Raptor lifers around the Hortobágy for my Finnish friends

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Nice abandoned-looking house in the Hortobágy. © György Szimuly

Today I picked my Finnish friends in Budapest for a one day promising birding trip to the Hortobágy National Park. We decided not to have a too early start so departed only around 8AM. There were several target species for Olli and his boys for today so I planned everything accordingly. Olli Haukkovaara is my old Facebook friend and now we met in real. His family is really nice and we had great times together.

The Eastern Imperial Eagle was one of the targets. I have to say that we were extremely lucky to find 5 birds on four different loations. I have never seen as many Eastern Imperial Eagles on a single day than today. The first bird was seen along the highway M3 (km 63) in the Heves region. We could not jump out of the car so it was just a brief view on it. When we stopped in the rest place I spotted two soaring Eastern Imperial Eagles attacked by Common Buzzards. It was at km 75 near Gyöngyös. Luckily one of the bird was gliding just over us providing a very good view. Soon after we left the car park we found another soaring bird near Feldebrő at km 99. It was a really nice start of the day.

The first site we stopped by was at the edge of the Hortobágy National Park. It was just next to Tiszafüred. This has been a nesting site of Saker Falcon. On a nest box placed on a high power electricity fence we found one bird preening and soon after another one together with Common Kestrels. On this spot we found a Lesser Grey Shrike and a male European Stonechat. Second lifer for Olli.

As we entered the territory of the national park I stopped at one of the largest Red-footed Falcon colony along the road #33 at Péteri forest. This is an awesome place for watching the Red-footed Falcon from a very close distance. The forest was full of nest boxes managed by the Hortobágy Environmental Association. Here we saw close to a hundred Red-footed Falcons, Lesser Grey Shrike, Common Nightingale, European Golden Oriole, White Stork. Just before the site we found European Roller which is also a breeder in the forest.

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Hungarian Grey Cow is a native domestic animal part of the Hortobágy landscape. © György Szimuly

After having a nice lunch in the Hortobágy village we moved to the northern part of the park trying for Long-legged Buzzard which was another target for Olli. Attila Szilágyi (Fiteti), my local birding friend advised us to visit the known location for the buzzard. As I knew the location we found it easily. The area is a nice steppe surrounded and scattered by group of trees and bushes. After about 20 minutes of waiting one Long-legged Buzzard appeared and soared in front of us. So the third lifers has been ticked for Olli. By that time the kids had several lifers.

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Nice puszta habitat at the Long-legged Buzzard site. © György Szimuly

After a coffee break we moved to the last birding site for today. The Hortobágy fishponds is a huge fishpond system in the middle of the puszta region. It is an important bird area. Kids had several lifers and Olli has got the Whiskered Tern to his life list. Birds seen here was Ferruginous Duck, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, European Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Great Egret, Pygmy Cormorant, Greylag Goose, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, Bluethroat, Lesser Grey Shrike, Western Yellow Wagtail, Moustached Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Eurioepan Reed Warbler, Bearded Reedling, Common Starling and other species. On a barn next to the fishpond we stopped for Little Owls which we could observe from a close distance. Another lifer for the boys.

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Western Yeallow Wagtails are common along the main track of the fishpond. © György Szimuly

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Common Kestrels are breeding in the nest boxes along the main track of the fishponds. They seemed to be colonial here. © György.Szimuly

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Squacco Herons were well seen along the ponds. © György Szimuly

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View from the hide of fishponds to the Hortobágy fishponds. © György Szimuly

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Olli and me at the Hortobágy fishponds. Nice to see a long time online friend in real. He is such a nice person and his family is very kind. © Roni Haukkovaara

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We found quite a lot night roosting White Stork at the edge of the national park. © György Szimuly

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All in all we had a wonderful day and were really grateful for the excellent weather and birds.

Nice birding spot visited in golden morning

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Eurasian Hoopoe is breeding in the area for more than a decade. © Gyorgy Szimuly

For Dani and me this morning started at 3AM with the survey of Black Redstart in our town. I was simply interested in the number of territories of Black Redstart in Tata, Hungary. Unfortunately we could not finish the survey today as the activity of Redstarts was limited for a few hours only. Anyway it was impressive to learn that in every street has at least one breeding pair. Result will be published soon.

