Hungary in Spring

Sunday 25 May - Sunday 1 June 2003

Sándor Konyhas

Jamie McMillan

Zoltan (Zemplen Hills)

Dr Stefan Kovacs (for Bustards in the Hortobágy)



Trip Diary

25 May

We arrived at Budapest airport in muggy, warm sunshine, and having met Sándor and Péter, our driver for the week, were soon on our way heading east along route 4, across the flat agricultural lands of the Great Hungarian Plain. We stopped for welcome refreshment at the incongruous 'Convoy City', a Wild West themed café. We continued our three-hour drive, seeing our first White Stork's nests and Red-footed Falcons as we left the main road to head towards Nádudvar.

We arrived at the extraordinary-looking Hotel Trofea deep in the Hortobágy just after six, and several of us set our immediately to watch the nearby reed-fringed pool. Here Great Reed Warblers grunted, Cuckoos called and bubbled (with several rufous-phase females seen) while Golden Orioles fluted and Turtle Doves purred from the surrounding woodland. Over the lake Night Herons and Little Bitterns flew back and forth. After a filling dinner we settled into our rooms for an early night regaled by the sound of Nightingales - singing outside the window as I write!

26 May

Waking to the sound of Golden Orioles, Nightingales and Turtle Doves does have some merit - but I was beaten to the lakeside by Brian and Janet who had already been up since dawn. With the whole group most impressively assembling in time for the pre-breakfast walk at six, we set off around the lake in wonderful pale morning sunshine, enabling all of us to catch up with the local birds - Little Bittern, Night Heron, dapper Red-backed Shrikes and fleeting Barred Warblers.

After a good breakfast spread Sándor and Péter arrived to take us to our first proper Hortobágy fishpond. Driving across the dead-flat green and lush grassland interspersed with reedbeds and small pools, the Hortobágy itself reminded me strongly of the Argentine Pampas - and our first stop showed us that, like the pampas, it was packed solid with birds.

Sedge, Reed, Great Reed and Marsh Warblers were soon joined by a singing Savi's Warbler, that eventually showed uncharacteristically well as it reeled from a reedstem. A White-spotted Bluethroat gave gaspingly good full-frontal views as it puffed out its throat and sang from the reeds. While overhead there was a flypast of most of the larger European wetland species, at times looking like a field guide illustration, with Purple, Grey, Squacco and Night Herons, Great White Egret and Spoonbill, and Pygmy and Great Cormorants flying over together or in quick succession.

We walked along a few hundred yards or so, with Sándor pointing out species left right and overhead, and imitating a few calls - his bark of Little Bittern in response to one a few yards out being especially accurate. Round the corner a group of Pochard were feeding with several smart Ferruginous Ducks. ' Now that's what I call a duck' exclaimed Rosemary as one hove into view in the scope. At a different pond not far away Whiskered Terns 'croaked' their way towards us, while Garganey mingled with the wildfowl. Three Cranes flew over - a surprise at this time of year - while at yet another pond Eric found a Red-necked Grebe amongst the teeming mass of Pochard and Coot.

It was still mid-morning and we stopped near a farm where a high-flying Saker was joined by a distant Red-footed Falcon, and a Quail called from the tall grass in front of us. It was really warm by this time, and an angry wasp pestered us - and actually stung one of us - so we decided to move on, spending some time at an open farm, where ancient Woolly Pigs mingled with splendid long-horned Hungarian Grey Cattle.

Lunch was taken at Hortobágy village in a three-hundred year old restaurant - they have certainly managed to perfect their doughnut recipe over that time - and we went shopping afterwards for essential nicknacks.

At another fishpool in the afternoon it was really hot, but we were still finding new birds, with Little Egret, Yellow-legged Gull and Glossy Ibises flying over. Flyover Spoonbills and Pygmy Cormorants put on a great show, and Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage headed an excellent wader list that included Redshank, Ruff, Curlew, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper. Some of the group saw a Bittern fly across a path, but all of us heard the calling Little Crake from a reedbed across one of the ponds.

We got back to the bus and swilled mineral water before Sándor took us for a late afternoon Saker hunt. We struck lucky not far from home, when a large pale bird obliged on some pylons - too briefly for those in the back of the bus who only had flight views. But just as we settled to go back Sándor tapped on the windows and beckoned us - there it was again on a pylon, sitting tight for useful scope views. An excellent end to a superb day, with a grand total of 93 bird species at the end.

27 May

The pre-breakfast walkers added Jay to the list, and at the end of the hotel drive added a superb Long-eared Owl, gazing down at the group with orange eyes and tufts erect.

