposite of a “guarded” parking (guarded by some kind of idiot. Quite expensive, too), which was about a ten minutes walk from our rooms. At that parking place, we found the butterfly Hipparchia syriaca. Although it is, according to the butterfly guide we used, only possible to distinguish this species from Hipparchia fagi by the genitals of the males, we are confident about the identification (which is only based on morphology of the wings). We checked in total five individuals (three males and two females). The males were all very dark both above (only a dark grey band on the wing) and below and showed only one eyespot on the upperside (on the wingtip of the forewing) and two on the underside (one on the wingtip of the forewing and one on the hindwing). Females showed somewhat lighter bars on the upperside (than the males) with a greyish bar across the forewing and a more whitish (but not at all clean white) hindwing. On the latter was one tiny eyespot, on the forewing were two spots of which the one in cell 2 was small. Both sexes were identical to the plates in Lewington, R & Tolman, T (1997). Other butterflies at the parking were Limenitis reducta, Hipparchia statilinus and one Polygonia egea. A big moth rather similar to Catocala nupta was also seen there.

Now it was time to watch some nice Eleonora’s Falcons. We didn’t have to wait long, cause less than a kilometre south from Komiza several falcons flew along the road. We parked the car as soon as possible to watch them with telescopes. Very nice birds indeed!! The falcons, we estimated at least five individuals (both dark and light morphs), showed very well and were flying above the see, along the hill and above the village of Komiza, where two Alpine Swifts were seen, too. After a while we drove a bit further. Along the road that leads south of the village Komiza we found a rubbish-dump, with a road to and through it. We passed the dump by this road and parked the car a few hundred metres further along the road. From there, more (or the same) Eleonora’s Falcons were seen. They probably breed on the cliffs down there. A Blue Rock Thrush perched on a small building at the left side. A walk further down along this road produced almost nothing more, but we did find a skin of a Four-lined Snake Elaphe quatuorlineata. As the skin was partly in a small cave, it wasn’t possible to take the whole skin. The part we did get, however, was impressively big!! On our way back we passed the rubbish again and saw three Common Kestrels, some Yellow-legged Gulls, Hooded Crows and two butterflies of the species Papilio machaon.

In the surroundings of the villages Podhumlje and Primulicevo we saw a female and two young Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, two more Eleonora’s Falcons and some Sardinian Warblers. Butterflies noted there were about ten Iphiclides podalirius, Hipparchia statilinus, Limenitis reducta, Gonepteryx cleopatra and Brintesia circe.

Near the caves of Titova Spilja we scored some nice lizards. Driving to Podspilje and taking the road to Žena Glava one can reach these caves. At the road junction turn left to Borovk. When driving uphill there is a stone stairway uphill in a bend to the left. There is some space to park the car here. At the stairs and near the entrants of the caves, we saw about 10 Sharp-snouted Rock Lizards Lacerta oxycephala and 15 Italian Wall Lizards Podarcis sicula. We also visited the top of this hill (from the other side). Here is a small building and a pylon. Lots of Vanessa cardui (a butterfly) were seen here, as well as one female Sympetrum fonscolombii (a dragonfly).

Near the village of Plisco Polje, a female Cirl Bunting, some Sardinian Warblers and a family of Red-backed Shrikes were seen. At the east side of the main road from Rukavac to Ženka, close to the village of Ženka, a young Four-lined Snake Elaphe quatuorlineata of about 30 centimetres was discovered and consequently caught and photographed. On our way back to Komiza we saw a male Cirl Bunting by the hairpin bends just before reaching Komiza.

Day 23: Sunday, July the 20th, 2003: Vis island – Split – Klis – Starikaštel

Birds at a glance: Scopoli’s Shearwater, Rock Nuthatch, Red-rumped Swallow

81 kilometres of driving

We woke up early to look out for seabirds. Our aim was to see Scopoli’s and especially Yelkouan Shearwater. We walked from the watch point, south of Komiza and the rubbish-dump, towards the most southwestern point of the island. From there we saw Scopoli’s Shearwaters. As we probably saw the same birds over and over again we estimated that the total number had to be at least 15 birds. A few times a group of 7 birds was seen circling around one spot where suddenly a very big Tuna jumped out of the water! From the same spot, we observed five Alpine Swifts, about ten Pallid Swifts. In the surroundings of the buildings at the tip of the island a group of about 40 Spanish Sparrows was seen, as well as a Common Cuckoo, a Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warblers and a European Serin. About 30 Italian Wall Lizards Podarcis sicula and lots of Sharp-snouted Rock Lizards Lacerta oxycephala were seen there, too.

