26th October - 2nd November 2002

Keith Grant
Sándor Konyas
Zoltan (day 1 hotel transfer & 2 days Zemplen Hills)

Åttila (day 1, hotel transfer)
Garbor (day 2)
Istvan (main driver)


Daily Diary:

Saturday 26th October


Sunny and warm

After an uneventful flight from Heathrow, we arrived at Budapest soon after lunch, to meet up with Zoltan, the rest of the group who had flown in on earlier flights and our driver for the day, Åttila. A Great Grey Shrike, three Sparrowhawks, Kestrel and numerous Buzzards were seen from the coach en route. A brief stop for coffee, and a further stop as we approached the Hortobagy National Park to check a number of pylons for Saker Falcon, before arriving at our hotel in Hajduszobozlo in good time for dinner. Sandor arrived during the evening to introduce himself and arrange the timings for tomorrow.

Sunday 27th October

The Hortobagy National Park

Strong breeze, mainly sunny though clouding over from mid-pm

We packed the coach after breakfast and set off westwards to the southern part of the Hortobagy. Due to recent rain, the tracks were largely impassable to the coach, so we walked out across the plain. Many Common Buzzards and Hen Harriers were seen, then a White-tailed Eagle circled lazily across our front. A Saker Falcon dashed across and a Rough-legged Buzzard appeared. Small flocks of Tree Sparrows were also seen together with several Skylarks and Crested Larks. We walked out to a tree-covered ancient burial mound to gain an elevated view across the plain and had good views of Hen Harriers and Roe Deer. On the way back, small flocks of Meadow Pipits flew over. Butterflies included Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Large White and an unidentified small Clouded Yellow species.

Lunch at a restaurant in Hortobagy village and we then checked several nearby fishponds. A number of Curlew and Yellow-legged Gulls were present at one which had been drained. A very distant Grey Plover was here as well. The second pond contained many Coots and duck, and we identified Shoveler, Pochard and Teal, and also had very brief views of a Ferruginous Duck as it flew off. Several further Ferruginous Duck were then found right out on the far side of the pond, but the distance precluded any real view, even through the telescopes. A nest of a Penduline Tit right by the path was of interest as we walked along the side of the pond to a raised viewing platform to overlook the next pond. Here again we were viewing over quite large distances, but two Little Grebes were seen, together with Gadwall, Wigeon, and further Pochard and Teal. Great Crested Grebes were obvious with their white winter plumage, and a Black-necked Grebe appeared at the reed edge quite close, giving us good views through the telescopes. A narrow trail, well marked in the grass, connecting the pond with a nearby canal, was an Otter path. As clouds began to gather, we boarded the bus and headed to our second hotel just outside Nadudvar. We made a brief stop again at the pylons and found two Sakers and a Kestrel, and we arrived at the Trofea Hunting Lodge soon after dark, in good time for dinner.

Monday 28th October

Central & South-western Hortobagy

Northwest gale, but clear & sunny

Our pre-breakfast walk simply took us along the front drive of the Lodge. The wind was very strong and blowing the trees very badly, and this somewhat limited our viewing. However, an Otter appeared in the lake, quite at home catching fish and we had excellent views of it eating breakfast in the middle of the lake. A second animal was then seen crossing the drive and heading purposefully across the fields.

After breakfast, we drove round to the south-western side of the National Park, to Nagyivan village, and here we met up with Dr Kovacs, the ranger in charge of this area. A small flock of White-fronted Geese were feeding on the kale, as were Lapwing and Cranes. We then spotted a grey head appearing out of the kale, a male Great Bustard. A second male flew in and both stood and quietly walked about, feeding. The light was behind us and enabled us to have really excellent views through the telescopes. Several hundred Lapwings were flying about in the distance and several Hen Harriers were as usual quartering the fields. We dropped Dr Kovacs back at his home in the village and headed off to some fishponds nearby. The wind was very strong making viewing difficult. Many gulls, both Yellow-legged and Black-headed, were feeding on the mudflats and shallow channels in the drained lagoon. Amongst these, a single Herring Gull was found and a Common Gull was spotted flying in. A walk on to a second pond enabled us to add Mute Swans to our list. A large flock of Greylag and White-fronted Geese, together with Teal, Pochard, Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin were visible. Three White-tailed Eagles then appeared, these including a nice adult showing a pure white tail, and several Marsh Harriers were also seen. As we returned to the coach, a Weasel was seen by some of the group.