After breakfast we headed for the northern end of the southern steppe. A Black Woodpecker flew across in front of the bus into a copse: hopefully not the last we'd see, or otherwise I would be in trouble, wouldn't I Rosemary!

A shout of 'stop stop' from the back of the bus, well, from me in fact, brought us to a halt right next to a superb pair of Roller on wires. The male was dropping down into the sunflower field, catching small insects and going back up to the wire to offer these to the female.

We stopped at a marsh and walked a few hundred yards. Glossy Ibis and Wood Sandpiper flew up as we approached, while Sándor miraculously called up a Moustached Warbler.

We headed on to a steppe area where a pool held Shoveler and a male black Ruff. On the other side a male Montagu's Harrier circled, giving superb views. The air was full of Skylark song - indeed they were not to be out of earshot all day.

We drove to a roadside wood. Here by a farm a Lesser Grey Shrike performed well for us on fence posts, while a Green Woodpecker flew past. But the real stars of the show were overhead - Red-footed Falcons. We had the most wonderful views of these, both perched and in the air - with up to ten overhead in the air at once. We saw pairs mating and courtship-feeding, on the ground food-mantling and visiting the nest. The nest-boxes here were provided by Sándor and other local birders, and whether 'proper' boxes or hanging flowerpots, they were all used gratefully by the falcons, which provided a wonderful spectacle.

We had lunch at a fine restaurant, Patka's Carda, then headed out for some new fishponds. At the first we saw nesting Avocet, and a few Little Gull, while at the second Black Tern hunting for insects were the stars.

We then headed for the village of Nagivar, where Péter the driver pointed out a fine pair of Little Owls in a garden tree. Here we picked up Dr Gabor Kovacs, who led us out on to the steppe.

We drove on to a rough track and 'stepped' out across the herb-scented grassland to a small rise, stopping to pick up Great Bustard feathers on the way. Soon Dr Kovacs had pointed out three males, with two of the 'plains-masters' showing signs of displaying.

After a short stop here we headed to another steppe area, this time of damp meadow. We had walked about 500 yards when Dr Kovacs beckoned - an Aquatic Warbler was singing and was giving great views in his scope. We all appreciated the sight of this rare, globally-endangered species before setting back towards the bus, and a late return for supper. The delay in getting a cool beer after the hot day had been worth it - by checklist time we had seen 99 species!

28 May

The booming of distant thunder last night gave way to a hazier, breezier morning. No sign of the owls, but the hotel Little Bitterns performed well, giving great perched and flight views to those that had missed them up to now. Two Kingfishers were new for the trip.

As we drove through Nádudvar Sándor called out, and a flock of Rose-coloured Starlings were seen flying away from the bus over the rooftops - a brief but exciting encounter of this typically mercurial species.

Today we were heading for the northern steppes. As we arrived a Hobby flew past the bus, then a distant Black Stork was visible for longer. We scanned around over the sheep, and the bear-like sheepdogs, eventually seeing two fine Stone Curlew in the vast area of grassland.

Then it was on to the sewage ponds - in true Travelling Naturalist traditions of visiting the very best places. Here Black-winged Stilts were flying about and calling noisily.

We then called in at a farm to look for raptors. A short wait produced something that looked interesting, but kept on dropping from view beneath the treetops. Eventually two appeared in the air right overhead - Lesser Spotted Eagles, showing very well against the dark woodland background as one swooped low.

We continued on for lunch at a fish restaurant near the Tisza ferry, notable for copious quantities of excellent catfish soup, and the blizzard of willow seed blowing about in the air.

After lunch it was back out to the steppe again. We climbed a tower hide, from where we could see at least forty Cranes, with five Garganey amongst other wildfowl on a pool, with a fine Lesser Grey Shrike on a nearby tree.

Back to the eagle farm, and we stopped right by a Hoopoe perched by the side of the road. We inched forward, and another one joined it - and dropped into a nestbox below. We had wonderful views if the male bird 'hooping' and the female perched and feeding.

Péter then bravely headed down the dirt track, stopping by a small copse of Robinias, where our first Whinchat of the trip performed well. Here we spent a delightful hour and a half just watching the birds of the steppe from the shade, with a chance to look at some of the butterflies and flowers. At least five Quail were calling from the long grass around us, long-horned Hungarian Grey Cattle lazed and grey pigs trotted about.

We drove back, stopping for a final look at the Hoopoes and the gathering thunder clouds, which broke spectacularly in a storm over supper, and some freshening overnight rain.

29 May

It was a cloudy, cool start after the rain, with a fresh north-east wind. Again no sign of the owls, but a Swift was new before breakfast.