After the survey we visited a local birding hotspot (not in hardcore birding sense) in the Gerecse Mountain. The site is a pasture with some bushes and trees fringing a crossing offroad. The site attracted so many birds this morning and made it quite exotic. Here is what we saw on a single group of trees. I am sure for some of my readers this could be a rather exciting place to visit.

Stock Dove 8
Middle Spotted Woodpecker 3
European Bee-eater 18
European Golden Oriole 6
Eurasian Hoopoe 5
Eurasian Skylark 4
Song Thrush 2
Red-backed Shrike 3
Great Tit 4
Northern Raven 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 12
Hawfinch 3
Yellowhammer 3

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Red-backed Shrike is also a local breeder here. Luckily habitat did not change after land privatization. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Images were taken by a P&S Nikon CoolPix V1 camera with a Nikkor 30-110mm 1:3.8-5.6 VR zoom lens attached. Obviously it is not a typical bird photography gear… Need some time get the new 600mm lens for producing better images.

The 2,175th Life Bird: Western Bonelli’s Warbler

Today Dani and me targeted to find the long time chased Western Bonelli’s Warbler in the Eastern Alps in Austria. I was advised by kind Austrian birdwatchers to visit the road between Thörl and Sankt Ilgen up to the Gasthaus Bodenbauer in eastern Styria.

We arrived to the road well before dusk. At our first stop I hoped to hear and see Eurasian Pygmy Owl. European Robin started to sing before any light was visible. The pygmy owl was calling frequently from a pine forest and suddenly landed next to us. As we had no powerful lamp we could not manage to see it but the feeling was nice. The forest was slowly waking up by the songs of Common Chaffinches, Song Thrushes and European Robins.

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A clearing where Eurasian Pygmy Owl was heard. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Song Thrush was abundant along the road. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Of course the main taget was to find and see the Western Bonelli’s Warbler which was told to be common in the area. At a larger parking lot I immediately picked a bird singing but I could not see in the pine tree. Then Dani found it moving and showed it to me. I could see through my SwaroVision but ony for two seconds. As this bird was new to me I was hoping to get a way better view of this tiny bird.

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The Western Bonelli’s Warbler slope. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I decided to drive till the Gasthaus Bodenbauer and see the birdlife of this region. As nothing special was seen we returned to the original spot. In the meantime light rain started to fall but birds were quite active. We have been waking on the road for two hours to find a cooperative bird but we could not see any. Up to 6 birds were singing in the area and all kept territories quite strict. Finally I gave up waiting and decided to climb up to the very steep slopes to be at eye level with the bird. It was fun to climb up on this very steep and slippery slope (70°) in my sandals. This effort paid off as the bird were seen well for as long as we stayed there. It was quite obvious that photography is also possible but careful preparation is needed for good result. The Western Bonneli’s Warbler became my 2,175th life birds on my revised IOC list.

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On our way back I wanted to show a nice White-throated Dipper for Dani and in Thörl we found one lovely bird on the crossing river. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bird List of the road:

Common Wood Pigeon 4
European Pygmy Owl 1
White-throated Dipper 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Black Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Jay 2
Northern Raven 2
Marsh Tit 10+
Coal Tit 14
European Crested Tit 3
Great Tit 20
Eurasian Blue Tit 14
Barn Swallow 10+
Common Chiffchaff 4
Western Bonelli’s Warbler 12
Eurasian Blackcap 30+
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Goldcrest 2
Eurasian Wren 5
Eurasian Nuthatch 6
Common Starling 10+
Common Blackbird 10+
Fieldfare 1
Song Thrush 15
European Robin 15+
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 10
Dunnock 4
White Wagtail 1
Grey Wagtail 6
Common Chaffinch 40+
European Greenfinch 10+
Eurasian Siskin 5
European Goldfinch 15
Eurasian Bullfinch 4