After lunch in another local restaurant, we then headed back towards Hortobagy village. Here we briefly visited a Farm Park where we could observe at close quarters the many ancient breeds of farm animals native to the Hortobagy region. These included the well-known Hungarian Grey Cattle and Racka Sheep, as well as local breeds of other domesticated animals. We then moved on to position ourselves under one of the main flight paths of the Cranes into roost. In the hour or two leading up to dusk, up to 12,000 Cranes flew over, making a wonderful spectacle of sight and sound. We were treated to a wonderfully evocative sunset behind clouds highlighted round the edge and sunbeams radiating out, with flocks of Cranes drifting across in front. Back to the hotel for dinner.

Tuesday 29th October

Further exploration of the Hortobagy

Bright & sunny, wind easing

Fifteen Long-eared Owls were found before breakfast in one of the old willows alongside the main drive. Several Fieldfares were seen and Bullfinches heard. A Kingfisher was seen briefly in the channel. A Water Vole swam towards us and disappeared into the bank and a Weasel was watched near the jetty by the lake. After breakfast the original plan was to go to the Debrecen Forest, but flocks of geese flying over prompted us to explore a series of fishponds which were being drained and fished out. We found thousands of waterfowl here, and these included Greylag and White-fronted Geese. The Taiga Bean Geese amongst the crowds tested our identification skills but we eventually managed reasonable views before two White-tailed Eagles disturbed the massed flocks. At one point an adult eagle dropped on to a Greylag Goose which hadn't flown off, but with the goose fending off the eagle with beating wings, it decided that common sense must prevail and it flew off unscathed. The eagle then landed on the shore, allowing super views through the telescopes. A Peregrine then appeared and stooped unsuccessfully at the duck flocks. This too landed on the shore and was soon surrounded by a group of Hoodies. Both Bearded Tits and Penduline Tits were seen briefly but the high wind knocking the reeds about precluded them from sitting on the reed tops. We walked back and joined the bus, and travelled into Debrecen for our lunch as planned.

Outside in the trees, we found Great Spotted and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Goldcrest. We then travelled to the northern area of the Hortobagy and soon after passing through Balmazujvaros, we found a particularly well-marked Long-legged Buzzard sitting in the fields near the road. The light was excellent with the sun behind us and this bird had superb chestnut-cinnamon plumage - one of the brightest I've ever seen. A Rough-legged Buzzard flew across behind. Moving on, we stopped to overlook a flock of several hundred geese. These were mainly White-fronts but as we started searching through them, most of them took off and departed, much to our chagrin and Sandor's panic! However, of the 20 or so left, 15 of them turned out to be Lesser White-fronted Geese! We all got reasonable views and were able to compare them with the few White-fronts in attendance. Several superb male Hen Harriers drifted by, together with further Buzzards. Hundreds of Cranes then flew over as the light began to fade, making an excellent finish to a very full day which yielded most of our target species.

Wednesday 30th October

Hortobagy and north to Sarospatak

Cold & overcast, strong breeze, occasional showers

Our pre-breakfast walk again took us up the drive but the Long-eared Owls were very flighty. A Barn Owl was also seen by some of the group. There were two Kingfishers on the lake but no sign of the Otter. After breakfast we packed the bus and set off for 'a potter on the puzta'! We walked out over two areas, looking for potential Dotterel, but apart from the usual Lapwings and Hen Harriers, and a single Rough-legged Buzzard, all we found was a nice flock of Golden Plovers. The very cold breeze eventually encouraged back to the bus and off for lunch at a restaurant alongside the Tisza River. After lunch, we made a quick return to the 'Ferruginous Fishpond' but only Shovelers were present in any numbers. The mud pan opposite however did hold Curlew, Dunlin and several Grey Plovers, and an adult Little Gull was quartering back and forth, dipping to pick up food from the surface. Then we started on our journey north to Sarospatak, stopping briefly for Corn Buntings on the roadside wires and several Great Grey Shrikes. A short stop for coffee and we arrived at our hotel in the early evening.

