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HUNGARY: A LONG WEEKEND ON THE HORTOBÁGY

Friday 2nd November - Monday 5th November 2018

JÁNOS OLÁH

Red-breasted Geese over Nagyszik (or 'big salt') (Image by János Oláh)

Red-breasted Geese over Nagyszik (or 'big salt') (Image by János Oláh)

This swift weekend break to Hungary’s Hortobágy National Park is all about geese. Sir Peter Scott put the Hortobágy on the map for geese-lovers with his visits to this remarkable park. Yes, the same Sir Peter Scott who founded the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust as well as World Wide Fund for Nature! Not many places in the World where you can see this two threatened geese species – Red-breasted and Lesser White-fronted - in such a short and comfortable weekend but the World Heritage Hortobágy National Park is certainly one of these! This year we did it again and had many excellent and multiplied looks of both species. In fact, we saw much more Red-breasted Goose than we expected, and we logged a total of 605 for the two full days geesewatching. We also counted 28 Lesser White-fronted Geese amongst the tens of thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese. Red-breasted Goose is certainly one of the best-looking geese in the World and every birder should be able to see and admire its beauty one day! The Lesser White-fronted Goose is subtler in appearance but is certainly a special goose as well! The wintering grounds of Red-breasted Goose gradually shifting west in the last 30 years. Until the 1950s most of the population occurred along the western coast of the Caspian Sea - mainly in Azerbaijan, Iran and Iraq. The wintering area then rapidly shifted to the western Black Sea coast, and 80-90% of birds now congregate along the Black Sea coast. Even more recently, however, they wander further inland into the Romanian Baragan (salt lakes) area, along the Danube and increasing numbers are seen in Hungary and the Carpathian Basin too. Nowadays even the Birdlife International distribution map shows the Carpathian Basin as a wintering area. Within the Carpathian Basin the Hortobágy National Park is the most important staging area. In the last 20 years the Red-breasted Goose numbers simply doubled every 5 years and in 2014 / 2015 winter the count was over 2000 Red-breasted Goose in the Hortobágy area and probably around 2500 in the Carpathian Basin. The numbers are highly depending on the breeding success but certainly 2018 was a very good year for Red-breasted Geese in Hungary (the synchronised count a week after our tour resulted 1050 Red-breasted Geese in the Hortobágy area)! Although we spent most of our time with geese watching we also had some fine supporting cast like Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, Great Bustard, Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzard, Saker, Long-eared Owl, Syrian and Black Woodpecker and Bearded Tit. Not to mention the spectacles of tens of thousands of Common Cranes at their roosting area.

Common Cranes at dawn over the Hortobágy (Image by János Oláh)

Common Cranes at dawn over the Hortobágy (Image by János Oláh)