Great birding day with some nice additions to the year list

I always love to visit non local birding sites and meet birding buddies on the other side of the country. Today I picked my kids up and drove to Jászberény where I met my birding friend, Tamás Zalai, who helped us to visit a local site where awesome concentrations of wildfowl and waders could be seen.

Tamás has reported an unusually large number of Black-winged Stilts on a agricultural land which was flooded in May after the extraordinary rainfall in the Carpathian Basin. The water covered about 1000 ha and bird started to discover soon after. Nice colony of tern developed and some waders species nested on the area where normally Skylarks and Stonechats occur.


Flooded agricultural fields. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tamás counted the birds a day prior to our visit when 610 Black-winged Stilts and a rough estimate of 1,100 Wood Sandpipers are using the area. Pied Avocet numbers halved to about 50 birds. We had not much luck this morning as there was a light shower with dark clouds. Light condition was not so pleasant for enjoyable viewing. Anyway the slippery off-roading was exciting what my kids enjoyed a lot.


Tamás is scanning the area for Stilts. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Due to the bad weather and the tough condition of dirt roads we could not visit the whole area but could see a nice number of feeding Black-winged Stilts. Many times they flocked together with Wood Sandpipers but shortly dropped back to the feeding grounds. An adult White-tailed Eagle was also seen flying over the area.


Black-winged Stilt. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Based on a rough calculation there are over 1,000 Black-winged Stilts in Hungary at present which seems to be a record number this time of the year.



The beautiful and a traditional ‘puszta’ style hotel in the middle of Kiskunság. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the original plan was washed away by the rain I decided to visit the Kiskunság National Park for some nice specialities cannot be seen in our region. Luckily the sky cleared by our arrival and only a few passing clouds disturbed the pleasant sunshine. The scattered key sites of the national park was extremely wet. In average years all the natron lakes and the steppes should dry by July but now the May floods and the extreme amount of rain keep them wet. Our first visit was to a former natron lake system around Fülöpháza where despite the wet year no water left and the bed is totally covered by dense grass. It was a kind of emotional visit as I had never been there for more than 15 years.

Next stop was at another natron lake complex, the Böddi-szék, where some waders are expected. On the nrothern part of the lakes we found 6 Red-footed Falcons, 3 European Rollers, an European Hoopoe and 5 Lesser Grey Shrikes. All of the species are local breeders.



Beautiful natron lake with salty dry edges. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The southern part of the natron lakes produced some nice waders. We saw the following waders: 11 Eurasian Curlews, 30+ Pied Avocets, a single Dunlin, 5 Common Sandpipers, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 16 Northern Lapwings and 35 Ruffs. There were 9 Eurasian Spoonbills and about 50 moulting Greylag Geese with about 20 Black-headed Gulls. On our walk to the lake 5 Common Quails were flushed from the path. It was a nice surprise.


Little Owl. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In a hope to see Eurasian Stone-curlew we crossed the main road and checked another natron lake. No sign of Stone-curlew but we saw 4 White Storks, an alarming Black-winged Stilt (no chick was seen), 6 Northern Lapwings and a Little Owl in the window of a close barn.


Lake Balaton before storm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Leaving the national park we drove to the western part of the country and visited the Lake Balaton. Dani wanted to swim and despite the stormy weather he finally jumped into the waves. We had some fun there but any birds seen.


The Sarrét Nature Reserve is washed way by extended floods. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the Balaton another flooded area was visited near Székesfehérvár where amazingly large areas are still under water. The biggest challenge to explore the area is the lack of access point. Actually all the dirt roads are under water and the only way to survey the area to get a low profile boat and check the birdlife from there. The Sárrét Nature Reserve is nice wet meadow which is about 10 times larger than it is in normal years. What we could see is the large number of heron species. Mainly Western Great Egrets (80+), Grey Herons (20+) and White Storks (40+) were seen from the spot we could access the edge of the flooded area. Large number of Black-headed Gulls, many flying Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers were seen.


Large hayfields are flooded in May. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At least one family of Black-winged Stilts found with fledged chicks. Many Eurasian Coots and a Common Gallinule escorted their chicks. Nice number of Whiskered Terns and a few Common Terns were also seen. On the trees under water 40+ Pygmy Cormorants were seen and many in the water swimming for food. I’m sure they normally don’t occur in this area.

All in all this day was a great one with lots of nice species and 6 new to the year list which is at 185 now.


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