October sees the spectacular migration of Common Cranes through eastern Hungary. Each autumn over 70,000 Cranes from Fenno-Scandia, the Baltic States, Poland and elsewhere in northern Europe gather here for several weeks. Birds can be seen flying into roost in large groups and feeding by day in farmland and on the puszta. Of course, there are also some other special birds around, such residents like Great Bustard, Saker Falcon, White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles and eight species of woodpecker including White-backed, Middle Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker. Some winter visitors arrive at this time too, such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike and numerous wildfowl that should include some Lesser White-fronted Geese, many Greater White-fronts, some Bean Geese (both Tundra and Taiga possible) and possibly a few Red-breasted Geese.
Day 1: Arrive Budapest. Depart by road southwards for the Kiskunsag (1 hour). This is a flat region on the Great Plain, lying between Hungary's two great rivers, the Danube and the Tisza. Depending upon flight times we may have time for some birding near to our accommodation. Finches and buntings begin to flock up in October and we will no doubt see our first birds of prey. Night: Kiskunsag.
Day 2: The grasslands and farmlands of the Kiskunsag are some of Hungary's very best areas for Great Bustard and seeing this magnificent bird will be our morning objective. Our local guide knows where they like to congregate and we have high hopes of getting good views of small flocks. There will also be raptors and Great Grey Shrike. After the grasslands we will visit the area's wetlands where there should be good numbers of geese and ducks, Great White Egret and some passage waders. Night: Kiskunsag.
Day 3: Today we move on to the northeast to the Bukk Hills: two hours if done direct, but we will take our time and make several birding stops on route. We have a two-night stay here in a quiet village at the edge of the forests. Though not truly mountainous the Bukk will be a great contrast to the flat Kiskunsag. Birds often seen in the garden of our hotel include Hawfinch, Black Redstart and Middle Spotted and Black Woodpeckers. Night: Bukk.
Day 4: Birding in the Bukk National Park. In particular we’ll look for Black, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers in the oak-beech-hornbeam forests here on several easy walks. We will search for Syrian Woodpecker in orchards in and around villages. Other birds in these hills are Eastern Imperial Eagle, Goshawk and Rock Bunting. If requested we can also visit a family-run old wine cellar in the evening. The Bukk is one of Hungary’s best wine-producing areas. Night: Bukk.
Day 5: Today we leave the hills and forests and head back onto the Great Plain, but this time east of the River Tisza to the famous Hortobagy. On the way we’ll stop in the Heves grasslands and look for more lowland birds. Our guide's local knowledge means that there is a very good chance of Saker Falcon and more chances of Eastern Imperial Eagle. We’ll also scope Lake Tisza for gulls, grebes, wildfowl and White-tailed Eagle, before arriving at our accommodation and no doubt another fine Hungarian dinner! Night: Hortobagy.
Days 6-7: Our final two full days we be spent mostly in the Hortobagy National Park. The varied habitats here include large fishpond complexes where geese, ducks and cranes roost and Marsh Harriers and White-tailed Eagles hunt. Drained ponds have exposed mud and see passage waders and herons and egrets. Reedbeds and areas with bushes have Penduline and Bearded Tits, The Hortobagy's grasslands host raptors such as Saker, Merlin and Long-legged, Rough-legged and Common Buzzards. There will be Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers are common and with a little luck we may pick up a Pallid Harrier. There should be some lingering Stone Curlews, too. Little Owls are fairly common and Long-eared Owls are often in communal roosts by day. It may come as a surprise to learn that this region also hosts parties of Dotterel every autumn, indeed often in the world’s largest known flocks with over a 100 birds not unusual in traditional places on the short grazed puszta. Lapland Bunting and Twite are possible in the same areas, too. But the main spectacle here in October is the huge numbers of Common Cranes. On a couple of evenings we will wait just before dusk at key spots to see the in-flights of trumpeting and bugling flocks coming in to roost on wetlands from their daytime feeding fields. We can expect to see and hear many thousands both in the air, on the ground, in family parties and in lines of many hundreds. Nights: Hortobagy.
Day 8: After breakfast we head for Budapest (3 hours) and if time allows have a short sightseeing tour of this beautiful city before flying back to the UK. Tour Concludes.
For 6 participants
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