Thursday 31st October

Zemplen Hills

Sunny but freezing am, clouding over pm

Our pre-breakfast walk took us around the castle grounds, where at least 12 Hawfinches feeding on Ash seeds gave us really excellent views of this normally (in the UK at least) quite difficult species. We also found Marsh Tits and Nuthatches. Then after breakfast, we picked up Zoltan and drove up into the Zemplen Hills. We walked a valley near Kirshuta, and Zoltan spotted a Ural Owl sitting quietly on a stump. A quiet approach and we were rewarded with really excellent views through the telescopes. Retracing our steps, we drove to a second area for another woodland. walk but found nothing of real interest. On then to a picnic site for lunch, only to find a White-backed Woodpecker just nearby! Some of the group saw it well before returning for lunch but the rest of us had to wait till afterwards, and several Ravens later, when it appeared close by the picnic site. Again only some of us got on to it, so we walked up the trail in hot pursuit. We returned on hearing a Black Woodpecker calling from the opposite slope, and as we gradually walked closer, we managed several brief views of both Black & White-backed Woodpeckers.

We then headed back in the bus, travelling alongside the Slovak border. A fine adult Imperial Eagle sitting on a small tree was excellent. A final short walk provided Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted & Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and several Willow Tits were most unexpected. Walking on a little way further, we found another Black Woodpecker.

We returned to the hotel to change, before going out to a local restaurant for dinner, during each course of which we were able to sample different local Tokai wines.

Friday 1st November

Zemplen Hills

Overcast and calm, brightening during afternoon

During our pre-breakfast walk to the castle grounds, we found a Syrian Wood-pecker in the trees alongside the road. In the castle grounds themselves, another flew off. There were again many Hawfinches feeding on ash seeds, but a Sparrowhawk was about, which made everything very jittery! After breakfast, we explored woodland in the north of area. We walked up a woodland trail, stopping periodically for many Nuthatches and Treecreepers, and great views of Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers. We also heard Green Woodpecker. However, the White-backed Woodpeckers gave us a merry chase, but eventually the majority of us obtained at least some views of this most elusive species. We then returned to Sarospatak and walked across the fields to a quarry near the town. Here we found an Eagle Owl sitting quietly in a low tree at the end of the quarry. Again, excellent views through the telescopes. We had lunch at our hotel and then drove south to explore a wide valley. Overlooking the grapevines, we had good views of Fieldfares, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Linnets and Tree Sparrows. We then headed back, finding a nice Goshawk perched on a pylon. This bird dropped on to the ground and we found it again a little further on. Back soon after dusk.

Saturday 2nd November

Return to Budapest and home.

Foggy throughout the journey, right through to Budapest

No pre-breakfast walk this morning as final packing was done prior to our departure. The weather was quite dismal with fog shrouding us, and this persisted right through to Budapest. The motorway fence posts provided the only birds of note, with at least 70 Common Buzzards counted on the right-hand side alone! We arrived at the airport in time for check-in and said our farewells to Sandor and Istvan, and also to those travelling on different flights or staying in Budapest overnight.

Species Lists

[ 26th transfer to Hortobagy

27th -30th Hortobagy

31st - 1st Zemplen Hills

2nd transfer to Budapest ]


Little Grebe / Dabchick: 2 on 27th.

Great Crested Grebe: 2 on 27th.

Black-necked/Eared Grebe: 1 on 27th.

Great Cormorant: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

Pygmy Cormorant: Noted on 3 days, 70 on 27th, also on 28th & 30th.

Grey Heron: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

Great [White] Egret: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th, often large numbers in roadside fields.

Great Bittern: Noted only on 28th, with 1 right alongside the road and another seen in flight.

White Stork: 1 in roadside field on 28th.

Mute Swan: 9 on 28th.

Taiga [Bean] Goose: Noted only on 1 day, at least 12 on 29th.

[Greater] White-fronted Goose: Noted on 2 days, many hundreds on 28th & 29th.

Lesser White-fronted Goose: Noted only on 1 day, at least 15 on 29th.

Greylag Goose: Noted on 3 days, many hundreds on 28th - 30th.

Eurasian Wigeon: Noted on 2 days, 3 on 27th, again on 29th.

Gadwall: Noted on 2 days, 4 on 27th, again on 29th.

Eurasian/Common Teal: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

Mallard: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 29th, & 1 on 31st.

