Hungary, 25th April – 2nd May 2014.

This was a bird photography trip to Hungary with Shetland Wildlife Holidays. There were 8 participants including myself and 1 leader.

For a list of the birds seen on this trip, click here.

The theme of the week was intensive wildlife photography. The photographers were divided into pairs and each pair visited a different hide(s) each day to give a variety of birds and other wildlife to photograph. The hides are part of the Sakertours company and are professionally organized. Two-way glass allows the photographer to get really close to the birds, which are unaware of the photographer’s presence in the hide. Each hide is situated in a strategic position to enable as broad a selection of bird species to be seen and photographed as possible.

The agenda was to rise early then be transported in pairs to the hide(s) for the day then spend the day photographing what turned up. In the late afternoon / early evening, pairs would be picked up by the driver and returned to the base hotel for the week.

The system runs very well indeed and we were supplied with copious amounts of food and water for the day.

Friday 25th April 2014

Depart 09:20 London Heathrow on British Airways flight to Budapest.

Arrive Budapest 11:20 local time. Easy getting through customs and immigration then straight to our base for the next week, the Hotel Balmaz, near Debrecen. This was an approximately 2 1/2 hour journey by large mini bus, along motorway much of the time.

It was raining heavily on arrival in Budapest but it eased up the further east we got. It remained cloudy all day.

Mammals – 1 Roe Deer was seen on the way to Debrecen.

Saturday 26th April 2014

Drinking pool hide number 1. This was a slightly small hide, big enough for two photographers only, set in a delightful woodland setting of mature deciduous trees, just to the north of Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city.

It was a walk of about ½ mile from the drop off point to the hide. This was one of two hides in the area. I didn’t visit the other hide, but apparently there was more bird activity at the drinking hide number 1 than number 2. There is an ‘infinity’ type pool set in a large metal tank about 8 metres long by 2 metres wide, directly in front of the hide.

Birds would come to this pool to drink but mainly to bathe. Amazingly, there is a heating system set up to keep the water in the tank from freezing in the very cold winter weather. We did not need the heater at this time of the year!

Departed hotel 07:00. Arrive at the hide itself at 09:20, after first dropping off the pair of photographers at hide number 2.

Picked up at 16:00 and arrive back at hotel 17:00.

Dry all day, but cloudy most of the day. Mild.  Slightly brighter in the evening.

Sunday 27th April 2014

Falcon / tower hide. This was named for the Red-footed Falcons (and Kestrels) which are the main photographic target here. The hide is one of the best I have ever seen. Raised from the ground on stilts, it stands about 15 feet above the ground, and access is by a wooden stair which enters the hide through a trap door on the floor. This hide gives views in both directions, depending on the time of day and prevailing position of the sun. It is in the Hortobagy national park well away from the nearest road. There is a small farm building about 300 metres away.

The hide is spacious, comfortable and well appointed. There is enough room for 4 photographers at any one time. There are several nest boxes arranged both adjacent to and indeed on the hide itself which provide nesting accommodation for both Red-footed Falcons and Kestrels.

It is a slightly exposed position and, in the flat plains in this part if Hungary, there are lots of thunderstorms. We had a rumbling storm for much of the afternoon but later I learned that there was a lightning conductor built in to the hide – a wise precaution.

Depart hotel 05:00. Arrive at hide 06:00. Collected at 18:00, returning to hotel at 19:10.

Dry, cloudy morning, then thunder and nearby storm in the afternoon. We stayed dry. Late warm sunshine.

Monday 28th April 2014

Pygmy Cormorant hide. This proved to be my favourite hide, and I returned here as my preferred option on our last day’s photography. Set in a fantastic reed bed in the park, we arrived to still calm conditions. The hide is a little awkward to get into – one has to step over a 1 metre board to enter. Once inside, there were three soft mattresses on the floor which, with some adjustment, one could find a comfortable position – and could be lulled to cat nap at times!

The car drives into the park along a rough track then it is a simple walk of 100 meters on a (narrow) boardwalk to the hide. In view of the fact that the sun after sunrise at this time of the year comes straight into the hide, and thereby increasing the chance of birds seeing our presence, a black curtain is drawn across the one-way glass. As soon as the sun has moved around (a couple of hours after dawn) the curtain can be pulled out of the way.

However, all is not lost during this time – it was great to walk back along the boardwalk to the bank overlooking the reedbed and take in the atmosphere of dawn here and see and photograph the many birds which are active at this time of the day.

Dry and sunny most of the day. Thunderstorm in the evening.

Tuesday 29th April 2014

Black Stork hide. I found this hide to be the most disappointing. Set in another part of the park, a man made pool had been created, which is regularly stocked with fish from local fish farms in order to attract fish eating species.

For much of the day, the only birds present were a couple of Grey Herons. Other birds which were also present were Black Storks (2), Spoonbill and, at one point, a juvenile White-tailed Eagle.

It was a comfortable hide, and one had to remove shoes / boots here before entering. It was suggested we do not leave the hide here during our time, in order to avoid disturbing the birds. A portable toilet and two bottles were provided for bathroom needs. Luckily, my photographer colleague and I agreed we would use the natural bathroom outside when the time came!

Depart hotel 05:10 (I missed my alarm call this morning hence 10 minutes late), arrive at hide 06:00. Collected 18:00, return hotel 19:00.

Dry all day, mainly bright with some sun. Cloud and threat of thunderstorm later. It was very cool in the hide to start with – I wish I had worn warmer trousers and thicker socks!

Wednesday 30th April 2014

Drinking pool hide number 1. We were scheduled to visit the other drinking pool hide today. However, one of the group had had to return home early so it released space in number 1 hide. Another successful day with better light than on my first visit.

Depart hotel 07:00. Arrive at hide 08:45. Collected 16:00, return to hotel for 17:10.

Dry, reasonably bright. Thunder.

Thursday 1st May 2014

Pygmy Cormorant hide.

Another visit to this delightful hide, mainly due to the experience of seeing all three marsh terns very well on my first visit.

Depart hotel 05:00. Arrive at hide 06:00. Collected 18:00, return to hotel 19:00.

Dry, sunny and clear all day.

Friday 2nd May 2014

Return to UK. Depart hotel 08:30. Arrive Budapest airport 11:30.

Depart airport on British Airways flight at 14:45. Arrive Heathrow 16:10 local time.