We took the ferry from Vis to Split at 13:00. During the journey we saw one Scopoli’s Shearwater. About halfway Wesley noted a huge pile of garbage floating along the ship, which turned out to be a dead sea turtle, most probable being a Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta.

After arrival in Split we drove to the village Klis above Split. This can be reached by driving towards Reijk on the main road E65 and following the brown signs to the fortress of Klis, so heading towards the north. From the “Posta” in the old village Klis we could observe both the old fortress and a huge steep cliff. Klis should be a good place to see Wallcreeper. We didn’t, however, know the exact place. Birding was good anyway, although we didn’t see Wallcreeper. On the steep cliff we saw two Blue Rock Thrushes, one or two Rock Nuthatches, an adult Peregrine, lots of Alpine Swifts (about 30 birds) and Crag Martins. Surprisingly, one or two Red-rumped Swallows were seen at the old fortress. We didn’t expect to see this species. House Martins and Barn Swallows were also present. Another Blue Rock Thrush (a male hammering a large green beetle on a roof) was seen from the entrance of the fortress and two Alpine Choughs flew over. In the village, the butterflies Polygonia egea and Melitaea didyma were both represented by some individuals. In an attempt to get closer to the cliff above the town, about five Hawfinches and a Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris were seen.

We slept that night on a campsite in Starikaštel, further north along the coast. We paid 160 Kuna for that night. In the evening, a walk along the beach produced a European Scops Owl and a Long-eared Owl.

Day 24: Monday, July the 21st, 2003: Starikaštel – Selena – Paklenica NP

Birds at a glance: Spanish Sparrow, Rock Partridge, Sombre Tit, Rock Nuthatch

219 kilometres of driving

In the morning we drove from Starikaštel to the village Selena, close to the entrance of Paklenica National Park (a distance of 185 kilometres). During this journey a male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear was seen flying across the road. Furthermore, a hovering Short-toed Eagle and some European Bee-eaters were seen. It turned out that the coast around Selena was covered by dozens of campsite. We randomly chose for the campsite “Pisak Seline”. This campsite is very close to the eastern entrance of the NP, “Mala Paklenica”.

At the main entrance of the Paklenica NP, we were told to go to a biologist at the NP information centre in Starigrad-Paklenica for details about birds, mammals, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles of the NP. He would be there till 15:00, so we were just in time to meet him. Without much trouble the info centre was found, as well as the biologist (sadly, we do not know his name). From him, we received info on good spots for Rock Partridge, Spanish Sparrow, Black-headed Bunting and snakes (12 species can be found in the NP!). About 80 species of butterfly are found in the NP. In spring, lots of Zerynthia polyxena can be found there, but we were to late to see any imago.

Near a campsite by the hotel “Alan”, we found a male Spanish Sparrow between lots of ‘female-type’ sparrows (strangely, we didn’t see any obvious female Spanish Sparrows with dark flank streaks and brightly coloured tramlines…). Because we still hadn’t seen any Black-headed Buntings (although is it very common according to lots of people…), we searched for them in and around the small cultivated lands south of the main road, opposite to the road which leads to the main entrance of the NP. No Black-headed Buntings here either, but we did saw some European Bee-eaters, European Turtle Dove, Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Oriole and Cirl Buntings. Opposite of the entrance of the campsite a large area of small cultivated lands can be found, traversed by a dry riverbed. It turned out to be a good spot for lots of small birds. In the late afternoon, an Eastern Orphean Warbler was seen quite well. Other birds there were lots of European Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles (could be observed very good, both perched and hovering), Red-backed Shrikes and Cirl Buntings. The nice butterfly Polyommatus bellargus was seen also there, as well as lots of Lycaena phlaeas and two unidentified individuals belong to some species of the genus Pyrgus. At least two Sand Lizards Lacerta agilis were seen there, too. On our way back to the campsite we walked in the dry river bed. Suddenly, we found two dead and dried out European Glass Lizards Ophisaurus apodus (also know as Scheltopusik)! Both individuals were about 60-70 centimetres!

