The Hortobagy area of Hungary abounds with many birds not found in Western Europe, and the use of hides offers exceptional views of several species. These include red-footed falcons and European rollers, which nest around an existing tower hide, and there are common kestrels in the area too, who - like the red-footed falcons - have started to nest colonially. Other hides overlook a marsh where various herons (including squacco and great egret) feed at close range, while black-winged stilts and ferruginous ducks may come even closer. European bee-eaters can be photographed from a portable hide and, at the time we normally visit, they may well be mating or bringing food gifts for their mates.
Afternoons are usually spent in hides overlooking ‘infinity pools’ where a broad range of visiting species may include middle spotted woodpecker, nightingale, hawfinch and turtle dove, among many others. As if this isn’t enough, there is always the possibility of photographing other species such as roe deer, great reed warbler and lesser grey shrikes from our vehicle as we travel to or from the hides.
Other excellent photographic destinations are the Vercors, a truly secret corner of France on the edge of the Alps and the French Pyrenees. Both locations are superb for flower and landscape photography with numerous Alpine meadows and stunning mountain scenery, offering superb opportunities. If wild orchids are your preferred subject, there is no finer place than the Vercors, with anything up to 35 species to be seen in one week. Common species found here can be extreme rarities in the UK and include lady, lizard, monkey and military orchids. Whilst the Pyrenees may not contain half that number of orchid species, there are a number of Pyrenean endemics including stately Spanish irises.
Various other regions of France are also great for wildlife watching tours. For example, our ‘Camargue in Winter’ tour, where we see not only flamingos, wildfowl, waders and raptors in the lagoons and marshlands of the famous wetlands, but also hundreds of common cranes flighting from their daytime feeding grounds to their night-time roost. Add in visits to nearby regions such as la Crau for little bustards and pin-tailed sandgrouse, and the Chaine des Alpilles for wallcreepers and alpine acccentors (driven from their lofty Alpine breeding areas by the harsh winters), and you have a tour with some exciting and varied birding.
The Mediterranean island of Corsica in April and May provides variety too, where the flowers are fabulous, from sea level right up to the mountains. We begin our week exploring some of the higher central parts where lammergeier and golden eagle reign supreme. Smaller birds in this region include rock sparrows, firecrest, subalpine warbler and cirl bunting, as well as endemics like Corsican finch and Corsican nuthatch. Moving to the coast for the second part of the tour takes us into an area where migrants abound; here we have previously seen barn swallows heading north at the rate of 500 per minute, up to eight golden orioles in one day, plus groups of around 50 red-footed falcons resting in a small area! This is a location where literally anything can turn up on their migrational wanderings.
It is worth mentioning that some of these wildlife watching tours are with my wife Liz as a second leader, as her skills in flora identification are exceptional (better than mine!), particularly in Corsica and the Vercors. In this latter location, we run a wildlife watching tour immediately after the photography trip, so you can experience the best this area has to offer. We visit several flower meadows containing vast spreads of violets, narcissi, gentians, globeflowers, orchids (including lady’s slipper) and even a few wild tulips. Add to the mix birds such as griffon vultures (reintroduced to the region), short-toed eagles, honey buzzards, alpine choughs and citril finches - to name but a few – and you have a superb place to visit. Finally, it goes without saying that the food and wine on our tours in France are excellent!