We said farewell to the Trofea and headed to a drained pond nearby which looked promising. It gave us a remarkable set of waders including Oystercatcher, way out of its range and a local rarity, together with Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Greenshank, and a distant Temminck's Stint. Also on the mud were Little Stints, several showing rufous summer plumage, Dunlin, Redshank, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper and Lapwing - thirteen species of wader. As we watched, a splendid male Little Bittern flew past, giving everyone good flight views, and a family of Bearded Tits also gave us more than the usual disappearing tail-end view.

After this we drove south, out of the Hortobágy, to an excellent marsh, Tajvedelmi Korzet. This was absolutely teeming with birds, many giving close views. As we drew up by some farm buildings, Avocets fed unconcernedly a few yards away, Garganey swam, while Spoonbills swept the water a little further out. Bitterns boomed from the centre of the marsh, where both Whiskered and Black Terns fluttered. We stood entranced by the scene, continually adding species - Black-winged Stilts were flying and calling noisily, and we spied a chick protected by the smart parent.

A little later two Bitterns flew out allowing splendid and rare flight views, followed by one even closer that eventually vanished into the centre of the marsh to continue its booming.

Then lunch called and we headed into a restaurant in a park in the centre of Debrecen. Here we dined to the accompaniment of our first Serins singing overhead. A brief walk after lunch also gave us good views of Black Redstart.

Then it was on to one of Sándor's local patches - Debrecen Great Wood. Almost immediately we heard Middle Spotted Woodpecker, with everyone getting several good views of this smart continental woodpecker during the walk. At a track junction we saw a female Collared Flycatcher visiting a nestbox - a cracking male was seen further along the track. While we waited, a local group of walkers passed us, dived into their vehicles and came out with bottles of beer which they drank with some enthusiasm. On a whim, Colin decided to try his recently-learned conversational Hungarian with them. This in fact consisted of just a single word, 'sor', meaning beer, but this he used to extremely good effect, and managed to persuade them to part with a bottle, which he drank before us with some glee.

Meanwhile, back at the birds, Sándor had found a fine Hawfinch which showed well in the trees overhead, and we finished he walk with great scope views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

A two-hour drive took us to Tokaj and the Zemplen Hills, and along to Sarospatak, our base for the rest of the trip.

30 May

The day dawned sunny, clear and calm, as it was to remain throughout, but with a welcome crispness in the air that tempted several of the group out for an early morning stroll around the old castle. Here we saw Black Redstarts and Serins in the surrounding park, and could look down on the River Bodrog winding its way down the valley from Slovakia.

After breakfast we met Zoltan, our local forest guide, and headed for the rolling green Zemplen hills. A short way in we stopped by a river. Here Turtle Dove purred, Golden Oriole sang, and a River Warbler buzzed.

Our walk took us through a delightful series of meadows and glades, with Fire-bellied Toads breeding in the puddles along the ruts of the track, and huge Roman Snails making for the shade. We continued up through the beeches and hornbeams to a more open area, with the trees forming a dense canopy. A shape glided through the branches on the far slope - the hoped-for Ural Owl. We climbed the bank and peered, soon getting clear and excellent scope views of this magnificent creature slowly blinking its black eyes back at us from its forest domain.

On to another area of older trees, and Zoltan immediately found a Black Woodpecker heading for its nest hole, much to our delight, and especially Rosemary for whom this was top of the most-wanted list after missing it on several previous trips - even some Travelling Naturalist ones, I have to admit! Then a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from behind us, and a Middle Spotted flew over, but the best happened next, when a White-backed Woodpecker drummed from high on the opposite slope. So we were soon climbing up through the leaf litter again, and looking at the trees ahead - and a female White backed Woodpecker appeared just long enough for several of the group to get scope views.We went back to our original spot in this woodpecker Eldorado, but without seeing the hoped-for Grey-headed.

The bright sunshine on the track had brought out numerous butterflies including a dashing (in both senses) Lesser Purple Emperor and a more obliging Common Glider - the latter only the second Zoltan had seen here.

We had a picnic lunch with us, and were very kindly allowed to eat it in comfort at a roadside 'bufé' deep in the forest. At one point a Hawfinch flew into a damson tree across the road.

After lunch we headed north to more open country, with views of the green Zemplen Hills on one side, and the Slovakian forests across the valley on the other. Here a Lesser Spotted Eagle obliged with a soar. Péter then drove us up a long forest track, which proved rather quiet except for a good range of butterflies, which included Pearl-bordered Fritillary. A high Honey Buzzard flew over at the end of the track, and just as we had settled in the bus, a Black Stork flew low over the valley, prompting a sudden rush for the exit.

