Trip reports

Peckers & Listzers in the land of edible frogs and snails (and no, we didn't !)

Peckers & Listzers in the land of edible frogs and snails (and no, we didn't !)
GT Bustard Ged Gorman

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kondor Eco-Lodge. A birdwatching & wildlife centre, Kiskunsag National Park Hungary 7- 10/05/12

It was my last morning in this extraordinary place. I felt a pang of loss, no more was I to open the window of my lodge in the woods, lie in bed and listen to a dawn chorus of a far off land; Warm light cascading through the window.
Some voices were familiar from home - Blackbird, Chaffinch, Great tit, Wood pigeon; Yet interrupted by songsters I would miss....the far carrying Cuckoo, the fluting yodel of a Golden Oriole, the sweet whistle and twitter of a Redstart, Purring Turtle doves and the ascending note of an enchanting Nightingale. I wanted to stay longer in this place with its poplar pollen falling like snow, chirping Crickets and singing Tree Frogs. This was food for the soul and I was grateful for the feast.
Five thirty in the morning, I could not tarry the Orioles were calling me...

Monday 7/05/12, Manchester Airport, found us in the departure lounge at the free cocktail bar, a little something to calm down the pre flight nerves perhaps (well that's our excuse).

Our accommodation was in the Kiskinsag national park Kondor Eco lodge.(
The landscape once outside of Budapest appeared flat and continuous, empty of people and cars, heaven to many. Arriving at the lodge hidden in the woods, some of us were pleasantly surprised to get more than generous accommodation - which bed should I sleep in tonight? A choice of up to four in a room! My room was above the wine cellar (must have known I don't really drink wine) with its guard of honour a knot of little green toads.

Dinner had been on the low heat awaiting our arrival. All our meals were included in the price and dinner was a 3 course affair. Always started with a nice soup, tonight's main course was roast chicken legs and rice, (those expecting the luxury fare of the Granton on Spey hotel were to be disappointed) pudding was sweet pancakes.
From the start, for those who wanted to join us, we had agreed a pre breakfast walk 7 - 8am that would be led by Ged Gorman our ex scouser guide for the trip.

5.10 am woke up to hear not a Blackbird but a Cuckoo, we'd arrived.

7am , first thing to note was some of the resident garden birds, Chaffinch, Redstart, Great, Blue and Long tailed tits, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Chiff Chaff and Swallows. Tomo particularly remembers a cheeky starling in the garden mimicing a green woodpecker followed by a quail! The neighbouring farmer was out and about and you got the impression we'd slept in! A slightly weary band of birders ventured out to the nearby salt lake, Kondor Lake (these saline lakes and temporary flooded areas of grassland attract huge number of ducks, waders and others on migration). Already the haze over the countryside told of a hot day ahead. Among the species bagged in our first hour Black winged stilt, Garganey, Redshank, White Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Gt White Egret, Cuckoo, Spotted flycatcher, Hoopoe, and our 1st woodpecker of the trip a stunning Black, the largest woodpecker in Europe, glossy black, white eye and a brilliant red Crown so close you could hear his wing beats. And did I mention the 'Monties' as we made our way back for breakfast we were treated to a superb view of male and female Montagu's Harriers flying along the road in front of the tree line.. What a start.

Ged's knowledge is not just reserved to birds, he also knows his bush skills and he showed us various tracks on our walks. This morning he found Roe deer and Fox, and then a particularly good print showing two holes above the footpad, this identified it as Wild boar, the holes are made by the spurs on the boar's feet.

After Coco pops! Eggs, cheese, bread etc . a varied cold buffet breakfast. We set off in our bus in search of our first target bird - easy -Storks. Nests were frequently found on top of the pylons along the roadside and in the villages. Long legs, mega pink beaks, outlandish, not the prettiest birds but impressive all the same.

