Thursday 18th May 2017
HUNGARY – WILDLIFE OF THE KISKUNSAG NATIONAL PARK
Thursday 18th – Tuesday 23rd May 2017
Our group met at Gatwick for a mid-morning flight to Budapest which took off a little later than scheduled, but in only just over two hours we found ourselves in a warm Budapest with temperatures around 25 degrees.
After picking up luggage we met up with Andrea, one of our guides for the tour who took us to our bus which was driven by Zoli (who had driven on our tour in 2013).
It didn't long to load up and we were soon on our way to a small village where we were shown a traditional church built in the 13th century. Thatched cottages looked quaint and soon we heard the drumming of a male SYRIAN WOODPECKER. We spotted it coming in and out of a nest hole with the male and female taking turns to feed the young.
A cracking male BLACK REDSTART sat atop a weather vane allowing good photographic opportunities whilst common species were seen such as EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE, COMMON STARLING and a distant singing EUROPEAN SERIN.
We were then off towards our base but along the way stopped off at a woodland for a brief stroll. EUROPEAN NUTHATCH and SHORT-TOED TREECREEPERS were seen plus SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS, whilst the songs of COMMON CHAFFINCH, SONG THRUSH and EUROPEAN ROBIN emanated from the woodland.
Plenty of insects were seen including BLUE CHASERS, HAIRY HAWKER, SCORPION FLIES and COMMA BUTTERFLIES.
Across the road on the edge of a damp meadow we heard a singing male RIVER WARBLER and with patience we managed brief views of this elusive bird. The meadow was full of SOUTHERN MARSH ORCHIDS creating a beautiful sight.
With time getting on we began the hour journey towards our base for the tour and along the way spotted EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, EUROPEAN ROLLERS And EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES.
Eventually we arrived at the Kondor Ecolodge to the sounds of EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES, HAWFINCHES, TREE SPARROWS and SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS.
Our evening meal was very welcome after a long day of travelling and we concluded the meal with a very nice homemade fruit brandy that really hit the spot!
Friday 19th May 2017
Some of the group met at 0600hrs for a walk around the area which produced up to 10 EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE, HOODED CROW, EUROPEAN NUTHATCH, HAWFINCH and GOLDEN ORIOLES.
Butterflies were abundant and included QUEEN OF SPAIN FRITILLARIES, SILVER-STUDDED BLUE & CHESTNUT HEATHS with some great views. It was then time to head back for breakfast which was a superb spread. After making our picnic lunch we left the ecolodge and headed off eastwards.
EUROPEAN ROLLERS were numerous along roadside wires with CORN BUNTINGS singing from atop bushes. Our drive produced WHITE STORK, RED-BACKED SHRIKES, WESTERN MARSH HARRIER, ROOKS, LAPWING and TREE SPARROWS.
Our first main site of the day was an area of reed-fringed lakes which held good numbers of WHISKERED TERNS, up to five FERRUGINOUS DUCKS, drake GARGANEY, MALLARD, GADWALL, GREAT EGRETS, PURPLE HERONS and the main stars of the show, several pairs of RED-FOOTED FALCONS.
These fantastic birds sat in the numerous dead trees surrounding us and provided great views of both males and females. BLACK-WINGED STILTS, AVOCETS, BLACK-HEADED GULLS and more WHISKERED TERNS were seen.
We moved on to an area of alkaline lakes where we would spend time generally birding the area. A male LESSER GREY SHRIKE posed on top of a distant tree and on the lake we found COMMON SHELDUCK, COMMON POCHARD, a distant GREAT REED WARBLER and some EURASIAN SPOONBILLS that could be seen from the viewing tower.
With our stomachs rumbling, we tucked into our lunches along with a hot drink, it was nice to sit in the shade after a warm morning.
Afterwards we drove to a small channel bordered by Poplars and home to some exciting birds. As we got out of the coach we heard the unmistakable song of a male ICTERINE WARBLER and with patience, we had good views as it sat out on occasions.
EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES uttered their fluty songs and EUROPEAN NIGHTINGALES were also heard but remained unseen. Insects were well represented with BLUE FEATHERLEGS, GREEN-EYED HAWKER, BLUE CHASER & FOUR-SPOTTED CHASERS.