In the evening, we decided to try for Rock Partridge at the spot provided by the biologist at the info centre. This is a road west of (and outside!) the NP. To reach this road, drive through the village Starigrad-Paklenica on the main road to the west. Turn right about 700 metres after passing the NP info centre. This is a small inconspicuous road only marked by a sign with “Veliko Runjo 10 km”. After three kilometres driving on this road uphill (and passing a lot of garbage), you will see a sign with “Veliko Runjo 7 km” (what a surprise)… From this point on, the road becomes inaccessible for normal cars and can only be used by four-wheel driven cars. There is a parking here with a telephone cell which makes a very soft Scops Owl call. We went into the mountains (Rock Nuthatch was one of the first birds we saw) and after a few hundred metres walking we arrived in a valley with a few ramshackle buildings and some old cultivated land. There is one obvious dead tree in the middle. Around this tree, at least three Sombre Tits were actively calling and showing themselves. A Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Red-backed Shrikes and Cirl Buntings could also be found there. Soon, Rob discovered a partridge walking the rocks further along the path. The bird disappeared very soon and could not be refound for a long time, till suddenly (we had been standing there for nearly half an hour) five Rock Partridges flew up and landed a bit further. One of them could be watched for about two minutes perched on a rock. Another was briefly seen a few minutes later. Wesley found a feather from the tail of a Rock Partridge. Further along the road, near a split, two Eastern Black-eared Wheatears were found, as well as some more Rock Nuthatches. As it rapidly became darker, we made our way back to the car. On our way, we found a Four-lined Snake Elaphe quatuorlineata. Ben tried to catch it but the snake turned out to be very aggressive. Its length was about one metre. Two butterflies were found during the walk, one was a Polyommatus coridon and the other one was a Arethusana arethusa.

Day 25: Tuesday, July the 22nd, 2003: Paklenica NP

Birds at a glance: Wryneck, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Orphean Warbler

20 kilometres of driving

The early morning was spent searching for Black-headed Bunting in the surroundings of the campsite, in the same cultivated area as the day before. A pair of Wryneck with a young was found there near a small stone shed. After crossing the dry riverbed, this was the first building on the right side. At the same spot, a female Subalpine Warbler and a Common Nightingale were found. A female Eastern Orphean Warbler with her young was seen further away from the campsite. Other birds there were a group of about 40 European Bee-eaters, a Northern Chiffchaff and lots of Golden Orioles, Red-backed Shrikes and Cirl Buntings.

From 6:30 Paklenica NP is opened. We arrived there – with some delay due to the Wrynecks – at 7:00 and spent there the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon. A ticket for one day costs 40 Kuna per person. We walked the main path to the “Foresters House” which follows the brook. The brook, however, was largely dried out. From about the Foresters House uphill, water was still streaming. The first part of the path goes through a huge gorge, in which lots of Alpine Swifts (at least 50 birds) and Rock Nuthatches (about ten birds observed) can be found. About 6 Crag Martins were also present. In addition, a group of about 20 doves that closely resembled Rock Dove could be seen there, too. About half of the birds, however, were coloured much darker than a classic Rock Dove should be. Especially the breast and underside were dark grey and showed a deep purple shade. One bird even had large white patches on its body and primaries!! Further along the path, Grey Wagtail was found at some points. Halfway to the forester house, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen and a Eurasian Nuthatch was heard. A Polyommatus daphnis, a beautiful butterfly, was found in that area, too. Kasper had the luck to encounter a Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra, which was walking downhill to the path, but decided to turn around when it discovered the birder… Along the path, close to the place where a small stone building and its surroundings are used as a toilet by lots of people, two Balkan Green Lizards Lacerta trilineata (a female and a young male with a green head) were seen and photographed. Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus were found at several spots along the path. Further uphill, a Eastern Green Lizard Lacerta (viridis) viridis was seen and photographed. Downstream of the second bridge (when counted from the “Foresters House”) one individual of the dragonfly species Somatochlora meridionalis was seen. That spot was also good for butterflies, with Hesperia comma (3), Erynnis tages (1) and lots of drinking butterflies, like Polyommatus coridon, Neozphyrus quercus, Argynnis paphia, Iphiclides podalirius, Limenitis reducta and Arethusana arethusa (these species were very common everywhere along the whole path). From the Foresters House, Ben and Rob walked about a kilometre further uphill, as far as one spot where the brook runs through an open area and is not shaded for about 40 metres. On that stretch, three Gonepteryx rhamni (a butterfly), about 30 Calopteryx virgo (a dragonfly) and another very pretty male Eastern Green Lizard Lacerta (viridis) viridis were seen. Common Wall Lizards Podarcis muralis turned out to be very common here. At the open spot, one male Grey-headed Woodpecker was shortly observed. A Eurasian Nuthatch was also found here, but butterflies were best here. Lots of Polyommatus coridon came here to drink and between them, at least one male P dorylas was found. Another good discovery here was the male Chazara briseis. Not far from this spot, one Argynnis aglaja and one Nymphalis antiopa were seen. Other species of butterflies encountered along the whole stretch were Pararge aegeria (2), Polygonia egea (about ten individuals), Hipparchia fagi (about 30 individuals, but it is difficult to make a good estimate) and a few Hipparchia semele. Two nice moths worth mentioning were found: one similar to Catocala nupta (2) and the other probably was Euplagio quadripunctaria. About 15 Grass Snakes Natrix natrix were found and also some larvae of Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra. The tadpoles found in the brook probably were Agile Frogs Rana dalmatina, but no mature individuals could be found in the surroundings. Also worth mentioning are the crayfish which could be found in the last pools of remaining water in the dried parts of the brook.

