Sunday, 29 June 2014

Hungarian Rhapsody...Part Five...On the Puszta (Steppe)

Day six was to be spent visiting the Little Hortobagy a fairly short drive from Farm Lator.  As Farm Lator’s website reminds us, it is set nicely on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains and also the great plains of Hungry and therefore offers excellent habitat to explore.  As the name suggests, a smaller area than the Hortobagy (proper), but no less exciting and rewarding and there are in my experience few visitors.  The other advantage is that there are no areas requiring official guides to enter.  The area is officially managed by the Bukk National Park.

White Storks
Sam and I began the morning garden watch even earlier today. But there was still no sign of Hawfinch or Serin.  My promise to Sam before we’d left the UK of easy sightings of Serin was proving a little dodgy.  Never mind we had our now regular sighting of Eastern Imperial Eagle, so we weren’t complaining!  We passed the Common Terns on flying over the pond at the reed-bed near Saly.
Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike were two of the target birds today and it wasn’t long before we were watching both species.  Rollers were seen in glorious close up and in some numbers.  I’m also pleased to say that after hearing Quail we actually saw a number of them.  The actual sighting of these birds was a first for us all.  Red Backed Shrikes were also in the area. As was Grass Snake seen under our feet as we sat by a small bridge watching Marsh Harriers.  We’d driven along a bone dry and cracked road and had intended to take this off road route around the area, but such was the concern for the hire car we turned around and took a very long detour to the other area we wished to visit.  In 2008 a walk along the tracks meant that Graham and I had to struggle through rubber like mud that stuck to the boots and seemed to suck us into it.  It was so different today as there had been little rain in recent times.  The area was baked hard by the hot sun and we had been told that that the few pools there are, were very low.  We did have new hides to visit which had been put up since our previous visit.

Red Backed Shrike
Walking past the farm and along by the water channels I was surprised that no Whiskered Terns were present at all.  Probably a sign of conditions and one sign of several that climate is playing a part in the distribution of flora and fauna.  We did have sighting of our first (Eastern) Clouded Yellow Butterflies of the trip however, and we were soon climbing the tower hide where we spent a long period of time with excellent and often close sightings of the likes of Night Heron, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Black Stork, Spoonbill (in numbers), Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel (we found pellets on the hide floor which Sam examined in detail), Common Crane (in numbers) and Lesser Grey Shrike.  To have the Black Stork fly over our heads and to watch the mixed flock of Spoonbill and Common Crane take off was definitely a highlight of the trip.   Curlews were heard and we decided to walk to the hide where we could have closer views of the pool.

Black Stork
Once in situ we had fine sightings of Greylag Geese, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Teal, Avocet, Lapwing, Redshank, flock of Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, and a flock of Ruff in summer plumage.  Black Winged Stilts had been picked up in flight early on our walk.  All of the birds today were active and giving fine views often in flight above and around us.

Sam in action


 As we walked around the area we came across Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Bee-Eater, more Rollers, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtails in number, Wheatear, Stonechat, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Hooded Crows, Golden Oriole,  House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting et al.

As we walked back towards the farm and the car we had Roe Deer approach in front of us from the right and it gave a wonderful sighting as it stood on the track watching our approach.  Then as we passed the car a Short Toed Eagle flew over the farm directly towards us and flew over our heads and turned as if to watch us whilst giving a grand sighting.  The bird hung in the air for sometime giving me my best ever sighting of this species.

At the farm
Today’s trip is up there with my all time great birding days.  The sun was still hot as we left for our return to Farm Lator.  It had  been baking hot out there at times today.  Such was the rewards of the day we decided to return tomorrow.

Day Seven. 

Sam and I were in the garden hide bright and early and as well as sighting both Great and Middle Spotted Woodpecker, we heard Green Woodpecker.  Also much to my relief we had sighting of Serin so my promise wasn’t broken.  Perhaps the garden sighting of the week turned up in the form of Hawfinch both adult and juvenile.  Definitely my best ever sighting of Hawfinch.  All this amongst numerous Great Tits, the odd Blue Tit, Marsh Tits and numbers of Nuthatch.  Coal Tit never did appear on the trip list!  We kept up our daily sighting of Eastern Imperial Eagle.

We were soon to be off to the Little Hortobagy again and this time we intended to make straight for the area with the pools and hides.  Missing out part of the region gave us the opportunity to call first at the Bee Eater colony at Tard which was just a short drive away.  This paid dividends as we had excellent sightings of the Bee Eaters, although just not close enough to get images other than distant record ones.

We were soon back under the heat of the sun on the Little Hortobagy and whilst it was a little quieter bird wise today, we saw most if not all of the same species and managed to add a few extra sightings.  I’ll try and confine myself to fresh sightings rather than repeating myself.

The long and winding road (in fact pretty straight).

 Squacco Heron and Little Egret were soon added to our trip list and Graham is sure he saw a Red Footed Falcon (more of them to follow).  Shoveller and Coot were added to our trip list, Chiffchaff was heard today and we had far better sightings of Hoopoe and Lesser Grey Shrike.

Snakes added interest today with both Grass Snake and Smooth Snake being seen in close up.  Marsh Frogs were about in number.  Insects also caught the eye in that we saw Humming Bee Hawkmoth and Cardinal Butterfly.  Perhaps the out standing sighting of the day was Swallowtail Butterflies.  These came unexpectedly as I had remembered on my previous visit to Hungary at the same time of year that Rob had said we were to early for this species.  Rob later today said that species were in flight much earlier now.  We were pleased to see the Swallowtails.  I haven’t seen more than the odd one previously and this species has been a target for Sam for sometime.  The first one we saw was very flighty and we thought that there was little chance of a photograph.  It turned out to be one of the highlight of our photography opportunities when one Swallowtail settled and allowed close up images to be taken.  The butterfly settled at length and I believe it was still there when we set off to on our walk again.  It had given us a great opportunity to examine it and photograph it.  Roe Deer were seen again and Sam found Water Shrew.

Swallowtail Butterfly.  One of the best photographic opportunities of the trip.


Our days on the Little Hortobagy were wonderful and as I said earlier the first day especially is up there with my top birding experiences.  I’m confident that it won’t be beaten this year!

Roe deer from the hide

A view from the hide

Roe Deer on the Road.

 We were grateful for the cooler evenings after days on the open plains under a hot sun.  Our next day was already planned, with an all day visit to the Halasto Fish Ponds and Hortobagy (proper) after another early morning garden watch.  A guide had been arranged so that we could enter the restricted area in search of Great Bustards.

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