As we walked slowly along the path, we spotted a couple of BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS, one of which showed well in the scope. With it being rather quiet we retreated our steps and heard the unmistakeable reeling of a male SAVI’S WARBLER. By standing quietly we had amazing views of the bird down to around 6 feet as it came in with food to feed its young, an amazing sight!
We left the bird in peace and moved to the other side of the road where BANDED DEMOISELLES flitted across the moving water and COMMON TERNS fished alongside us. Our main target here was PENDULINE TIT and we eventually tracked down a male that called from riverside vegetation and although the light wasn't brilliant, we had satisfactory views.
Our last site of the day was a sandy area where caterpillars of the SOUTHERN FESTOON BUTTERFLY were seen on the poisonous plant EUROPEAN BIRTHWORT and a few QUEEN OF SPAIN FRITILLARIES were on the path. A new butterfly for all of us was a CARDINAL that perched up on trees but unfortunately flew off before we could get any photographs.
The walk back gave us brilliant views of a pair of RED-BACKED SHRIKES plus flight views of three EUROPEAN GOLDEN ORIOLES and a pair of displaying EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES on power lines over the track.
We then headed back to base for a shower before meeting for a cold beer in the garden whilst EUROPEAN GOLDEN ORIOLES, HAWFINCHES, SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS and HOOPOES called in the distance.
Our evening meal was very good and after a full day we were ready for our bed and looking forward to the following day.
Saturday 20th May 2017
We once again met before breakfast for a stroll around to a different area and the walk along the sandy track yielded several EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES including birds perched and in flight whilst a pair of COMMON BUZZARDS circled over a recently cleared area.
The clearing looked perfect for Tree Pipit and it wasn't long before we heard and saw a male TREE PIPIT perched on top of a small branch. EUROPEAN ROLLER and a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was seen displaying.
It was soon time to head back for breakfast and we arrived back to a lovely spread prepared by Andrea and Gabor. We tucked in and afterwards loaded up and headed off for the day.
Our journey took us through the large town of Kecsemet and past the new Mercedes Benz works that had boosted the local economy. After around an hour of driving we arrived at a woodland which almost immediately produced a male MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER. Good views were had as it clung to a dead tree with a bill full of food.
With the weather warming up nicely we took a walk through the wood and at a small crossroads heard a singing COLLARED FLYCATCHER. Eventually we all managed to get on it as it was quite mobile.
Several GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS were heard and a juvenile was seen at an entrance to a nest hole but more exciting was the discovery of a juvenile LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER that occasional popped its head out of another nest hole. After a patient wait, the adults came in to feed the bird before vanishing into the forest.
Carrying on, we heard a very loud drumming that sounded like machine gun fire and it was the distinctive ringing song of a male BLACK WOODPECKER but just as we tried to locate the bird, a noisy scout troop came marching through and the bird was only seen briefly by a handful us.
The path took us across a ploughed field where a male NORTHERN GOSHAWK briefly displayed overhead and a PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLY basked in the hot sunshine.
Walking through a wildflower rich meadow with LOOSE-FLOWERED ORCHID, RAGGED ROBIN and MEADOW BUTTERCUP in profusion, we reached a tower overlooking a wet area covered with lily pads. WHISKERED TERNS were incredibly common here with birds giving superb flyby views.
Up to eight PYGMY CORMORANTS roosted on dead branches and on the open water we located FERRUGINOUS DUCKS, GARGANEY and both GREAT CRESTED and LITTLE GREBES. A couple of BLACK STORKS drifted overhead before disappearing into the distance.
With our stomachs rumbling, we headed back and tried to find the Black Woodpecker once more, imagine our surprise when a male BLACK WOODPECKER came in right over our heads!
Unfortunately it didn't hang around but we were still delighted by this stroke of luck. The walk back to the van produced a few butterflies including COMMON GLIDER and CARDINAL, the latter basking on the track briefly.
With the scouts being particularly noisy in a forest clearing, we drove to a small village and enjoyed our picnic lunch in the shade of an old church. Afterwards we walked to the northern boundary of the churchyard where we had a superb panoramic view of the area.
The vast wetland below looked crammed full of birds so we first popped in to the local village where a delicious ice cream was necessary before heading down to the wetland.
