Trip reports

Peckers and Liszters Tour Oct 2013

Peckers and Liszters Tour Oct 2013

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Fourteen of us went on a memorable Hungarian trip to Bukk Hills. This was the Peckers and Liszters second trip to Hungary, with 6 of us having made the trip in spring last year. For many of us, there were plenty of birds we have never seen before in store, including eight species of woodpecker, white tailed and imperial eagles, and long eared owls. Some lovely treats later when the weather improved with Queen of Spain Fritillary, Clouded yellow and Eastern bath white butterflies. Three things that come to mind about our trip. Lowra, shelduck and Manu, more about them later.

We all arrived at the Rocket just before noon for a mini bus ride to Manchester airport. The flight arrived on time, and we were met at the airport by Ged, author, tour guide, expert on woodpeckers and wearer of dodgy Hungarian hats and Atilla, the driver. A two hour drive to the Nomad hotel in a small village called Noszvaj. Ged has been living many years in Hungary and his pronunciation has been influenced by speaking Hungarian, because Laura became " Low" (sounds like Pow) ra.

The anticipation was building, when we saw the hotel. We had ten minutes to grab a key for our rooms, a quick wash and the meal was ready for us, the first of many excellent dishes. We were given the itinerary from Ged. He likes to keep things simple and we were told, seven, eight and nine to remember for the next morning, seven for the pre breakfast walk, eight for breakfast, and nine for the mini bus ride. We were introduced to the tour mascot: Manu, that was not appreciated by everyone, but adored by the Everton contingent of the group.
The next morning, most complained about not having slept very well, but we all made the pre breakfast walk at 7. Whilst waiting for the walk to start, we saw great spotted woodpecker, song thrush, blackbird, jay and great tit. In the road leading to the park we saw black redstart, tree sparrow, marsh tit and nuthatch. In the boating lake there were four mallards that greeted us each morning.

Within the first hour, surrounded by wooded hills we had spotted some fantastic birds, including for most a "lifer" grey headed woodpecker, also great spotted woodpeckers. Ravens were soaring high, as well as buzzards and sparrowhawks. Also flying were redwing and white wagtails. We saw chiffchaffs and willow warblers flitting about in the branches. It was amusing to compare the long tailed tits from those that we see in the UK with their white heads. Whilst on our way back some were fortunate to see a black woodpecker, flying away from us. The bird appeared to wake up at 7.45 am.

After a good breakfast, we made our own sandwiches and rolls for a packed lunch for later. The highlight being the Eggy bread, and the owner was christened by Rhodie as the eggy bread lady.

The tour really started at 9am when we set off for the Bukk Hills in the mini bus. We arrived at Hor Valley, the weather was getting colder and a bit windy, autumn was here. Buzzards were soaring, linnets, goldfinch and chaffinches were seen, everyone with their binoculars at the ready, not wanting to miss out on our target birds. Neil volunteered, or was he deliberately chosen?, to search for a tawny owl. With a stick he tried to flush one out from a hole in a tree, with Ged calling to "keep your face away from the hole".

He didn't manage to flush the owl, the hole was empty. Neil had trouble getting back to the path. We were searching now for the white backed woodpecker. It was proving elusive, despite Ged's calls to attract them. There was evidence of them, and Ged pointed out the signs on the hornbeam trees, where the white backed feed on the wood-boring beetle larvae.

Along the way we saw treecreeper, nuthatch and robins, middle and great spotted woodpeckers were also seen. A few managed to get a glimpse of some crossbills, Fantastic views, but still no white backed. Some were beginning to wonder whether we would see one at all, then when all appeared to be lost Ged heard the call, and Neil spotted the white backed. As it turned out the bird was voted the bird of the tour and was a "lifer" for most of us.