Next stop was a lush meadow, where a River Warbler gave excellent views as it gave its cricket-like song from an exposed perch. Another stop for eagles produced a distant Lesser Spotted, but also two new butterflies - Nickerl's Fritillary and Chestnut Heath.

Finally we headed for a village, and walked up to a quarry, without seeing any new bids, but did find a Grass Snake swimming across the quarry pool.

After an excellent dinner at a country restaurant overlooking the Tokaj hills, and washed down with several samples of sweet Tokaj wine we watched the sunset. But Sándor and Zoltan had one more stop for us - a vineyard high on a slope. Here we listened and watched Stag Beetles flying as dusk fell, and then a Nightjar started churring from across the valley. Suddenly a female flew across the trees near us, giving us fine fly-past views. An excellent end to a superb day.

31 May

After the late finish yesterday, most opted out of a pre-breakfast walk, and we set off after breakfast in another morning of clear warm sunshine. Soon we arrived at an area of open hillside with scattered bushes - Zoltan jumped out and immediately exclaimed 'two eagles!' And soaring low over the ridge opposite were two superb Eastern Imperial Eagles.

While we watched, a Woodlark flew over, and a Barred Warbler sang from a rosebush. We had cracking views of the Barred - 'like a miniature Cuckoo' as David described it. Further along in this thyme-scented park-like country, we heard Grey-headed Woodpecker calling, and soon were getting wonderful views of the male as it circled us and perched high in the nearby oaks. As if this wasn't enough, Zoltan found a Wryneck almost immediately afterwards. We watched it fly to a dead branch of an oak tree - where it was promptly joined by another, which got, well, very friendly with it. Both birds then stayed and rested from their exertions in the same tree giving an unparalleled opportunity for us to gain good views of this normally-elusive woodpecker in its breeding habitat.

Flushed with success we drove on through the gently rolling country of vineyards and fields, and stopped by a roadside to watch gorgeous Bee-eaters at a breeding colony. Then on up to a decidedly hot stone-quarry where we saw a very distant Rock Thrush, and a flyover Short-toed Eagle, though several of us were also entertained by the butterflies, which included Scarce Swallowtail, Black-veined White in a courtship frenzy, and High Brown Fritillary. We also saw a male Green Lizard very well by the quarry wall.

We then took the back road to Tokaj, where a Black Kite flew overhead, and continued to a nice small restaurant in one of the town's side-streets.

After lunch our first stop was a road close to the station, where a Syrian Woodpecker obliged well, flying down on to one of the vine posts for great views. Next we headed back into the town to a small wine shop to stock up on Tokaj wine to take home - and found a wine festival in full progress up the road. A half-hour spent here wasn't a complete ornithological waste of time, either - three Black Storks and two Honey Buzzzards soared over as we got back to the vehicle.

Then we headed for the river, where Corncrake called, but didn't show them selves, in the lush meadows. But a Quail did show briefly, flying up as we drove down a small track. A ringtail Harrier proved to be Hen Harrier - a rarity here in summer (the first Zoltan had seen here at this time of year!). By the river we watched a Kingfisher fishing, and then drove back towards the hotel. We still had one more stop however. On the outskirts of town, Péter again drove us down a farm track, and we walked through a vineyard to a small quarry. Sándor set up the scope - and there blinking back at us were four orange eyes, belonging to two Eagle Owl chicks. A wonderful finale to the trip!

1 June

After a late breakfast we set off for the three and a half hour drive back to Budapest airport, breaking the journey along the new motorway.

With three couples staying on in Budapest for a look at the city, we paid our farewells to them and to Sándor and Péter at the airport, and thanked them for looking after us so well. This was The Travelling Naturalist's first spring trip to Hungary, after a good run of autumn trips. I'm much looking forward to doing it again!

Jamie McMillan


June 2003



Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Up to 10 a day seen on the Hortobágy fishponds.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Two on a Hortobágy fishpond on 26th

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Up to seven a day on the Hortobágy fishponds.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Just a few seen each day in Hortobágy, but 50+ seen over the drained pool. Six over Tokaj on 31st.

Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus Up to 20 per day in Hortobágy - seeing so many of these was a delightful feature of the trip.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Up to 10 daily in Hortobágy. Also seen flying over R. Bodrog.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Up to 20 each day in Hortobágy, with a few over in Bodrog valley.

Great White Egret Egretta alba Very common in Hortobágy, with one or two seen in Zemplen

Little Egret Egretta garzetta Up to c10 daily in Hortobágy.

