Cranes flying to roost – Hortobagy Fish Ponds
We’ve spent the last few days in the wonderful Hortobagy area of Hungary, close to the Romanian border. The whole area is an immense plain with steppes, shallow marshland and fishponds, threaded through with wooded river valleys. It’s a birders paradise, with a range of species typical of the remnant eastern European steppes, and raptors everywhere. In autumn, over 70,000 Cranes gather, making this one of Europe’s most impressive birding spectacles. (Postscript – this year’s count looks like being closer to 100,000!)
We flew with Wizz Air, on their recently established route from Luton to Debrecen, hired a car from Hertz – there are no ‘on airport’ providers currently operating and stayed at the Bibic Eco Lodge (English version of the website coming soon!) in Balmazujvaros. The Lodge, which has only opened in the last few months, provides an excellent standard of accommodation and meals. Our hosts Tibor and his wife speak fluent English, are knowledgeable birders and could not have been more helpful or friendly. The Lodge provides an excellent secure, comfortable and relaxing birding base – perfectly located to explore the Hortobagy.
Although the primary objective of the trip was to experience the spectacular Crane migration, we did see 116 species in our four day stay, including two Western Palearctic ticks – Saker Falcon & Eastern Imperial Eagle, along with a supporting cast, which included: Lesser White-fronted & Bean Goose, White-tailed Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Bustard, Ferruginous Duck, Whiskered Tern, Caspian Gull, Red-throated Pipit, Moustached Warbler, Penduline Tit & Syrian Woodpecker!
Here are a few photos to whet your appetite!
First stop was for the Long-eared Owl roost near the town park. They get up to 300 birds in winter – we only saw 22!
First of our two Western Pal. ‘ticks’, Saker Falcon – one, of a couple of pairs we saw
This is their food source, Suslik – a sort of Ground Squirrel. Abundant on the dry puszta
Common Buzzard abound but this was the only Long-legged Buzzard we came across
Red-backed Shrike were seen in reasonable numbers throughout the Hortobagy – all juveniles
Hen Harrier are a regular winter visitor, we saw a couple of ‘ring-tails’ and this fine male hunting over arable fields near Nadudvar
We were lucky enough to find this Pallid Harrier near the Hortobagy Fish Ponds
On our second day with Jozsef we started on the puszta, looking for Dotterel, which gather here to moult
Along with a few Stone Curlew – both species are very difficult to find on the vast expanses of grassland. These were two of six we located.
In the afternoon our expert guide found us our second target raptor species of the tour – a 3rd/4th year Eastern Imperial Eagle
and here, being over-flown by Cranes
Another highlight of our trip were Great Bustard – not seen since a trip to Extremadura, Spain nearly twenty years ago. Here are some of the sixteen birds present in this remote arable location.
There are plenty of birds to be found in and around the huge complex of fish ponds – some of which have public access (provided you obtain a permit) but most can only be visited in the company of a guide. Spoonbill, Egret and Heron sp. are numerous but this was the only Purple Heron we came across
Both Bearded and Penduline Tit are common in the vast reed beds which surround the fish ponds
Other specialities include, Pygmy Cormorant
and Moustached Warbler
We were fortunate that, on the day before our arrival, 120 Lesser White-fronted Geese also arrived, for their all too brief stop-over on the hortobagy, before moving on to winter in Northern Greece. We caught up with them on the Hortobagy Fish Ponds
We also found the first returning Bean Goose (rossicus) of the autumn and this flock of regular White-fronted Geese
Staying at the fish ponds until dusk, to watch the thousands of Cranes arrive to roost, was a most memorable highlight of our trip
They were not alone though, one of several patrolling White-tailed Eagle
We would never have been able to find/see many of these excellent birds if it weren’t for the great organisation of Janos at Saker Tours and, in particular, our expert and hard-working guide, Jozsef. Thank you to everyone who made our brief trip such a pleasant and rewarding one – we will be back!
Sunset over the Hortobagy