In the evening we went back to the NP, mostly for snakes (which we didn’t see). This time we took the eastern entrance close to the campsite. Good signs make this entrance easy to find from the main road. This entrance is called “Mala Paklenica”. At the parking, we saw a female Woodchat Shrike and heard Cirl Bunting. Further along the path, after passing a quite big dam, about 20 Alpine Swift were flying around and calling loudly. Wesley claimed a male Blue Rock Thrush and two Eastern Orphean Warblers within a few minutes. Some butterflies were found here: Polyommatus coridon, P bellargus (1), P icarus and Hipparchia fagi. Furthermore, an unidentified Pyrgus species was shortly seen. The only lizard found here was Dalmatian Algyroides Algyroides nigropunctatus.

Day 26: Wednesday, July the 23rd, 2003: Selena –Großgluckner – Kaprun

Birds at a glance: Snow Finch, Ring Ouzel

693 kilometres of driving

We departed early in the morning to head for Austria. At the campsite, we heard some European Bee-eaters and along the coast further north, Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. The journey to Austria went by without any problems.

In Austria, we decided to drive via Lienz to Kaprun. This road is largely a touristy turnpike road called Großgluckner. Consequently, one has to bring loads of money to enter the road. The amount of € 26 for a car startled us at first, but later on we got used to the high Austrian prices (see below). It turned out that from 18:00 on, the prices are much lower. As we arrived at this point later than 18:00, we had to pay € 13 … still quite an impressive amount of money for such a short distance. We didn’t know, at that point, what the road would bring us. We drove uphill. When we arrived at a restaurant near the peak of the Edelweißspitze, suddenly a male Snow Finch perched on the railing of the road!! The bird could be watched from a short distance for about half a minute. From the top of the mountain, some Alpine Marmots Marmota marmota were seen. Further downhill, Wesley and Kasper saw a female Ring Ouzel. A Common Cuckoo was also seen there. Everywhere Water Pipits were calling and some Black Redstarts were seen.

We planned to stay at the youth hostel of Kaprun. After a quick snack we found the hostel without any problems at about 21:30. We entered the hostel but it turned out that the office had been closed at 20:00 and that no staff member could help us… Strangely, we could enter the hostel without any problems and we could have taken anything we wanted… However, after waiting a while, we decided to go to a campsite nearby. At the other side of the river are two campsites. We choose the one direct to the main road. The office of the campsite, however, turned out to be closed… from 20:00! Luckily, the son of the warden was home and pointed out that we could stay and return to pay in the morning.

Day 27: Thursday, July the 24th, 2003: Kaprun – Kitzsteinhorn

Birds at a glance: Snow Finch, Alpine Accentor, Rock Thrush

28 kilometres of driving

We woke up at 7 o’clock, paid the campsite (€ 30 in total) and went to the youth hostel. The office here opened at 8 o’clock and we could leave our stuff in our rooms. The youth hostel cost not less than € 18 per person!

The Kitzsteinhorn was the next target. We bought a ticket for the cableway to the top of the mountain (€ 21 per person) and went uphill. At the first stop, we had to wait for about an hour because the second lift broke down. That wasn’t a punishment at all, cause the surroundings turned out to be interesting. First, a Dipper was discovered. Later, a second bird was seen downhill. A famous and much wanted butterfly, the Parnassius appollo, was seen a few minutes later. This turned out to be the only individual seen here. Almost all other butterflies found there were Erebia species. The first one to be caught was identified as a Erebia ligea, the second as a E manto and the third as a E melampus!