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides. Up to 20 daily in Hortobágy.

Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax Up to 20 daily in Hortobágy, including several on the hotel pond. A few in Bodrog valley.

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus Excellent views of this elusive heron daily in Hortobágy, and a wonderful feature of early morning walks by the hotel.

(Great) Bittern Botaurus stellaris Heard three days in Hortobágy, with exciting flight views of three at the marsh on 29th.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra Two distantly over the steppe on 28th, with much better views over the Zemplen forests on 30th and 31sy,with the best views of three over Tokaj (outside the wine shop!) on 31st.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia A constant presence, with nests in most villages. Up to 50 seen daily.

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Up to 10 on two days in Hortobágy, mainly in the south.

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Around 10 per day in Hortobágy, mostly in flight, with superb views of two 'sweeping' in the marsh on 29th.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor One reported in Hortobágy on 26th.

Greylag Goose Anser anser Around 20 seen each day in Hortobágy.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope Six on one of the Hortobágy fisponds, 27th

Gadwall Anas strepera Up to 10 daily in Hortobágy.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Up to 50 daily in Hortobágy.

Garganey Anas querquedula Up to 10 daily in Hortobágy, with one by the River Bodrog.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata Three on one of the Hortobágy fishponds, 27th.

Common Pochard Aythya ferina Very numerous on some of the Hortobágy fishponds, with well over 100 seen on 26th.

Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca Common on some of the Hortobágy fishponds, with up to 100 each ay in Hortobágy.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula Just two seen on one of the Hortobágy fishponds, 26th.

European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus One over Zemplen forest, 30th with two over Tokaj (the wine shop again) on 31st.

Black Kite Milvus migrans One over the vehicle north of Tokaj on 31st.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus One rather distantly over Zemplen quarry on 31st

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus A ringtail in the Bodrog meadows on 31st was a most unusual summer record for the area.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus Up to three on three days in Hortobágy, with several excellent views.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Abundant in Hortobágy, and seen daily throughout the trip.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Two seen on separate occasions in Zemplen on 31st.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis One distantly over Zemplen quarry on 31st

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Common. Seen daily - up to 30 seen per day.

Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina Two seen well at 'raptor farm' in north Hortobágy, 28th. Two over north Zemplen, 31st.

(Eastern) Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca Two seen well over south Zemplen hills, 31st. An exciting moment.

Saker Falco cherrug One distantly soaring, and one seen flying around pylons in Hortobágy, 26th.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Common and uo to 10 noted daily.

Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus Seen each day in Hortobágy, with absolutely stunning views around the 'falcon wood' on 27th. Voted by several the 'bird of the trip'.

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo Three seen on 28th in north Hortobágy necessitated a logo bird round of beer by Jamie!

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix Heard five days, both Hortobágy and Zemplen. One seen in flight Bodrog meadows, 31st.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus Common and widespread. Noted daily.

Common Crane Grus grus Seen on three days in Hortobágy, with c40 by tower hide in north Hortobágy.

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus Two seen by a Hortobágy fishpond on 26th.

Corn Crake Crex crex Three heard Bodrog meadows, 31st

Little Crake Porzana parva One heard by a Hortobágy fishpond, 26th.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus A few noted three days in Hortobágy.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Seen daily in Hortobágy.

Great Bustard Otis tarda Three males seen on the southern Hortobágy with Dr Kovacs.

Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus One on the drained fishpond, Hortobágy on 29th was unusual.

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Eight on 28th and c 20 with chick seen on the marsh, 27th.

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avocetta Up to 20 per day on three days in Hortobágy.

Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus Two on the northern Hortobágy, 28th.

(Northern) Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Quite common. Noted 5 days, up to c30 per day.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola Three on the drained pond, with one on the marsh, 29th.

Greater Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula c10 on the drained pond, 29th.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius One distantly at a Hortobágy fishpond on 27th, with one at the marsh on 29th.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Quite widespread in Hortobágy, with up to c15 seen daily, in fine breeding plumage.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata c5 seen on 26th & 27th in Hortobágy.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus Widespread in Hortobágy wetlands, with up to c30 per day seen.

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia Two on the drained pond, Hortobágy, 29th.

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola One on 27th and five on the drained pond, Hortobágy, 29th.

Little Stint Calidris minuta Four by a Hortobágy fishpond 27th, with c10 on the drained pond, inc several in russet breeding plumage, 29th.

Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii One distantly on the drained pond, Hortobágy, 29th.

