The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Europe & Surroundings

HUNGARY’S HORTOBÁGY

Geese, Cranes, Raptors and Bustards

Friday 8th November – Monday 11th November 2019

Leader: János Oláh.

4 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Hortobágy birding tours visit the famous Hortobágy plains of Hungary at the time of year when birding focuses on migrating cranes and geese. Our autumn Hungary birding tour is an enjoyable short break that features Red-breasted, Lesser White-fronted and Taiga Bean Geese, Imperial Eagle, Saker Falcon, Great Bustard, Jack Snipe and many thousands of Common Cranes.

In autumn the Great Hungarian Plain takes on a very different character from that of late spring and summer. Gone are most of the summer visitors but in their place come huge numbers of geese, ducks and Common Cranes on their way to winter in the Mediterranean Basin and the Nile Valley, turning the Hortobágy into one of the great migration staging posts of Europe.

The Hortobágy contains a fascinating diversity of habitats and offers some of the finest and yet most undisturbed birdwatching in Europe today. Indeed, the gigantic crane roosting flights are one of the most exciting birding spectacles in all Europe.

An exciting feature of Hungary in late autumn is the increasing numbers of Red-breasted Geese that are turning up on the Hortobágy (they now occur in tens or even hundreds), and this rare and beautiful goose is the prime focus of this short tour. Furthermore, amongst the flocks of Greater White-fronted, Taiga Bean and Greylag Geese we shall also be looking out for the Lesser White-fronted Geese which use the area as a refuelling stop on their journey from their arctic breeding grounds to wintering sites in the Balkans. This species is now a cause for great concern as the numbers of this delicate cousin of the Greater White-fronted Goose have decreased alarmingly in recent years, with only very small numbers now being recorded from its traditional wintering sites in southeast Europe and southwest Asia. Like the Slender-billed Curlew its rapid slide towards extinction has gone almost unnoticed and last-minute conservation measures may not be enough to ensure the survival of the species.

Despite the encroachment of modern agriculture there is still a good deal of original steppe remaining in the Hortobaágy and its most notable avian inhabitant, the Great Bustard, can still be seen in some numbers in the grasslands, whilst the huge Imperial (or Eastern Imperial) Eagle and the powerful Saker Falcon, Europe’s rarest and most sought-after falcon, still sweep across the skies. At the many fishponds Jack Snipe can be found, alongside European Penduline Tits and Bearded Reedlings.

Above all the friendliness of the Hungarians and their obvious enthusiasm to show off their culture, country and natural heritage will ensure a memorable break during which we shall see some of Eastern Europe’s most exciting birds.

Birdquest has operated Hungary birding tours to the Hortobágy plains since 1989.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel at Nádudvar in the Hortobágy is of good standard. Road transport is by minibus and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Hortobágy birding tour is easy throughout.

Climate: Rather variable at this season. Many days are quite mild, dry and sunny, but cool (or even cold) overcast weather with some fog or rain is not unusual.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Hortobágy birding tour are good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: £130, $170, €150.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2019: £600, $760, €670. Budapest/Budapest.

Single Supplement: 2019: £60, $80, €70.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

HUNGARY’S HORTOBÁGY BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Hungary’s Hortobágy: Day 1  Our Hungary weekend birding tour tour begins in the early afternoon at Budapest airport, from where we will drive to Nádudvar, situated in the heart of the Hortobágy National Park in eastern Hungary, for a three nights stay. On the way we will make a stop or two to look for the magnificent Imperial (or Eastern Imperial) Eagle.

Hungary’s Hortobágy: Days 2-3  The Great Hungarian Plain was at one time, millions of years ago, part of an inland sea and even today has many plants that are normally associated with coastal areas. The grasslands of the steppe, or puszta, are Great Bustard country par excellence, for these spectacular but endangered birds find conditions here exactly to their liking. Despite their bulk and despite the fact that these magnificent birds form flocks at this season, they can still be surprisingly difficult to locate and even in flat and open country they can mysteriously metamorphose into large thistles, rocks or other unlikely objects as they blend perfectly with their habitat. They are among the largest of flying birds and make an unforgettable sight as they sweep across the plains on their huge wings emblazoned with striking white flashes.