Just outside of the nearest village Szabadszallas we stopped at a small reed bed area were we had our first encounter with a Great Reed Warbler (Ste spent he next 20 minutes trying to video it!) However the best was to a come the Cuckoo making itself heard turned out to be one of a rarer hue a rufous, nice one. On to Bosztor Marsh, Mute swans just like home. Here the Sousiliks lived in their burrows, endearing Hungarian ground squirrels no doubt a staple for the numerous Buzzards and Marsh Harriers that were everywhere. Lots of birds were seen here, bright Yellow Wagtails, Wood Sandpipers, Little grebes, Little gulls, Godwits, Curlews to name a few. But the stars had to be the Terns, Common, Black, Whiskered and Black and white winged swooped and twisted acrobatically moving across the surface and out manoeuvring each other...well one good tern deserves another - magic!

A comfort stop saw us indulging in Apricot ice cream or quaffing coffee whilst sitting outside a small café in the village of Kunszentmiklos , stork nests lined the roads and Golden Orioles could be heard across the way. However are main focus homed into a hole half way up a tree directly in front of us, it quickly became apparent this was the home of our second woodpecker of the trip a pair of Syrian Woodpeckers
The beauty of being driven around to sites in a bus is that it becomes a mobile bird hide, this gave us the opportunity of observing vividly coloured Rollers, Bee eaters, and striking Lesser Grey and Red backed Shrikes, perched on the roadside wires.

Our first picnic lunch stop was in the village of Tass . Sat around a table in a village green watched by the locals, dogs, Serins, Swallows and Redstarts. An unusual, rural al fresco experience. Mmmh I may have to go on a hunt for Lipton's peach iced tea back in the 'pool. ach iced tea back in the 'pool.

Raptors next, Ged took us to a roadside vantage point were the symbolic Turol bird of Hungary the Saker falcons had nested in a purpose built open fronted box, high in the pylons. Some distance away to avoid any disturbance ( the Saker is classed as Endangered, intensive wardening and management has produced a steadily rising population in Hungary) Through our scopes we could see they had chicks, a future generation hopefully. Further on the more common Red footed falcons were espied, again high in the pylons, male and female circling and what do you know another tick, a Night Heron cruised by as we watched the Falcons!

Further Lake Kondor ticks of note for the day were Little and Temmincks Stint, Gt spotted woodpecker, Curlew Sandpiper, Bee eater, Jays and Whitethroat.

Wed evening meal was a strange affair it started with a nice chicken soup, with side dishes of pasta with curd and sour cream (Turos csusza); well I say side dish turned out this was actually the main course. Ged told us this was a Hungarian speciality and the soup is sometimes poured over the pasta, too late that had been demolished. Pudding was simply cheese and apple slices. This wasn't to everyone's taste and something to bear in mind for future trips if you're a fussy eater.

Thursday's pre breakfast stroll around the lodge gave us our best sighting of Golden Oriole, shy beacons of yellow in the poplar canopy, and an equally beautiful vocal neighbour a Yellowhammer. A Tree pipit singing in the thicket gave himself away and Ged was soon on to him. A common spade foot toad hopped along the path we trod and was duly noted. A female Yellow-spotted Whiteface dragonfly alighted on Rob's shirt and gave us a great close up view. The main highlight of the morning walk to the salt lake was Honey Buzzard passing through.

Following breakfast we started our search in the Bugyi area for the heavy mob the Great Bustards - túzok in Hungarian Chunky handsome, yet surprisingly elusive to the eye. Marvelling in the splendour of the Puszta with its waving feather grass we scanned the fields from a high ground point, eventually we located them in some potato fields, stately strutting around without a care in the world. The puszta was once part of a continuous Eurasian steppe - lowland grazing land, the Kirkunsag hosts one if the biggest populations of Gt Bustards in Europe .

Bustards are often killed flying into overhead cables. To try and prevent this, the authorities are experimenting with fixing fluorescent "Firefly" devices on the most dangerous cables to provide the birds with warning lights. On the same highpoint Tawny pipits flew overhead and Brown hares raced and Roe deer tiptoed!