A male GREAT REED WARBLER sang from a small reedy island and the surrounding margins produced LITTLE EGRET, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON and GREY HERON. A dead EUROPEAN BEAVER was a surprise find, but we didn't linger too long as it was pretty whiffy!
From a viewpoint overlooking the wetland we found lots of BLACK-NECKED GREBES, FERRUGINOUS DUCKS, GARGANEY, WHISKERED TERNS and a few BLACK TERNS and a single WHITE-WINGED TERN that showed distantly in the sunshine.
A pair of BLACK-WINGED STILTS fed in the shallow water and on a distant island were an adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL and a summer plumaged RUDDY TURNSTONE.
A few MARSH FROGS jumped into the water as we wandered through the grassland and a good find was a FIRE-BELLIED TOAD that hid behind protective wire on the waters edge. At the van, several of the group had photographed a cracking SQUACCO HERON but it disappeared by the time everyone arrived - typical!
With time slipping away, we dropped into a nearby site which immediately rewarded us with brief views of a singing EASTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER. This species is at the western most limit of its range in Hungary and we were lucky to see this scarce bird albeit fleetingly.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS were numerous along the edge of the river and a good find were a family group of LONG-TAILED TITS of which an adult was of the white-headed race caudatus.
As we got back to the van, a distant SQUACCO HERON was seen so we had now all caught up this species. EUROPEAN NIGHTINGALES sang from dense scrub before it was time to head to our last site of the day.
The journey yielded CRESTED LARK, EUROPEAN STONECHAT and lots of EUROPEAN GOLDFINCHES on roadside wires until we turned off the main road and drove into an area of agricultural land. A scan of the pylons quickly produced an adult SAKER FALCON perched alongside a nest box containing three healthy looking chicks. After a few minutes the male came in with food which he passed to the female and she fed the chicks before they both flew off.
We moved closer and waited patiently for them to come back and were entertained by quite a few COMMON KESTRELS, NORTHERN WHEATEAR, BARN SWALLOWS and a surprise EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE which although distant, was quite good through the scope.
As we watched this magnificent bird the male SAKER FALCON came flying past and flew up to the pylon where he sat waiting for his mate. After a short while she came back carrying a bird and promptly started ripping off chunks to feed her hungry chicks.
It was then time to head back and at the van a female EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK circled over a wheat field. The journey back did not take long and we arrived back at our base after what had been another good day.
Our evening meal was once again very good and after completing the bird list, we left the restaurant to the sounds of both EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR and EURASIAN SCOP’S OWL calling in the distance.
Sunday 21st May 2017
There was no official pre-breakfast walk this morning but we all managed to spend time around the accommodation where BLACK WOODPECKER was heard calling and we saw the usual suspects, RED-BACKED SHRIKE, EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, EURASIAN ROLLER and EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES. HAWFINCHES were common around the pond in the garden and GOLDEN ORIOLES sang from the poplars.
After a hearty breakfast we were loading up the van when a car pulled in containing two Czech ringers, they were visiting the area ringing and checking out nest boxes installed for Rollers and owls.
They invited us to an area where a LITTLE OWL was nesting and had four chicks, they asked if we wanted to see them so we jumped at the chance and headed along the road to take a look.
Passing a field of wheat we flushed two COMMON QUAIL that were a surprise! We reached the spot and a few EUROPEAN ROLLERS showed well. In the fields were a multitude of wildflowers including BUG and LATE SPIDER ORCHIDS.
We followed the Czech guys across the field and they put a ladder up to the box and removed a single chick. After showing us this lovely bird we headed back so not to cause disturbance to the owl family.
By an abandoned farmhouse a singing male SEDGE WARBLER perched up in the reeds before we headed off back towards our base.
Our next stop was an open field where we found many EUROPEAN SOUSLIKS whilst a very Steppe Buzzard looking COMMON BUZZARD perched on a cattle feeder.
We moved onwards along the path and had brief views of a CRESTED LARK and a few EUROPEAN ROLLERS that were taking advantage of the food whilst silage was being baled up.
The real highlight was a visit to a EUROPEAN BEE-EATER nesting colony where up to fifty birds entertained us both in flight and on the ground. With the light being perfect, the birds glowed in the sunshine.