Dunlin Calidris alpina One by a fishpond, Hortobágy, 26th,with three on the drained pond, 29th.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea One seen well on a stone spit in a fishpond, Hortobágy, 26th.

Ruff Philomachus pugnax Up to 9 seen on four days, Hortobágy, with males in black breeding plumage seen on two occasions.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis Up to c50 noted on three days, Hortobágy.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Wiespread in Hortobágy, where noted daily. One seen over River Bodrog.

Little Gull Larus minutus Six on a fishpond, Hortobágy, 27th.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Widespread in Hortobágy, where up to c20 noted per day on three days.

Black Tern Chlidonias niger Seemingly not as numerous as the former species, but 25 seen on two fishponds, Hortobágy, 27th. Also seen on the marsh, 29th.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo One over the marsh, 29th.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Widespread. Noted daily

Stock Dove Columba oenas Just one heard, Zemplen, 30th.

(Common) Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Widespread - a few seen daily.

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Delightfuly common, especially in Hortobágy, where we woke up to the sound of this species purring each morning.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Widespread in towns and villages.

Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Pleasingly common and widespread, especially in Hortobágy, where rufous females also seen. Good numbers round the hotel each morning.

Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo Two superb chicks stared back at us from a Zemplen quarry on 31st.

Ural Owl Strix uralensis This magnificent creature seen well with Zoltan in Zemplen hills on 30th. Voted 'bird of the trip' by several of us.

Little Owl Athene noctua Two spotted by Péter, our driver, in a Hortobágy village on 30th.

Long-eared Owl Asio otus Four seen one morning at the hotel, Hortobágy, one giving splendid views low in willow scrub.

European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus In vineyards near Tokaj; a female seen in flight and a male churring on 30th.

Common Swift Apus apus Surprisingly scarce. Six in thundery weather, Hortobágy, 29th, with four over Zemplen, 30th.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Two, Hortobágy, 28th, with one on River Bodrog, 31st.

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster Excellent views of at least 20 at a colony, Zemplen, 31st.

European Roller Coracias garrulus Pair displaying on roadside wires in Hortobágy, 27th was one of the trip highlights.

(Eurasian) Hoopoe Upupa epops Widespread - noted on five days, max 6 on 28th in north Hortobágy, which included wonderful views of a pair visiting a nest by the roadside.

(Eurasian) Wryneck Jynx torquilla Two in open country, Zemplen, 31st were great performers, even displaying and mating in the open while we watched.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor A pair shown us by Zoltan in damp woodland, Zemplen, 30th.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius Quite numerous in woodland, and seen both in Debrecen Great Wood and Zemplen.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos Another Zoltan special, shown to us in Zemplen, 30th.

Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus One near the station in Tokaj, 31st gave great views as it perched on a vine row support.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Widespread in both Hortobágy and Zemplen. Noted six days.

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius One flew across the road, Hortobágy, 27th. Better views of one, or possibly two, shown by Zoltan at a nest hole, Zemplen, 30th

Green Woodpecker Picus viridis The least well-seen woodpecker, with one near the falcon wood, Hortobágy, 27th, and singles heard Hortobágy, 28th and Zemplen, 30th.

Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus A pair well-seen in open country, Zemplen, 31st.

Crested Lark Galerida cristata One or two on four days, Hortobágy around towns and villages.

Wood Lark Lullula arborea Four in open contry, Zemplen, 31st.

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Wonderfully common, especially in Hortobágy.

European Sand Martin Riparia riparia Scarce, with just a handful noted on five days.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica The commonest and most widespread hirundine, almost constantly in view.

Common House Martin Delichon urbica Seen each day, mostly around towns and villages.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava The blue-headed race noted on five days, with up to c20 noted per day in Hortobágy.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba Widespread around farms and settlements. Noted six days.

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris Just one at the 'raptor farm', north Hortobágy, 28th.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Delightfully abundant. Most numerous in the open country of Zemplen.

Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor Up to c10 per day seen on three days in Hortobágy.

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Heard in the Zemplen forest on 30th.

(Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis One seen very distantly at a Zemplen quarry on 31st.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula Widespread but never numerous. Noted each day.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos A few seen in Debrecen Great Wood and Zemplen forest.

European Robin Erithacus rubecula Heard in Debrecen Great Wood and Zemplen forest, but never seen. Sorry, Brian....

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos Wonderfully common, except perhaps when one was trying to get to sleep with explosive 'jug jug jugs' right outside the window at the Trofea.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica White-spotted males noted on 26th qnd 27th at Hortobágy fishponds, and seen very well on 26th. A trip highlight.

