And now in Black & White

We saw seven species of woodpecker on our recent trip to Hungary. Black, Green and Wryneck were pretty easy to sort out – the other four black and white ones needed a bit more care and attention.

Unlike in Britain, Great Spotted Woodpecker in Hungary is generally a species confined to mature woodlands. Similar to Syrian, with reasonable views, the plain breast, bright red under-tail coverts and the black chin-stripe continuing back through to the nape, create sufficient difference to allow identification.


Syrian Woodpecker are predominantly birds of parks and gardens. The broad white cheek-patch with an absence of a black line running across it, pinker under-tail coverts, slightly longer bill and pale nostril feathering (yeah right!) making identification possible, with reasonable views.


Smallest – but not by much, is Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Largely confined to mature woodland, identified by scarlet crown, an ‘open-faced’ appearance – resulting from only a faint moustachial stripe and pinkish streaked flanks and belly.


Last of this ‘B&W quartet’ is White-backed Woodpecker. Restricted to mature forests with plenty of dead and decaying timber – this is a tricky species to find, let alone see well. Whilst only slightly longer than Great Spotted, it’s a chunkier, more powerful, bird altogether. Long bill, pinkish streaked belly and white cheek-patch interrupted by partial black ear-covert bar stopping short of the crown, all aid identification. Side views of perched birds (see below) reveal broad white horizontal covert-bars.


Ural unblocked


Ural Owl – Hungary

We spent yesterday in the company of Zoltán, top Saker Tours guide, on a day trip to the hills across the Tisza river, north of the Hortobagy. We clocked-up over a hundred species, the undisputed star of which was Ural Owl – a Western Palearctic tick for me and a bird we missed on the GPOG trip to the Czech Republic. We also saw three other owl species – Eagle, Long-eared and Tawny. The latter being a ‘grey phase’, and a possible trap for the unwary Ural hunter.

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Other highlights included three species of eagle – Short-toed, Eastern Imperial and Lesser Spotted, and six woodpeckers – Syrian, Green, Great & Middle Spotted, White-backed and Black. A pretty good day by anyone’s standards I’d say!

More photos to follow.


Halasto Fish Ponds


Syrian Woodpecker – nesting in a tree at the end of our road

Today we’ve mostly concentrated on the Halasto Fish Ponds, with a productive visit to a wader spot first thing. There were loads of birds about and we managed to add a dozen or so new species to our growing trip list. Here are some photos of a few of them.

A visit to another of the Red-footed Falcon breeding colonies produced about a dozen pairs



At the  central fish ponds there were plenty of heron sp. including Great & Little Egret, Bittern, Squacco, Purple, Night & Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, White & Black Stork, Spoonbill and Crane. This particular Purple Heron was unusually approachable 



Bluethroat are a common if somewhat elusive species – this one reminded us of last week at Flamborough


It’s not always the scarce or rare that grab the attention – this Swallow was particularly approachable


What a Bustard


Great Bustard, south of the National Park

We spent most of yesterday south of the National Park, following up on a report of Pratincole species in the area. Most of the grassland is already knee hight, making some birds impossible to see. Unfortunately we didn’t connect on this occasion but we did manage to find a lone Great Bustard – standing out like a sore thumb, on a newly ploughed field. In the late afternoon we watched raptors from a local ‘watch-point’, clocking-up Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Kestrel, Peregrine and, best of all, Eastern Imperial Eagle. We saw plenty of other good birds during the course of the day – making for our biggest day list of the trip so far, with 82.

Great Reed Warbler, plentiful, but tricky to photograph


Red-footed Falcon, female – returning to the breeding colony


Finally, a grab shot of the ‘bird of the day’ – Eastern Imperial Eagle



Hungarian Spring


Penduline Tit – nest building, one of many superb birds seen today on the Hortobágy

We’ve just concluded our first full day in Hungary, having arrived yesterday lunch-time, on the very efficient Wizz Air flight from Luton to Debrecen. We’re staying with Tibor & Orsi again, at their absolutely lovely Bibic Eco Lodge. Today was mostly an orientation day for Bob & Sue and a chance to purchase our National Park permits. The weather has been on the cool side with intermittent showers but still we’ve had some good birds and seen over a hundred species already. We’re just about to change for dinner, have a beer and plan tomorrow’s excursion.

Whiskered Tern, watched from the terrace before breakfast


The abundant Red-backed Shrike


Flamborough Bluethroat.. and fingers


Bluethroat (Red spot), Flamborough

We’re up with Neil, in Flamborough, for a couple of days, prior to our week away with Bob & Sue in Hungary. Usually when we come up here it’s cold and there are very few birds. Yesterday it was different – still cold BUT with a few interesting birds! In the morning we had a drive around the eastern edge of the North Yorks National Park, with Dipper, Garden Warbler and Corn Bunting being the highlights. We returned to Flamborough to discovered that a Bluethroat had been found on ‘the Cape’. In a brisk northerly wind the bird was not particularly cooperative, but we did manage to locate it a couple of times and get the odd grab-shot. Also of note were a pair of Dotterel, which flew away just as I was hunkering down in the hedge to take a shot, and a lone Whinchat.


All being well I should be bringing you the occasional blog from the Hortobágy over the coming days.