It flew from tree to tree and then landed allowing great views and those who were alert were able to get a photo of the wonderful bird. On our way back to the mini bus we managed to see the Lesser spotted too. We were all relieved and feeling pleased with ourselves, we hadn't doubted for a minute that the bird would show.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Cserepfalu, in search of the Syrian woodpecker, but we couldn't find one. We also stopped at the Bogacs Reservoir and we saw mallards, small numbers of teal, heron and a few white wagtail. A debate started and continued about whether Tomo had seen a shelduck on the water. It gave rise to the creation of a new tour operator: Shelduck Tours.

We arrived back at the hotel and had an excellent meal with duck on the menu, apart from the Veggies. We wondered if there might be a duck less on the boating lake in Noszvaj. A check list of the birds spotted and everything else, including mammals, butterflies, insects and amphibians.

Curiously shelduck was missing from the "official" list. We all dressed for the occasion and bright green, or any colour that stood out in honour of Arnie's trainers. Sadly Arnie had changed the colour of his footwear at the last minute to the colour of royal blue. After many beers, palinkas and bacardi and (not very much coke) we headed back to our rooms, hoping that we hadn't drank too much for the 7 o'clock walk next morning.

Most made the early call, with only a couple late, and they soon caught up. The wind was stronger and the temperature had dropped over night. It was a lot quieter than the day before and no grey headed woodpecker. The three drake and one female mallards were there to greet us and they weren't caught for last night's evening meal.

After another hearty breakfast and making up the packed lunches for later we set off on time, passing through Szentistvan, Tiszababolna and Poroszlo. In Szentistvan, we saw a roost of eight long eared owls. We had fabulous views and surprising for most that we were able to get so close, compared to viewing them in the UK. Tomo spotted a great grey shrike on a post, as we were driving, we managed to get some great shots. Later, we walked across a field and we had about an hour of a wonderful raptor experience. We saw hen harrier, buzzard, marsh harrier, imperial eagle, white tailed eagle, sparrowhawk and kestrel. Also we saw many swallows, skylark and crested lark, linnet and some lucky to spot a red throated pipit. Also spotted were Brown hares zigzagging across the fields.

In Tiszababolna we had a further treat when we saw Common crane (about 50), pygmy cormorant and Tyno was reminded every time a bird was flying by Ged, reference to us missing out on this small cormorant on the peckers and Liszters tour last year. We saw white tailed eagle, magnificently flying high. From a tower hide we saw spotted redshank, ruff and dunlin. In the fields walking back great white egrets, curlew and lapwing were seen. We saw common spadefoot toad and tree frog, and in the distance roe deer and a wily fox.

Later at lake Tisza, approaching our platform by the sluice gate, we flushed a purple heron. With our telescopes we saw little and great crested grebes, mallards, shovelers, teal and four ferruginous ducks in flight. In the distance we saw White tailed eagles, imperial eagles and marsh harriers. We were just packing up our telescopes when Tyno stayed behind for a short spell and we were grateful, as a little crake showed from the reeds. The nervous bird then was disturbed by a coot and didn't make another appearance.

The highlight of the day were two stops to see 20 roosting long eared owls, that had everyone out of the mini bus with their cameras, often risking crossing the road with plenty of traffic to get a better view.

We had had a great day with over 60 species of bird seen. We made our way back to the hotel and had another excellent meal, followed by our check list and the beer continued to flow. Despite a cold day, we had all thawed out.

The next, our last full day in Hungary, was a case of catching up on what birds that had been missed. The weather had improved, the wind had dropped, and the sun was shining. The seven o'clock start was notable for the green woodpecker, as well as the great and middle spotted woodpeckers.

Making our way at 9 am prompt we started at Hor Valley and were rewarded with some great bird including hawfinch, which had eluded us in previous days, linnet, yellowhammer, goldfinch and chaffinch. We saw plenty of buzzards and ravens flying high and jays flying from tree to tree. As the weather was warmer we saw lots of butterflies, including Queen of Spain Fritillary.

Carol took an excellent photograph of a Swallowtail caterpillar.