Stopping off at a village pond Ged pointed out some frogs with a yellow stripe along their backs, this identified them as edible frogs, a cross between a marsh and a pool frog. (It wasn't a lunch stop). A classy Hoopoe was rooting through the grass at the base of a stand of tress nearby.
Another stop took us to the Bugyi gravel pits, out came the telescopes scanning the ranks of gulls and Lapwings until Mediterranean gull was located, a Common tern joined the gulls on the neighbouring freshly tilled farmers field

A lot to cover today, on to the fishponds at APAJ, some fish ponds these, this was a major wetland area!
A Picnic lunch was consumed whilst we listened to Reed Warblers, smiled at a large European pond terrapin sunning itself, followed huge dragonflies zipping past and Swallows swooping over the pools. A Magnificent Purple Heron, a major tick of the day flapped gracefully over our picnic site. At the entrance to the path a Penduline tit gracefully balanced on the reeds, collecting reed threads ready to weave into her nest... Heavenly. Along the reed bed path Great Reed Warblers sang loud and far carrying carr-carr-cree-cree-cree-jet-jet, (doesn't do it justice). Further down the path several wobbly Greylag goslings gave us the aaarh moment of the day
Then the most amazing racket, we don't know what started it? Could it have been Sean and I 'Phishing' the Bearded tits? the cacophony of hundreds/thousands of marsh frogs, singing in unison like an appreciative football crowd! Unexpected and unforgettable. Did I say beardies, finally after hours listening for 'pings' back in blighty a decent sighting of these most splendiferous moustached birds flitting between the reeds. The wetlands had a tower hide (every reserve should have tower hide) giving a perfect view of the wetlands and fields below as far as the eye could see. This site teemed with birds, notables, Cormorants, Ferruginous ducks, Grebes, Lesser yellow legs, Pochard and Red Crested Pochard, Shoveler and the scarce Moorhen! Returning to the bus we located a Savi's warbler, a party of Avocets flew in making a late appearance and a magnificent Swallowtail Butterfly landed on the path before us.

Thursday evening our last night in our wooded haven. Goulash for dinner and a treat, our hostess Kath had specially baked us some chocolate cakes, Stephen appeared to like them, and I won't tell you how many he snaffled. Maybe it was the emotion of our impending departure, and then again could it have been a glass or two of Palinka, the Hungarian Brandy guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold night, and cause gales of laughter. But our last hour was special, standing in the pitch dark listening to Nightingales and tree frogs. The celestial heavens mapped out above us, shooting stars with mile long tails hurtling through the sky, satellites slowly following their given path. Have you seen Saturn's rings through a telescope? Stephen's star map application came to the fore that night.

Our last morning by the lake revealed Spoonbills, Collared flycatcher, Mid spotted Woodpecker to name a few. Back in the Kondor Lodge gardens we found two spectacular warblers a babbling Icky Icterine warbler and spanking bright yellow Wood warbler.

Midday saw us climbing high above Budapest , we were heading for our last site, a recreational wooded area on the hillside. A vantage point looking over the split city of Buda and Pest divided by the river Danube , a great place for our last picnic.

Our last goal was to try and tick a couple more off our Woodpecker list, for Stephen a River warbler. Alas, we dipped on the warbler but got our last and fifth Woodpecker of the trip, the Yaffle - a Green woodpecker. Others of note Collared flycatcher, Middle spotted woodpecker and another fab Black, Northern race lollipops and that plain chestnut brown songster a Nightingale powerfrul, melodious and sweet, led us a merry dance locating it in the shrubbery.
Sadly I also have to mention the Mossies, they saved their feeding frenzy until our last day. Scratched for a week after. All worth it of course.

Farewell to Ged and the heat of Hungary , back to rainy blighty.

Report complied by Laura 'Bimo' with help from Ann 'Tomo', Anne Pope and Ged Gorman.