During our stay on the Hortobágy plain there will be extraordinary numbers of Common Cranes (60,000-70,000) and Greater White-fronted Geese (20,000-50,000) present in the area, so we shall have no difficulty locating numerous big feeding flocks. Red-breasted Geese are a big highlight at this season. In recent years the numbers visiting Hungary in late autumn have risen and risen, so much so that this beautiful species now occurs in hundreds or even thousands! Flocks of Taiga Bean Geese and Greylag Geese can also be found here, but one of the greatest highlights of an autumn visit to Hungary are the small flocks of Lesser White-fronted Geese which stop over on their southward migration. Very similar in appearance to Greater White-fronted Geese, these smaller cousins can be picked out by their golden eyerings and other subtle differences.

A rich rodent population ensures a healthy number of predators and amongst the many Common Buzzards we will see Rough-legged Buzzards and Hen Harriers from the north and a few wandering Long-legged Buzzards from the east, as well as the magnificent Saker – surely Europe’s most enigmatic falcon.

Around the barns and small white farmsteads which are scattered throughout the puszta, Little Owls and Black Redstarts can be found, whilst Great Grey Shrikes prefer to sit on top of the isolated tamarisk bushes to survey this ancient landscape. The open plains also hold Crested Larks and wintering Lapland Buntings (or Lapland Longspurs). We might also come across some early Snow Buntings.

The other habitat on which we shall concentrate our attentions is the fishponds in the centre of the national park. Created between the wars, these fishponds teem with wildfowl and wading birds. Most striking are the flocks of Great Egrets which feast alongside Grey Herons on the multitude of carp, perch and pike trapped in the shallow waters. Flocks of Dunlins, Ruffs, Spotted Redshanks, Eurasian Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits can be found on the muddy shores of empty fishponds, whilst amongst the Great Crested and Little Grebes in the deeper ponds we shall look out for Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks.

Other species found here include Great and Pygmy Cormorants, Great Bittern, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Grey (or Black-bellied)Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Common Greenshank, Black-headed, Mew (or Common) and Caspian (or Steppe) Gulls, and Common Kingfisher. With luck we could encounter Black-throated and Red-throated Diver, Horned (or Slavonian) Grebe, Smew and Jack Snipe.

At this season the reeds are topped by a mass of seed heads and are host to roving flocks of European Penduline Tits and Bearded Reedlings, so much so that the air is sometimes filled with their explosive sibilant whistles and soft pinging calls. Western Marsh Harriers constantly drift overhead while Merlins and Eurasian Sparrowhawks are also in attendance, causing great alarm to the huge flocks of Common Starlings. The star attraction amongst raptors here is the huge White-tailed Eagle. A good number of these magnificent birds winter in the Hortobágy, gorging themselves on the plentiful fish. In the little town of Balmazújváros we will see a remarkable Long-eared Owl roost in the middle of town. At this time of year the birds are just starting to gather here for their winter roost, which peaks in mid-winter as high as 120-150 birds!

In the evening, as the red orb of the sun sets slowly behind the reed beds, a distant sound will catch our attention. Gradually, the sound swells to a bugling crescendo and the air vibrates with the beating of wings as legion upon legion of great birds sweep across the darkening landscape – up to 30,000 Common Cranes coming in to roost and providing an unforgettable close to a day’s birding in this superb area.

Other birds we are likely to encounter include Common Kestrel, Common (or Ring-necked) Pheasant, Stock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Eurasian Skylark, Meadow and Water Pipits, White Wagtail, European Robin, Common Stonechat, Song Thrush, Common Blackbird, Fieldfare, Long-tailed, Coal, Blue and Great Tits, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, Brambling, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Linnet, Yellowhammer, and Common Reed and Corn Buntings.

Hungary’s Hortobágy: Day 4  After some final birding in the Hortobágy we will return to Budapest, where our Hungary weekend birding tour ends in the early afternoon.

HUNGARY: HORTOBÁGY WEEKEND TOUR REPORT 2018

by János Oláh

View Report

Other central and southern Europe birding tours by Birdquest include:

Brown

Europe & Surroundings

HUNGARY & TRANSYLVANIA