Northern Pintail: Noted only on 1 day, 3 on 29th.

Northern Shoveler: Noted on 3 days, 15 on 27th, 20 on 29th, also on 30th.

Common Pochard: Noted on 3 days, 27th - 29th.

Ferruginous Duck: Noted only on 1 day, 4 distantly on 27th.

White-tailed Eagle: Noted on 3 days, 1 on 27th, 3 on 28th, 5 on 29th.

Hen Harrier: Noted regularly most days, 27th - 31st, max counted 30 on 27th,

[Eurasian] Marsh Harrier: Noted on 4 days, up to 4 on 27th - 30th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Noted most days.

Northern Goshawk: Noted only on 1 day, an adult on roadside pylon on 1st.

Common Buzzard: Noted each day.

Long-legged Buzzard: Noted only on 1 day, a really bright rufous-plumaged bird on 29th.

Rough-legged Buzzard: Noted on 3 days, single birds on 27th, 29th, & 30th.

[Eastern] Imperial Eagle: Noted only on 1 day, an adult on 31st.

Common/Eurasian Kestrel: Noted most days.

Saker Falcon: Noted only on 1 day, 3 on 27th.

Peregrine Falcon: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 29th.

Common Pheasant: Noted most days.

Common Crane: Noted each day at the Hortobagy, max c.12,000 on 28th.

Eurasian/Common Coot: Noted on 3 days, 27th - 29th.

Great Bustard: Noted only on 28th when 2 males seen well.

Northern Lapwing: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

European Golden Plover: Noted only on 1 day, 30+ on 30th.

Grey Plover: Noted on 2 days, 1 on 27th, 3 on 30th.

Eurasian Curlew: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

Common Snipe: Noted only on 1 day, 2+ on 28th.

Dunlin: Noted on 3 days, 28th - 30th, max 25 on 30th

Common/Mew Gull: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 28th.

Herring Gull: Noted on 2 days, single birds on 28th, & 29th.

Yellow-legged Gull: Noted most days.

Black-headed Gull: Noted on 4 days, 27th - 30th.

Little Gull: Noted only on 1 day, an adult on 30th.

Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon: Noted each day.

Eurasian Collared Dove: Noted each day.

Eurasian Eagle Owl: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 1st.

Barn Owl: Noted only on 30th, 1 seen briefly at Trofea & another found dead, entangled in baler twine on a branch.

Ural Owl: Noted only on 31st, when 1 seen well.

Little Owl: Noted on 2 days, 1 on 27th, heard on 28th.

Long-eared Owl: Noted on 2 days, 15 on 29th & 30th.

Common Kingfisher: Noted on 3 days, singles on 28th & 29th, 2 on 30th.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: Noted only on 31st.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker: Noted on 3 days, 1 on 29th, 2 on 31st, 1 on 1st.

White-backed Woodpecker: Noted on 2 days, 2 on 31st, 3 on 1st.

Syrian Woodpecker: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 1st.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Noted on 3 days, several on 29th - 1st.

Black Woodpecker: Noted on 2 days, 2 on 31st, 2 on 1st.

Green Woodpecker: Noted only on 1st, when heard but not seen.

Grey-headed Woodpecker: Noted on 2 days, 2 on 31st, 1 on 1st.

Crested Lark: Noted on 3 days, 3 on 27th, 6 on 30th, several on 1st.

[Eurasian/Common] Sky Lark: Noted on 3 days, 27th, 29th, & 30th.

Meadow Pipit: Noted only on 1 day, 10 on 27th.

Northern/Great Grey Shrike: Noted each day.

[Winter] Wren: Noted on 3 days, 28th, 29th, & 1st.

Dunnock / Hedge Accentor: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 27th.

Common Blackbird: Noted most days.

Fieldfare: Noted most days.

Redwing: Noted only on 1st, when several seen with Fieldfares.

Mistle Thrush: Noted on 2 days, 31st & 1st.

European Robin: Noted on 2 days, heard on 30th, 1 on 1st.

Black Redstart: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 27th.

Common Stonechat: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 27th.

Bearded Tit / Reedling: Noted only on 29th, when 2 seen briefly.

Common/Eurasian Chiffchaff: Noted on 2 days, singles on 30th, & 31st.