The second stop is at the Alpine Center. This is a very good spot for Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor and both species were quickly found. Both species showed very well. Two adult Alpine Accentors were seen, of which one was feeding a juvenile bird. Three Snow Finches were seen: a male, a female and a juvenile bird. Although we knew changes were extremely low, we still hoped to see Ptarmigan and decided to walk further uphill. We scanned adjacent slopes and patches of snow, without any result. Rob and Ben, however, found one Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and a juvenile Wheatear. Alpine Marmots Marmota marmota were also seen here.

After a while we went back to the Alpin Center and took the third and last elevator. At the top is a restaurant with delicious apfelstrudel and warm chocolate. The view is – off course – very nice, but no animals except Homo sapiens were seen there.

Day 28: Friday, July the 25th, 2003: Kaprun - Großgluckner

Birds at a glance: Citril Finch, Snow Finch

219 kilometres of driving

This day we were accompanied by Daphne (the girlfriend of Rob) and her sister Ilse. They had arrived at the youth hostel the day before. After a small breakfast (the hostel ran out of ‘brötchen’ while about a hundred kids were there during their school outing) we went to the multi-storey car parking uphill that can be found by driving from Kaprun south until the road ends after a couple of kilometres. At the right side of this building is a small road that follows the right side of the brook. We walked uphill but didn’t found any good habitat for Citril Finch. After encountering a brook, which runs from the right side into the aforementioned greater brook, we decided to try somewhere else. At this spot, however, we found two young Alpine Salamanders Salamandra atra! Butterflies were, amongst others, represented by some Argynnis paphia.

The second spot was the parking lot of the cableway to the Kitzsteinhorn. We searched for Citril Finch in the forest at the back of the parking area. Only Wesley succeeded and saw three to four birds in the top of the spruces. We waited a long time for the birds to reappear, but it was futile. Other birds seen here were Wood Warbler, Bullfinch and European Goldfinch. At the parking, the butterfly Lasiommata maera was found. In the aforementioned forest, a small grassland can be found with a couple of cows. One Argynnis adippe was found there, as well as some Argynnis paphia. The dragonfly Aeshna grandis was hunting here.

After a very short visit to the youth hostel we returned to the turnpike road of two days ago (day 26; Großgluckner). As mentioned before, the prize to enter this road is much lower after 18:00. We arrived at the entrance about two hours to early so we decided to stay near the entrance and search for some birds and butterflies. When approaching from the north, a brook (which contains mainly water from the glaciers) runs at the right side of the road. There is a path at the right side of the brook running further into the valley. In the grasslands along this path, we found one individual of the butterfly species Erebia meolans! Some other butterflies found here were Colias alfacariensis (about 5), Argynnis aglaja (1) and Erebia ligea.

After 18:00, we entered the turnpike road and drove uphill. We stopped several times to listen for birds and watch for butterflies. Just below the tree-line, a few butterflies were found: Boloria titania (1), Lycaena virgaureae (one male) and Erebia ligea. Above the tree line, lots of Water Pipits were seen. House Martins breed under a bridge. Alpine Marmot Marmota marmota were also seen on several spots. Near the restaurant on the top, the same as on day 26, Snow Finches were seen again. This time, a nest with young birds was found!

Day 29: Saturday, July the 26th, 2003: Kaprun – Bad Ems (Germany)

Birds at a glance: uhhhh… Black Kite… Stock Dove…

788 kilometres of driving

This day we started our journey home and drove from Kaprun to Bad Ems in Germany. We travelled 788 km, but this is inclusive the search for a campsite, which we found. It was absolutely fantastic over there. During the journey, we saw two Black Kites and finally, Stock Dove was added to the trip list…

Day 30: Sunday, July the 27th, 2003: Bad Ems – home

Birds at a glance: uhhhh… Mistle Thrush

492 kilometres of driving

The campsite proofed to be very, very, very good for birds, with – only the highlights – Mistle Thrush, House Martins, Greenfinches, Wood Pigeons and Mute Swans! We tried to leave the place as quick as possible. Tired or sick, but satisfied, we came home in the afternoon.

Full Trip list (pdf)


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