With lunchtime approaching we visited a nearby nature trail where we enjoyed a stroll through the poplar lined meadows. From a raised mound we saw a COMMON WHITETHROAT performing his song flight whilst a single EURASIAN HOBBY drifted over alarming the BARN SWALLOWS.
As we headed into the wood a singing ICTERINE WARBLER was heard singing and unusually it was mimicking Goldfinch, Great Tit and Barn Swallow which was more consistent of Marsh Warbler.
Suddenly, a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER drifted over us before rising high into a thermal and drifting off and an excursion into the damp wood was well rewarded with views of a singing COMMON NIGHTINGALE.
The trail brought us out on the road opposite a small restaurant where after buying a cold drink we had lunch adjacent to the fish ponds. Here were lots of EDIBLE FROGS and both HOODED CROW and BARN SWALLOWS were seen in the gardens.
With a storm approaching and the sky getting darker we headed off to an old military area which is now part of the national park. EURASIAN HOOPOES, EUROPEAN ROLLERS and EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS were present, many using the dead trees to perch in to catch the insects they rely on.
A WOODLARK was a good spot as it perched up on a branch before vanishing and then an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen quickly followed by another.
With news of a singing Wryneck we diverted into the wood but despite a thorough search, we couldn't locate it. We did however hear singing TREE PIPIT and see EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLE briefly. The WHITE-TAILED EAGLES reappeared and put on a real show as they circled around overhead. This pair were nesting and had one large chick, being raised on an artificial platform nearby.
Wanting to leave these birds in peace, we were about to go back when a male EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLE landed in a bare tree before rapidly flying off.
As we drove out along the sandy tracks we stopped to look at more EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS including a bird that appeared to show gun shot damage to its right wing, probably caused as it made its migration through the eastern Mediterranean.
Luckily, whilst watching this bird a TAWNY PIPIT perched on a concrete tank trap and although distant, we had reasonable views. Along the main road we stopped to admire a feeding EURASIAN HOOPOE in a front garden that was nesting under the eaves of a house.
Our last port of call for the day was a reed-fringed ditch that was rather quiet bird-wise, probably due to an approaching storm where the wind had increased significantly through the area.
Just as we were about to get in the van, several raptors flew over the reed-beds and surprisingly they were male MARSH HARRIERS mobbing a female HEN HARRIER!
The Hen Harrier dropped down behind the reeds and vanished from view and despite a good look wasn't seen again.
The journey back produced a distant pair of LESSER GREY SHRIKES and RED-BACKED SHRIKES on fenceposts.
As we arrived back at base, there were a few spots of rain but luckily the storm moved past us!
After some time to get ready we met for our evening meal which was really well received and much needed after a long day.
It was not over though as we made an excursion along the track behind the lodge and within a few seconds spotted a churning EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR in the clearing that quickly flew off.
With patience we had great views of it flying around and we could see the white spots on the wing and the tail of this male bird, amazing!
The walk back also produced a EUROPEAN TREE FROG perched on a small sapling and across the road we could hear a distant calling EURASIAN SCOP'S OWL.
We walked back to the ecolodge after another very good day in the field.
Monday 22nd May 2017
Our pre-breakfast walk took us on our usual route and we found the usual suspects including RED-BACKED SHRIKE, EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, TREE SPARROWS, HAWFINCHES and EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES.
Butterflies were common with QUEEN OF SPAIN & GLANVILLE FRITILLARIES, REVERDIN’S & GREEN-UNDERSIDE BLUES plus LARGE SKIPPERS. MARSH HARRIERS quartered the open grassland, we heard GREEN WOODPECKER and saw GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER.
In the garden we heard a singing male WOOD WARBLER and eventually had brief but good views as it flitted around the perimeter trees before flying over us and into the wood.
With breakfast time upon us, we headed in for another delicious spread prepared by Andrea and Gabor.
Afterwards we headed to the northern Kiskunsag area to visit the Kun Hill, an ancient burial site giving panoramic views over the area. Several MONTAGU'S & MARSH HARRIERS hunted below us and at least three WHINCHATS were perched up in the wildflower rich meadow.
With a heat haze causing issues we walked back down to the van and a female MONTAGU'S HARRIER gave a fly past whilst an EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE was spotted circling over a distant wood.