We stopped in two villages in search for the, so far, missing Syrian woodpecker. The first village was unsuccessful. The second after a refreshment break, whilst Anne and Lowra were showing off their table tennis skills, a Syrian was spotted and was proving to be difficult to get good views, but eventually, thanks to Neil again, we had great sightings, and we also had the local villagers out wondering who had invaded their peaceful day. Neil, had set the wheels in motion for his Shelduck tours venture, he could rival Ged in spotting the important birds.

The next stop at Bogacs Reservoir a surprise was in store for us, four black storks. We saw the magnificent birds in flight and in the water feeding. Also seen were grey plover, ruff, dunlin, pintail, teal and mallards. Butterflies were plentiful with Clouded Yellow, Small White, Red Admiral & Comma . Here, we saw a murmuration of starlings with a sparrowhawk disturbing them.

A wonderful beef goulash meal was awaiting us for our final meal, apart from the two vegetarians, who no doubt had an equally tasty meal. Second helpings were given to those who wanted more. Happy birthday wishes were sung, ever so slightly out of tune, to Atilla's partner. More practice needed I think.

Everyone was getting ready for the evening when Arnie received a ransom note, written in Hungarian, Manu had been kidnapped and to ensure his safe return, Arnie was instructed to pay for the beer all night. Arnie was in a state of shock, how dare someone remove his beloved Manu and demand such things. He took it out on a startled Phil, and using an instrument usually reserved for slicing salami, Phil turned a whiter shade of pale, and swore his innocence. Arnie, taking great care, placed the knife in his trousers and took an unusual walk back to the kitchen to ensure the safe return. It was noticed nobody ate any salami in their sandwiches the next day.

A great debate had started, accusations and pleads of innocence were thrown from both sides. Then, suddenly the mystery had been solved, Barbara's brother came into the room, with Manu. The safe return was ensured, without any ransom being paid. Arnie, most relieved, slept soundly that night with half an eye open watching out for Manu on his bedside table.

The next morning, Friday and our last day, was a lovely morning and all the usual suspects were present in the park, with great, middle and lesser woodpeckers showing well. The four mallards were fed by Lowra, we would all miss them.
We set off on time again at 9 am getting much of our driving out of the way early, today we were in search of the great bustards. Making our way to Kiskunsag, Ged spotted a pair of black woodpeckers and we hung around for them to make a reappearance.
We set off again and called into a wooded area nearer to our destination but no black woodpecker. We then tried for the bustards, and over lunch, a saker falcon was spotted in the distance, wonderful views. We thought we saw the bustards in the distance but it was a false alarm, just hooded crows. Here we saw Eastern bath white and clouded yellow butterflies.

Then whilst driving Ged called for Atilla to stop, he had spotted the great bustards, 8 of them, that later increased to 13. Then when watching them Rob spotted a goshawk that was flying low right in front of us. Another excellent day was now drawing to a close and when we stopped at a service station to say our goodbyes to Ged and Atilla before the airport, there was still time to see a distant Imperial eagle perched on a pylon, crested larks were in the car park, in amongst the Hungarian truckers.

Neil was supposed to be first to leave, for his flight to Barcelona, but as it turned out he left after us after the flight was delayed. We made it back to Manchester in one piece and everyone was rather tired after being travelling for most of the day. Two became one when we heard one of our coaches had been stolen, but that wasn't going to spoil our holiday.

A big thank you to Ged, Chris, Laura and Tomo for the way the trip was organised, to Atilla for his excellent driving and patience. For everyone for sharing their expert knowledge , especially Carol and Rob and not forgetting the soil specialist in the group; Peaty. To Arnie, Neil, Rhodie, and Phil for keeping us entertained with their wit. Thanks also to everyone who shared their photographs. Everyone contributed to this holiday and it won't be forgotten for some time.

Shelduck tours will be putting out flyers for the next tour, watch this space....