Black Redstart PHortobágyenicurus ochruros Mostly in towns and villages in Zemplen, with one singing from the hotel roof in Sarospatak.

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus One in Debrecen park on 29th.

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra One near the 'raptor farm', north Hortobágy on 28th.

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata Widespread. Noted each day.

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Two noted on 27th and 28th in Hortobágy, with two in the Zemplen vineyards on 31st.

Bearded Tit (Reedling) Panurus biarmicus A few noted three days in Hortobágy, but only seen well y the drained pond on 29th.

(Eurasian) River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis A few heard on two days in the Zemplen valleys, and one male seen well singing in the Bodrog meadows on 30th.

Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides A few seen and heard on two days in the Hortobágy reedbeds, with at least two males seen well in scopes.

Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon Fairly distant but reasonable scope views of a singing male in Hortobágy on 27th.

Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola Excellent views of a singing male shown to us by Dr Kovacs on the evening of 27th.

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Widespread and fairly common in Hortobágy.

(European) Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris Around five noted on 26th in Hortobágy.

(Eurasian) Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Widespread in Hortobágy, where noted each day.

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus Abundant in Hortobágy, where you are seemingly never out of earshot of the 'grunts'of this species (even in your hotel bedroom. At least, I think it was Great Reed WarblerÖ)

Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina One pointed out by Sandor in a Zemplen orchard - but I don't think any of us foreigners saw it!

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita One in Hortobágy, 26th. Two in Debrecen Wood, 29th, with around five in the Zemplen forests, 30th.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix Two heard in Zemplen forests, 30th.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Noted on five days, both Hortobágy and Zemplen, with most c10 in Zemplen on 30th.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin One singing by the Hotel Trofea, Hortobágy, each morning

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis One in Hortobágy, 26th. One in Zemplen vineyards, 31st.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca One heard in Hortobágy, 26th. Three heard in open country, Zemplen, 30th.

Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria Heard and seen briefly near the Hotel Trofea, Hortobágy, 26th & 27th, but best views in scrub, Zemplen, 31st.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata Noted daily (mainly one by the Hotel), Hortobágy, with max c7 Zemplen on 30th.

Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis Three seen in Debrecen Great Wood on 29th, with 4 in Zemplen forest, 30th. Some cracking views of the males.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Individuals with characteristics of the white-headed caudatus race seen in Debrecen Great Wood, and in a village near Tokaj.

(Eurasian) Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Sadly, heard only on 26th in Hortobágy.

Marsh Tit Parus palustris One in Zemplen forest, 30th

Coal Tit Parus ater Heard in Debrecen Great Wood and Zemplen forest.

Great Tit Parus major Widespread. Noted each day.

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Oddly scarce, with just one record from the Hotel Trofea, and a few in Zemplen forests.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea Several in Debrecen park and Great Wood, with a few in Sarospatak.

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla Heard only in Zemplen forest.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Seen a couple of days around the Trofea, with another in Zemplen.

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Common in Hortobágy, but strangely absent in Zemplen.

(Western) Jackdaw Corvus monedula Common around the farms in Hortobágy. Not noted in Zemplen.

Rook Corvus frugilegus Common and widespread.

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix Widespread; noted daily.

Common Raven Corvus corax Three over Zemplen forest, 30th.

(Eurasian) Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus Wonderfully widespread. Noted each day, with views of birds around the Trofea, where the song constantly filled the woods.

Rose-coloured Starling Sturnus roseus A flock of c6 flying fast northwards above the bus as we drove through Nádudvar on 28th - an exciting moment.

Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common and widespread.

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra Widespread. Noted daily.

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella One or two seen in Debrecen Great Wood and both days in Zemplen.

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Common in Hortobágy around the reedbeds. A couple of records by rivers in Zemplen.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Widespread. Noted daily.

European Serin Serinus serinus Seen in Debrecen park, and towns and villages in Zemplen.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Widespread, but never numerous. Noted daily.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Widespread and noted each day.

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina Scarce. Just two in Hortobágy on 26th and one en route back to Budapest.

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes One seen in Debrecen Great Wood, and one while we had lunch in Zemplen on 30th.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common and widespread.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Wonderfully abundant, possibly even commoner than the previous species.


Eastern Hedgehog Erinaceus concolor Corpses seen on a couple of days.

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus Noted daily in Hortobágy, with two in Zemplen Hills.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris One in a village near Tokaj.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus Widespread. Seen daily.


Fire-bellied Toad Bombina bombina Heard in Hortobágy fishponds, and abundant in Zemplen forest.

Common Toad Bufo bufo One in Zemplen forest.