Our next venue was a huge nesting colony of EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS which gave superb views as they flew back and forth over the colony. A few SAND MARTINS were seen and both PURPLE & GREY HERONS were seen in flight.
Travelling slowly along the minor roads and scanning constantly over the fields produced more MARSH HARRIERS and the roadside bushes held many RED-BACKED SHRIKES and a few LESSER GREY SHRIKES.
Pulling off onto a track we spotted a couple of BLACK-TAILED GODWITS in flight mobbing a male MARSH HARRIER and then we struck gold with at least six COLLARED PRATINCOLES flying over the fields. Just when things couldn't get any better, a GREAT BUSTARD flew past delighting the group with one of our main target birds.
It was then off to our lunch stop in the town of Bugyi which translates into English as Women’s underwear! We enjoyed our sandwiches in a delightful cafe which served delicious cake and ice cream.
Afterwards we drove a short distance to an area of steppe grassland which quickly produced another GREAT BUSTARD hunkered down in the long grass and although hazy we had good views.
GREAT REED WARBLER and SEDGE WARBLER sang from the reedy ditch and a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was seen in the elderberry bushes.
Diverting to another site nearby we bumped along a riverside track and after parking, checked out the channel. EUROPEAN KINGFISHER was seen briefly as was male LITTLE BITTERN and a pair of RED-CRESTED POCHARDS. A distant wet pool was covered with BLACK-HEADED GULLS and GREYLAG GEESE but the heat haze prevented us from finding any waders.
A visit was made to riding stables where around 40 pairs of RED-FOOTED FALCONS were seen, some of which were nesting in old ROOK nests and others that were anxious for ROOKS to fledge so they could nip in and occupy their nests.
A pair of WHITE STORKS showed well on a large nest close to the road but with time slipping away we began our journey back to base. As we got within a kilometre of the Ecolodge we spotted an adult LITTLE OWL perched on a bridge.
We arrived back a little earlier than usual and with some time spare, indulged in a pre-pre dinner beer in the sunshine.
Our evening meal was traditional Hungarian fayre once again and we left the table full up to the brim!
As it was our last night we brought souvenirs such as T-shirts etc and collectively sponsored a EUROPEAN ROLLER nest box!
Tuesday 23rd May 2017
There was no official pre-breakfast walk as we had a long day with an evening flight back to the UK. YELLOWHAMMER & EURASIAN WREN were additions to our lists and after breakfast we drove a short distance to look at a Bee-eater bank that Gabor had created.
There were plenty of EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS around but none had started using the bank. EUROPEAN ROLLER and seven TURTLE DOVES fed in a field. Two EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES flew past and a pair of RED-BACKED SHRIKES perched on wires.
We checked out a small copse for owls and as we waited in the open, heard the wingbeats of a LONG-EARED OWL that was seen briefly by only a couple of the group. A singing MARSH WARBLER was hidden in the dense Elder scrub, but it was good to hear its wide repertoire of songs.
With the weather hotting up, we visited a few more areas on the puzsta where singing COMMON QUAIL were heard from the meadows and ROLLER, LITTLE OWL, HOOPOE and WHITE STORKS were seen.
Lunch was enjoyed at a farm where the owners brought out large doughnuts that you could either cover with Garlic, Sour cream and Cheese or Jam and they hit the spot perfectly!
Afterwards we popped back to finish a final spot of packing before making tracks towards Budapest. We stopped off at the previous days EUROPEAN BEE-EATER spot and had great views once again whilst the sky to the south turned very black.
With time getting on we said our goodbyes to Gabor and Andrea who had looked after us perfectly and Zoli took us onwards to the airport. The heavens opened during our journey but luckily by the time we arrived it had stopped.
The bad news was that our flight was delayed by one hour so we had plenty of time to relax and grab a meal in the departure lounge.
Eventually we got under way and by the time we landed and got through passport control and baggage reclaim, it was around two hours late.
Despite this, we had all enjoyed a fantastic time in Hungary with memories of GOLDEN ORIOLES, BEE-EATERS and ROLLERS around our accommodation in this unspoilt part of Eastern Europe.
Special thanks to the group who were a pleasure to guide and provided many laughs throughout the tour!