Goldcrest: Noted on 2 days, 29th & 31st.

Long-tailed Tit: Noted on 2 days, 31st & 1st.

[Eurasian] Penduline Tit: Noted only on 1 day, 15 on 29th.

Marsh Tit: Noted on 2 days, 29th & 31st.

Willow Tit: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 31st.

Great Tit: Noted most days.

Blue Tit: Noted most days.

Eurasian Nuthatch: Noted on 3 days, 29th, 31st & 1st.

Eurasian Treecreeper: Noted on 2 days, 31st & 1st.

Eurasian Jay: Noted on 2 days, several on 31st & 1st.

Black-billed/Eurasian Magpie: Noted each day.

Western/Eurasian Jackdaw: Noted on 3 days, singles on 27th & 28th, many more on 30th.

Rook: Noted most days, particularly large numbers of migrants on Hortobagy.

Hooded Crow: Noted most days.

Common Raven: Noted on 2 days, several on 31st & 1st.

Common Starling: Noted each day.

Corn Bunting: Noted on 3 days, 27th, 29th & 30th.

Yellowhammer: Noted on 4 days, 28th - 30th, & 1st.

[Common] Reed Bunting: Noted only on 29th.

Common/European Chaffinch: Noted most days.

European Greenfinch: Noted on 3 days, 27th, 29th, & 1st.

Eurasian Siskin: Noted on 3 days, several flew over on 29th, 31st, & 1st.

European Goldfinch: Noted most days.

Common Linnet: Noted on 2 days, 2 on 28th, 40 on 1st.

Common/Eurasian Bullfinch: Noted on 2 days, heard on 29th, 1 on 31st.

Hawfinch: Noted on 2 days, 12 in castle grounds on 31st, 10+ on 1st.

House Sparrow: Noted most days.

[Eurasian] Tree Sparrow: Noted most days.

BUTTERFLIES & other insects:

Butterflies only seen on 27th as the rest of the week was too cold. The Clouded Yellow unfortunately must remain unidentified.

Large White: Noted only on 27th.

Small White: Noted only on 27th.

Peacock: Noted only on 27th.

Red Admiral: Noted only on 27th.

Painted Lady: Noted only on 27th.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth: Noted only on 28th, when 2 were found trapped inside the restaurant windows.


Fire Salamander: Noted only on 31st, when 1 was found during one of our woodland walks.

Frog sp.: 1 on 28th.


Eastern Hedgehog: Occasional dead one on the roads.

Red Fox: One dead on road on 26th, others seen on the steppe on 30th, and climbing the quarry near the Eagle Owl on 1st.

Beech Marten: One had electrocuted itself at the top of an electric pole at Trofea, and we found a spraint on 1st.

European Otter: Apart from a regular pathway noted on 27th, we saw 2 at Trofea on 28th.

Weasel: Noted on 2 days, singles on 28th & 29th.

Red Deer: Noted only on 31st, 3 briefly in woodland.

Roe Deer: Noted most days.

Mouflon: Noted only on 31st, when 2 seen briefly by the leaders only.

European Badger: Prints noted in muddy path on 1st.

Red Squirrel: 1 seen on 29th.

Northern Water Vole: 1 seen in the lake at Trofea on 29th.

Steppe Mouse: Many holes and paths on the steppe on 30th.

Brown Hare: Noted most days.

I hope you all enjoyed the trip and have returned home with your own special memories. At the Hortobagy, it must be the Cranes, and that wonderfully evocative evening with parties of birds crossing in front of the setting sun. But we also did well with the geese and other waterfowl, the White-tailed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Bustards, the Bittern alongside the road, and so on and so on! Once in the Zemplen Hills, who can forget the Ural and Eagle Owls, the superb Imperial Eagle sitting just across the field, and those oh-so-elusive White-backed Woodpeckers! The Hawfinches and white-headed form of Long-tailed Tit and all the other woodpecker species were all particularly interesting. I'm sure I've forgotten lots of other highlights. Oh! The soups! One never really knew what to expect at the bottom of the tureens!

Well done to all of you who made this trip the success it was, and our special thanks to our drivers, Attila, Garbor and Istvan, and of course to Sandor and Zoltan for all their hard work during the week

Keith Grant, November 2002.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2002