Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Hungarian Rhapsody... Part Six...Hortobagy

Courtesy of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Spoonbills.

Garden watching early morning was rewarding again with sightings including Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Serin and Hawfinch.  Later we had the daily sighting of Eastern Imperial Eagle.  The Black Redstart was as usual about the main buildings.  After breakfast we picked up our Hungarian Guide, Atilla, and headed for the Hortobagy, well stocked with water.  It was going to be a long day and temperatures were going to be high.

Coutey of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
We stopped for a coffee along the way.  If I’d closed my eyes I could have believed we were with the Local RSPB Group as a cuppa is a priority there too!  Soon afterwards we were watching our first Jackdaws and Rooks of the trip, but more impressively we were watching Red Footed Falcons.  Next stop was to be the Halasto fish ponds, but Graham asked Atilla if we could stop at the Bee Eater colony which we did.  Unfortunately there were few Bee Eaters here.  Only a handful of Sand Martins too.  Graham and I reflected upon a much healthier colony of both species in 2008.  We moved on to Halasto and we were to be well rewarded.

Halasto is I believe Hungarian for fish ponds.  Don’t let the term ‘pond’ fool you.  This is a vast area of large lakes and a great habitat for birds.  The huge ponds are bordered by reed-beds and the area is one of the largest of its kind in the world.  A train service is provided on certain days to take you to the end of the complex, but it wasn’t running today!  The First World War provided a supply of prisoners of war who were given the task of digging out these ponds by hand and also the channel that feed them from the River Tisza.  Before we began what was a long tiring walk, Sam photographed another Swallowtail Butterfly which was showing well.  Large Copper Butterfly was also seen today.

Night Herons and Squacco Herons provided the first excitement before we found numbers of Bearded Tits (and listened to the ping ping call) moving through the reed- bed and giving close up sightings.  Pygmy Cormorant was soon added to our trip list as were Mute Swan, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe with young (a reminder of the local patch back at home).  A Water Rail was also heard.  There was no shortage of Little Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron and White Storks.  Marsh Harriers were as usual showing well.  Boxes had been put up for Kestrels which were numerous and at least one box was full of youngster’s peering out at us.  Another family of Kestrels gathered on the ground.  We watched Lesser Grey Shrike and Atilla pointed it out on its nest.

Courtesy of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Night Heron.
Courtesy Of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Great White Egret.

Courtesy of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Common Darter.

The first tower hide we came to was inaccessible because of broken steps.  I felt it a pity that time had not been taken to repair it, as it offered good views across the ponds and it was clear that it hadn’t been broken recently.  What amazes me is that in such a great area for bird-watching you rarely see a birdwatcher.

Pygmy Cormorant

As Atilla spoke no English and Sam and I no Hungarian or German we did most of our bird watching independently, although Graham took the opportunity to brush up on his German and seemed to strike up an accord with Atilla.  Having re-started to read my Crossbill Guide to the Hortobagy (an excellent guide for anyone visiting the area) I see that it is likely the same Atilla that made a contribution to it as did Rob de Jong.  I have to say that Sam and I soon found Black Terns and a White Winged Black Tern amongst the many Whiskered Terns and I’m pretty sure no one else in our party saw these.  I have to say though that Atilla did find us a perched White Tailed Sea Eagle which would not have been easy to find otherwise.  Sam and I also found Bluethroat missed by everyone else and had stunning views of it.  We are thinking of putting our names down as Hortobagy guides!

Hoopoe was seen well today and Kingfisher briefly.  Penduline Tits were another star bird.  Some other bird species seen at the ponds included Greylag Geese, Teal, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Moorhen, Lapwing, Yellow Legged Gull, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo (H), Skylark, White Wagtail, Nightingale(H), Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Savi’s Warbler (H), Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff (H), Red Backed Shrike, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer.  There were plenty of fish too, and large ones at that.  A couple of them managed to throw themselves into a boat and strand themselves until Atilla threw them back. 

Courtesy Of Samuel Hood.  Under the Hood Photography.  Tree Sparrow.
The long walk was very tiring, especially with camera gear and telescope to carry.  Sam and I shared the weight of the scope.  I can understand why Atilla chose a lightweight one!

Atilla returns the fish.
As we said good bye to the Water Buffalo (their effect rather spoilt by yellow tags in their ears) we were now off for an evenings hunt for Great Bustards.  Now none of us are sure if we entered the restricted area requiring a guide or not, but it mattered little as it was a very nice area, although much of it had been cultivated.  The sun was beginning to lower in the sky, but it was still very warm.  Thankfully everyone got to see Bluethroat this evening and I reckon we found maybe two or three pairs.  Stoat and Brown Hare were also seen as was a very nice Tree Frog found by a companion in our group who had been making a search for them earlier in the week.

Tree Frog
Fairly early on into the walk I picked up a Great Bustard in the telescope and pointed it out to Sam.  It was distant and the heat waves did not make for good viewing, but it was otherwise a text book sighting and unmistakeable (I’ve seen them on at least three occasions before).  I asked others to take a look, but no one picked it up even in my scope.  I’m afraid Atilla didn’t understand me or perhaps doubted that I had seen the bird as the Great Bustard hunt was finally written off as a failure some time later.  I don’t think by the end of the evening when in my opinion the search was taking the wrong direction, that anyone really cared as they were all so tired after a really long day.  The other couple in the party said it all by drifting back to their vehicle and leaving Atilla on a raised platform searching in vain.  To be fair to the guy did put the effort in.  Sadly I still believe he was looking in the wrong area.  It had been another great day and at least Sam and I had our Great Bustard sighting to remember, even if it was a distant one.

A cultivated area of the Hortobagy but still attractive to wildlife.
On a sad note I had been sorry to learn from Rob at the start of our trip that there are no Aquatic Warblers on the Hortobagy this year.  This seems to be connected to climate change and certainly the dry spell of late.

After a late dinner and our evening bird list count, we were out for the count as our heads hit the pillow.

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