With 13 others I set off from overcast Gatwick to sunny Budapest for Birdfinders' first spring trip to Hungary. There, we were joined by Gerard Gorman (our primary leader), our driver and the two participants who had made their own way.
Heading for our first hotel we experienced many of the common birds, including White Stork, Red-backed Shrike, Crested Lark, numerous Western Marsh-harriers and a minimum of 40 Common Buzzards occupying the posts at the M3 roadside. A brief stop en route brought our first sighting of Tree Sparrow, Tawny Pipit, Saker and Montagu's Harrier. We arrived at the Hotel Nomad, Noszvaj in the Bukk Hills in time to take in the local birds, which included Black Redstart, Common Cuckoo (a bird we were to see many of throughout the trip) Serin, Spotted Flycatcher and Hawfinch. The meals at The Nomad were phenomenal, some of the best I have experienced anywhere.
Having been wakened by a deafening dawn chorus including numerous Eurasian Golden Orioles, a walk before breakfast gave us more local birds, including Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, various tits including the white-headed race of Long-tailed Tit, Collared Flycatcher and numerous European Nuthatches. Having eaten another sumptuous meal we set off for the countryside, our first stop being a Syrian Woodpecker's nest in a local garden. A valley in the hills yielded Barred Warblers, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Red-backed Shrikes as soon as we disembarked. A distraction from the birds here was a magnificent male Stag Beetle.
Within the valley in various habitats amongst the Black, Grey-headed and Great-spotted Woodpeckers we were treated to Rock Bunting, Red-breasted Flycatcher, River Warbler Short-toed Snake-eagle and Honey Buzzard. One member of the group was lucky enough to see a Beech Marten. The highlight of the trip for many was a magnificent Ural Owl, seen perched and flying.
Next morning following more enormous meals we left for our two-night stay in Tokaj, stopping en route for a breeding pair of Lesser-spotted Eagles. These birds performed excellently, sitting around, feeding and flying, allowing all the ID features to be seen well. The next two days also produced our only Wood Lark, Goshawk and Eastern Imperial Eagle, the first Wryneck and Eastern Greylag Geese and many European Bee-eaters. A local warden took us to a quarry to view an Eagle Owl's nest. After much straining of eyes and moving positions, we finally got to grips with four birds crouching deep in a rocky crevice, giving good scope views.
Leaving Tokaj, we headed towards the Hortobagy region. Different species here included Marsh Warbler, Red-footed and Saker Falcons, while wet areas brought Great Egret, Great and Little Bitterns, Grey and Purple Herons and numerous Black-crowned Night-herons belying their name and flying around in broad daylight. We also had our first Whiskered and Black Terns and Great Reed-warblers vied to see who was the loudest. A stop for lunch was close to a Long-eared Owl's nest – one of two we found on the trip.
The Hableany Hotel at Tiszafured is right beside the river, with convenient walks in two directions. An evening walk produced the first Black Stork and Black Kite for the lucky ones.
Next day a pre-breakfast walk in the early dawn was enlivened by warblers, woodpeckers, orioles and a male Garganey in the adjacent marsh, but the target was Lake Tisza. The list increased with many waders, including Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocet and two Curlew Sandpipers in breeding plumage, plus the first of many Pygmy Cormorants and Eurasian Spoonbills. A long walk in a drier area produced a real target bird, eight Great Bustards.
Up early next day we headed off to catch a train that runs deep into the marsh, Gerard having persuaded the operator to open up for us. Watching the other birders trudging the three miles into the centre as we passed in comparative (rattling!) comfort made us realise what a stroke of genius this was! Whiskered Terns, Great Reed-warblers and Bearded Tits were glimpsed as we trundled along.
Leaving the train we quickly connected with a Bluethroat of the white-spotted form before walking to the tower platforms and hide. Birds seen again included numerous herons and terns, Eurasian Penduline Tit, good views of Ferruginous Duck, Caspian Gull, Common Cranes and Red-necked Grebes. Leaving the marsh, birds of note were Long-legged Buzzard, White-winged Terns and five Collared Pratincoles. Later that afternoon we were guided to a breeding area close to Nagyivan for Aquatic Warbler, two singing males showing well before the rain came – our only real shower of the whole trip.
We reluctantly left Budapest in scorching 35°C sunshine next morning for the afternoon flight home (Gatwick being a chilly 9°C!), stopping en route for another look at the Saker nest.
Thanks to all the participants for your company, humour and birding skills. Special thanks must go to Gerard, without whose birding and language skills this trip would not have been possible.