After an uneventful early-morning flight from Heathrow to Budapest airport we met the other members of the group and our leader Gerard Gorman. The minibus was loaded with all the luggage and we set off on the journey to Tokaj. At lunchtime Gerard stopped alongside the motorway at a rest area so we could have a quick picnic lunch. Gerard kept looking across the road but would not explain why. When he set up his telescope and focused on something he finally informed us that perched in a tree was an Eastern Imperial Eagle which was soon joined by a second bird. We continued our lunch watching the eagles and Crested Larks. As it was very hot we soon continued on to Tokaj, our base for the next few days. After checking in and a short rest we all went for a walk across the bridge. We had a walk alongside the River Tisza and in some nearby fields.
Day 2: Brian had a pre-breakfast walk as did a couple of the others. After breakfast Gerard drove up to a disused quarry in search of Eurasian Eagle-owls but we were not successful. A single Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush was heard calling and was then seen flying across the quarry but only by Brian and Gerard. Sadly, after a lot of waiting and searching it could not be relocated. There were a number of Black Redstarts about, plus a pair of Eurasian Sparrowhawks. Whilst walking up the track between the vines we heard and saw large numbers of European Bee-eaters. We then left this area to drive into the Zemplen Hills. During our walk in the forest we saw soaring European Honey-buzzards and a number of juvenile Red-backed Shrikes along with other common birds. After our picnic (with wine) we walked around other forest areas before visiting another quarry. We had to gain entry by dashing under a small bridge which was guarded by unfriendly-looking dogs. It was worth it because we had excellent views of a single resting Eurasian Eagle-owl. As it was now very hot we drove to a small village where we sampled several flavours of ice cream and drooled over the cakes on display. We drove slowly back to the hotel for a late-afternoon rest. From our balcony we enjoyed watching a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding in a small tree opposite.
Day 3: After breakfast we drove out to a different forest area. On the way we stopped by a small marshy area. As we were scanning the marsh Gerard heard a Syrian Woodpecker. With the aid of his trusty CD Gerard called it in and we had superb views of it around our heads and on a nearby post. A second bird also came to join it. There were also many Yellow Wagtails feeding around the grazing cattle, plus one Little Egret. We carried on with our drive into the hills and went to an area where Gerard had seen Ural Owls before, but we drew a blank. We drove on into the forest where we stopped for lunch. We had a short walk around and had excellent views of the European race of Long-tailed Tits. We were walking down another forest track when suddenly Gerard indicated for us to be quiet and walk slowly up to him. Sitting in a tree quite close was an adult Ural Owl. We all had marvellous views even without binoculars. The bird then glided a short distance ahead to land on another tree. We followed slowly behind. On looking closer we could see this was a different bird as it was a juvenile. After watching for several minutes it flew quietly deeper into the forest. We returned to the minibus hot but very happy. We tried another area looking for Black Woodpecker but all we could find were Hawfinches. We drove further along the track and Gerard heard a Black Woodpecker calling so we stopped to see if it could be enticed out with the CD. This worked once again because we were rewarded with excellent flying views. Encouraged by this Gerard changed tracks to see if Grey-headed Woodpeckers would respond. This also worked as two birds flew around and landed in a nearby tree. After another hot and successful day we returned to the hotel.
Day 4: We left Tokaj to go to our second destination, the Hortobagy. On the way we had some good views of White Stork. We stopped for a while at a reserve where Common Cranes overwinter. We picked up several species to add to the list including Tawny Pipit and Northern Wheatear. As we were about to leave a small party of Common Cranes arrived in the distance. We moved on a short distance to another hide overlooking a small lake. Here we watched common waders and a nearby Black Stork. By the time we left about 100 plus Cranes had dropped in, arriving in small groups. Back in the minibus we drove to some fish farms where we saw many water birds including Black-crowned Night-heron and Squacco Heron, Pygmy Cormorant and 12 Ferruginous Ducks. We then drove to the motel where we were to spend the rest of our stay. After a brief rest we went to look at some more fish farms where we saw many waders including Spotted Redshank. There were also Whiskered and Black Terns feeding. In the reeds we saw Great Reed-warbler, Bearded Tit, Sedge Warbler and Eurasian Reed-warbler. On the way back to the motel we saw our first Red-footed Falcon and Lesser Grey Shrike.
Day 5: It was an early breakfast today as we were meeting a National Park warden friend of Gerard's, Dr Gabor Kavacs. On arrival at his home his son invited us to look through his telescope at four Eurasian Thick-knees (Stone Curlew). This was a good start to the day. As we drove out on to the steppe we were treated to some really good views of a Long-legged Buzzard. After parking up we walked briskly (due to the biting insects) to a small hill. After a brief search we saw four Great Bustards feeding alongside a maize field. In total we saw eleven Great Bustards. Whilst we were watching the bustards Gerard spotted an immature harrier flying out to catch insects and then return to a straw bale. On closer inspection it was identified as Pallid Harrier. On our return journey we saw an adult Saker Falcon. This was shortly followed by an immature bird. Next we stopped to study a small marshy area where we found a small group of Glossy Ibis feeding among the reeds. We returned Gabor back to his home and then Gerard left us in the hot sun with no shade to see what birds we could find whilst he went shopping. We then went to find somewhere in the shade so we could have our lunchtime picnic. Whilst lunching we saw Collared Flycatcher, two Thrush Nightingales and a male Pallid Harrier.
Day 6: We left earlyish as we had a bit of a drive to another area where Eurasian Dotterel are known to gather in the late summer. After parking up we had a long walk across the plain before we finally found four birds. These flew off but then a group of seventeen birds flew in. We thought the original four were probably included in this group. We watched them for quite a while before they were put up by a group of trotting horses. We then decided to go back and search around the fish ponds for waders and wildfowl. We spent the afternoon sitting quietly studying the ponds. Whilst watching Little Ringed Plover and Little Stint, three Sanderling flew in and landed on a nearby sandbar.
Day 7: For our last day we went to a new reserve on the pusta. We had a long walk to get to the various lookouts and hides. What a superb area for birds. Not long after starting to walk a group of six European Golden Orioles kept moving in front of us in the trees alongside the track. There were a number of ponds, some were full of water and others were drying up. At the largest and best a White-tailed Eagle was sitting on the shoreline. There were vast numbers of various waders including two hundred plus Pied Avocets. From the hide we had views of Temminck's Stint, Little Gulls, Caspian Tern and Black-winged Stilt. Walking further round the track we climbed another platform to watch over two hundred feeding Eurasian Spoonbills. On the long hot walk back we saw a large group of Eurasian Penduline-tits. As it was now close to lunchtime we drove to a disused farm building so we could eat in the shade. We saw Little Owl and had some very close views of Barn Owl. As it was so hot we drove back to our rooms for a rest before going out again in the late afternoon. We went to a small marshy area where we saw lots of Ruff and Wood Sandpipers, plus three Marsh Sandpipers. Finally we found a Garganey.
Day 8: Unfortunately today we had to pack our bags on to the minibus and head to Budapest and home. As the flight was in the late afternoon, Gerard took us on a tour through Budapest (pointing out places of interest on the way) and out to his "home patch". Here we wandered around the woods where we added Short-toed Treecreeper to the list. Gerard once again kept trying to bring in any woodpeckers with the CD but it was not always successful. This is a pleasant area to walk around even if it is popular with dog-walkers, joggers and the locals out for a weekend picnic. After our picnic lunch we drove back into Budapest so that we could spend some time walking around the historical city. All too soon it was time to head out to the airport and say thank you to Gerard for a wonderful trip. The final group total was 160 species.