Natterjack Toad Bufo calamita One by Hortobágy fishponds, 26th.

Common Frog Rana temporaria One in Zemplen forest.

Edible/Pool Frog Rana esculenta/lessonae Abundant in Hortobágy.


Green Lizard Lacerta viridis Male in Zemplen quarry on 30th, with juv in vineyards on 31st.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix One swimming across Zemplen quarry pool, 30th


Scarce swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius Seen Zemplen

Black-veined white Aporia crategi Several seen in a Zemplen quarry.

Large white Pieris brassicae Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Small white Artogeia rapae Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Green-veined white Artogeia napi Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Bath white Pontia daplidice Noted both Hortobágy, where abundant, and Zemplen

Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines Seen Zemplen

Wood white Leptidea sp. This or Fenton's Wood White seen Zemplen

Green hairstreak Callophrys rubi Seen Zemplen

Large copper Lycaena dispar Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Silver-studded blue Plebejus argus Seen Zemplen

Brown argus Aricia agestis Seen Hortobágy

Common blue Polyommatus icarus Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Lesser purple emperor Apatura ilia One seen Zemplen

Common glider Neptis sappho One seen Zemplen

Peacock Inachis io Seen Zemplen

Painted lady Cynthia cardui Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae Seen Zemplen

Comma Polygonia c-album Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

High brown fritillary Fabriciana adippe One seen Zemplen quarry

Queen of Spain fritillary Issoria lathiona Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Pearl-bordered fritillary Clossiana euphrosyne Seen Zemplen

Nickerl's fritillary Mellicta aurelia Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen. Probably this sp, rather than Assman's F.

Meadow brown Maniola jurtina Seen Zemplen

Ringlet Aphantopus hyperanthus Seen Zemplen

Small heath Coenonympha pamphilius Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Chestnut heath Coenonympha glycerion Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Speckled wood Pararge aegeria Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Large wall brown Lasiommata maera Seen Zemplen

Tufted marbled skipper Carcharodus flocciferus One seen Hortobágy

Small skipper Thymelicus flavus Seen Zemplen

Large skipper Ochlodes venatus Seen Zemplen


Nine-spotted moth Syntomis phega Seen Debrecen Great Wood

Gypsy moth Lymantria dispar Caterpillars by Hotel Trofea

Spotted sulphur Emmelia trabealis By Trofea, and in Zemplen

Four-spotted Tyta luctuosa One seen Hortobágy

Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba Seen Zemplen

The Snout Hypena proboscidalis By Trofea


Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum Seen Hortobágy

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata Seen Hortobágy

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa Seen Zemplen, where abundant in forest

Norfolk Hawker Aeshna isosceles Seen Hortobágy

Lesser Emperor Dragonfly Anax parthenope Seen Hortobágy

Golden-ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii Seen Zemplen

Downy Emerald Cordulia aenea Seen Hortobágy

Club-tailed Dragonfly Gomphus vulgatissimus Seen Hortobágy

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombei Seen Hortobágy

Beautiful Demoisellle Calopteryx virgo Seen Zemplen

White-legged Damselfly Platycnemis pennipes Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen


Great Green Bush Cricket Tettigonia viridissima Seen Zemplen in meadows

Hornet Vespa crabro Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Violet carpenter bee Xylocopa violacea Seen Zemplen

Froghopper Cercopis vulnerata Seen Zemplen

Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata Seen Zemplen, where abundant on flowers in open country.

Pollen beetle Oxythyrea funestra Seen Hortobágy

7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata Seen Hortobágy

Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus Noted both Hortobágy and Zemplen

Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis Seen Hortobágy


Roman Snail Helix pomatia Seen Zemplen - now where's that garlic?


Salvia nutans The common steppe and roadside blue flower.

Russian Olive Tree Oleagnus angustifolius The silver-leaved white-flowered small tree.

Eastern Larkspur Consolida orientalis Common weed

Clematis undulata Blue-fls found by R. Bodrog

Birthwort Aristolochia clematitis Common in meadows in Zeplen

Field Cow-wheat Melampyrum arvense Spectacular vineyard weed

Many thanks indeed to Sándor for his outstanding guiding and leadership, to Zoltan for his detailed on-the-spot knowledge of the Zemplen Hills, to Dr Kovacs for Great Bustard and Aquatic Warbler, to Péter for driving us and taking the bus along all those forest and steppe tracks to get us close to the birds, and to Janos Vilagosi of Aquila Wildlife Tours for his excellent organistaion. And to all our accommodation and meal providers, especially some of the smaller restaurants with those wonderful soups!

© The Travelling Naturalist 2003