Hungary and Slovakia - easy birding and autumn wildlife
A week spent in the hills and plains of Slovakia and Hungary searching out resident and migrant birdlife, including Great Bustard, woodpeckers and owls, geese and cranes, while enjoying the other local wildlife.
This holiday is timed to catch the best of the south-bound bird migration. On the plains of the Hortobagy, thousands of Common Cranes gather to feed up before they continue south. A highlight of the trip is sure to be the bugling of impressive flocks of these stately birds flying overhead on their way to their roosts. The wetlands are also filling up with large numbers of ducks and geese, including tens of thousands of White-fronted Geese, joined occasionally by their smaller, rarer cousin, Lesser White-fronted Goose.
As well as the southbound migrants, we will also look for some of the impressive resident birds of the area: Great Bustard, Europe’s heaviest bird, strut out on the plains where Saker and Eastern Imperial Eagle hunt around the busy Souslik colonies.
On the limestone hills of Slovakia, the forests of the Volovske are wearing the rich colours of autumn. Old beech and spruce forests provide home for countless woodpeckers, including White-backed and Black. In the evenings, we will listen out for calling owls, hopefully including the ghostly Ural Owl, while young Pygmy Owls are particularly vocal as they search for new territories.
There will be more to see than just birds, with late summer butterflies and dragonflies, mammals including Roe Deer and Souslik: we may even be lucky enough to hear the local wolf pack proclaiming their territory.
Day 1 Our flight takes us to Budapest, from where we will drive north to the limestone hills of Volovske.
Days 2/3 The Volovske Hills are characterised by tranquil mixed forests in which nine European woodpeckers can be found during autumn. Forest owls and Hazel Grouse are present in good numbers, Pygmy Owls will be noisily setting up new territories, and the large Ural Owl is a not uncommon resident in the mountains, and with a little luck we may see it. Commoner forest birds include Crested Tit, Crossbill, Siskin and Common Treecreeper, with Hawfinch and Rock Bunting both likely in the nearby Slovak Karst. The area is also famous for its diversity of bat species, and in the company of a local guide we will visit a nearby bat roost where several species can be seen side by side.
Day 4 We journey south to the flat steppic areas of Hortobágy puszta. Here the landscape completely flattens, and the wetlands and puszta, steppes and agricultural fields of Hungary are home to many bird species, giving us plenty of opportunities for roadside birding en route to our hotel in a nice spa area of Hajdúszoboszló.
Days 5-7 Hortobágy National Park is a vast area of some 80,000km2. Most of it is covered with steppe-like puszta interspersed with fishponds, woods and marshes. The ponds serve as roosting sites for large flocks of geese, wildfowl and cranes that spread out into the surrounding countryside to feed. The muddy pond margins are filled with passage waders, with reedbeds still alive with Bearded Reedling and Penduline Tit. The open grasslands are hunting grounds for raptors such as Saker, Merlin and Long-legged, Rough-legged and Common Buzzard, and Eastern Imperial Eagle. Marsh Harriers and White-tailed Eagles forage over the whole area, and flocks of Great Bustard and Stone Curlew can also be found here. Little Owls are quite common on farms and Long-eared Owls are beginning to form their larger winter roosts. Dotterels spend autumn here, with some 100 together in traditional places on the steppes. Sometimes Lapland Bunting arrive from the north while Red-throated Pipits are also often seen. Great Grey Shrike can be spotted on roadside wires as we drive through the open country. Common Cranes arriving from the north and create one of the great bird spectacles of Europe. We can expect to see and hear thousands both in the air and trumpeting in surrounding fields. There will be good photo opportunities at sunset when they will be coming to their roosts.
Day 8 We return to Budapest airport stopping en route to stretch our legs and look for some additional species.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We will be staying at two, good, local hotels, both with en-suite accommodation.
The holiday is full board, with an emphasis on local cuisine. Evening meals will be at the hotels. We will have picnic lunches on most days. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.
We will travel by small coach or minibus.
Group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick to Budapest.
Slovakia and Hungary are one hour ahead of UK time.
It should also be possible to fly with Easyjet from Manchester to Budapest.
If you hold an EU passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Hungary or Slovakia. The arrangements on travel to EU countries after 31 December 2020 are currently being negotiated.
The weather should be pleasant and mostly dry at this time of year, but rain, wind or cold weather are always a possibility.
On most days, we are out and about for much of the day, albeit walking a relatively slow pace. It may be necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although none of the walking is strenuous. The pace will generally be relaxed with time to enjoy the surroundings and take photos as well as watching the wildlife we find. There may be steps at our hotels, as well as up/down into the bus.