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Hungary NEW! A Red-breasted Goose Chase!

A 6-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to Hungary in late autumn

Limosa’s November birdwatching tour to Hungary is an all new adventure centred around finding Europe’s two rarest geese: the beautiful Red-breasted Goose and the endangered Lesser White-front. But there is so much more to look forward to on this late autumn visit to the country’s celebrated Hortobágy National Park: there should still be thousands of Cranes about and other major targets here include Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Saker Falcon, Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Bustard. We’ll see Long-eared Owls at their daytime roost and go in search of up to six species of woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch. Join Gary and Zoli for what promises to be a superb late autumn birding tour to Hungary!

Tour Dates

2020

Spaces
10

Leaders
Gary Elton
Zoltan Ecsedi

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 6 Days

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Cost: £1595

inc return flights London Heathrow-Budapest, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £125
Land Only: £1445

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Red breasted Goose flock flying Janos Olah resized

Small flocks of Red-breasted Geese join the Russian White-fronts on their journey from the Taimyr Peninsula © Janos Olah

The Hungarian Hortobágy is one of Eastern Europe’s truly great bird areas. Some of the continent’s rarest species make this their home - and a late autumn visit here is hard to beat! In November, the sweeping steppe grasslands, woodlands and reed-fringed lakes of Hungary’s most famous National Park are a vital staging post for huge numbers of passage migrants and winter visitors too, streaming south to escape the onset of the harsh Russian winter further north.

From October onwards, numbers of winter wildfowl continue to build on the plains, where for a few short weeks every autumn they are joined by legions of trumpeting Common Cranes, pausing here to rest and ‘refuel’ as they journey south to their winter quarters in Northern Africa.

With them from the north come skeins of wild geese. The majority of those arriving now will have bred on the vast, open Russian taiga. The largest flocks will consist of Russian White-fronted Geese, but we should see Eastern Greylag and Taiga Bean Geese, too. Best of all, with the help of our expert local guides and contacts, we will seek small flocks of immaculate Red-breasted Geese - in November, sometimes numbering more than 100 birds. And with careful scanning, we hope to find the rare Lesser White-fronted Goose among them, too. Set against a backdrop glowing red with the last rays of sun, the stirring sight and sound of the goose flocks here is an experience never to be forgotten.

The Hortobágy’s extensive grasslands support significant populations of rodents, notably the squirrel-like European Souslik. These in turn attract numerous birds of prey - and November is an excellent month to look for them. Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzard, Goshawk, Merlin and Saker ... we have seen them all here in autumn.

The Hortobágy also boasts many fine wetlands.  Here we may see the immense White-tailed Eagle, spreading panic amongst the gatherings of winter wildfowl - and often causing them to take flight in huge, swarming flocks. Great and Pygmy Cormorants, Ferruginous Duck, Eurasian Bittern, Great Egret, and Bearded and Penduline Tits are also resident, while for any ‘larophiles’ amongst us there are Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls to check through and get to grips with. Much easier to identify (although you need local knowledge to find them) are Long-eared Owls, already gathering in significant numbers at their favoured 'winter' roosts across the Hortobágy.

On the edge of the steppe, in freshly cut fields of alfalfa, Great Bustards will already be gathered in post-breeding flocks. With the fields laid bare, late autumn is a good time to look for this large but elusive resident. A November visit also adds chances of seeing Syrian Woodpecker and the solitary Great Grey Shrike along with some of the region’s more unusual wintering passerines. Although their appearance here is somewhat unpredictable, surprisingly, these can include Snow and Lapland Buntings - and even Twite.

To round off our stay in eastern Hungary, we’ll pay a visit to nearby Debrecen Great Wood, where there are plenty of trails for us to explore. Come early November, the autumnal forests of oak, beech, hornbeam and cherry are not only a glorious sight to behold, but we could also find Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch and up to five species of woodpecker, including Middle Spotted and Black.

What more could you possibly want from a late autumn birdwatching break?

saker female Janos Olah resized

An abundance of European Souslik and other small rodents also makes the puszta one of the best places in Europe for birds of prey - including the rare Saker © Janos Olah

Day 1                                 
TO BUDAPEST & THE HORTOBÁGY
Our November birdwatching tour to Hungary begins with British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Budapest. We'll be met on arrival in the Hungarian capital by Zoli, our expert English-speaking Hungarian guide, and travel east (a journey of about three hours) to reach the magnificent Hortobágy National Park.

Our November tour spends all five nights here, staying at an excellent, new and purpose-built birdwatchers’ lodge overlooking a splendid wetland site near Balmazújváros, at the edge of the National Park. There’s no finer base from which to explore the Hortobágy, with its 75,000 hectares of lakes, reedmarsh and woodlands set amidst large swathes of original steppe grassland or puszta. Night near Balmazújváros

Days 2 - 5
HORTOBÁGY NATIONAL PARK & DEBRECEN GREAT WOOD
By early November, throngs of geese descend upon the Hortobágy from their breeding grounds far to the north across Scandinavia and Russia. Many thousands of Russian White-fronts arrive, pulling with them other species, including pink-billed Eastern Greylags, soldier-smart Barnacles and long-necked Taiga Bean Geese. They make a stirring sight - and sound!

However, our attention will soon turn to looking for two very special geese that also come here with them: the handsome but vulnerable Red-breasted and the petite Lesser White-fronted Goose. With its neat pink bill, prominent white forehead blaze and diagnostic yellow 'eye-ring', the latter is one of Europe’s rarest geese and well worth searching for - but can be tricky to pick out amongst their larger, more numerous Russian namesake. Thanks to its bold pattern of black, white and chestnut-red, the Red-breasted Goose is more obvious in the field and, in early November, we hope to see flocks of 100 or more. If luck is on our side, we will get some really good views of both species!

The arrival of the geese more or less signals the departure of the Hortobágy’s big autumnal flocks of Common Cranes, which stop off here in their tens of thousands during October before leaving again in November to complete the long haul south to their winter quarters in Northern Africa. Many thousands should certainly still be about for us to enjoy, and we’ll watch for them at dusk as they gather to roost at a favoured wetland site.
 
Of major importance in the Hortobágy are the region’s many halastoi or ‘fish ponds’. In reality, these are not really 'ponds' at all, but enormous man-made lakes, broadly hemmed with reed. Visiting the various wetlands we will see White-tailed Eagles spread panic amongst the large gatherings of waterbirds, causing the skeins of Eastern Greylags and incoming Russian White-fronted Geese to erupt into the air and clamour noisily across the Hungarian sky. Stately Great Egrets, mahogany Ferruginous Ducks and statuesque Pygmy Cormorants are usually about in autumn, too. Marsh Harriers float on upturned wings above the golden swathes as we watch for restless parties of Bearded and Penduline Tits in the reeds and willows. While for anyone who enjoys an identification challenge, a real delight is watching the large gulls – both Caspian and Yellow-legged should be seen!

Out on the surrounding steppe, Great Bustards gather in small flocks - or ‘droves’ - as winter approaches. Moving sedately across the sweeping autumnal fields, these proud, turkey-sized birds can often be easier to spot now than during the lush growth of spring. As we search the steppe for them, we may well come across autumn migrants such as Great Grey Shrike and Red-throated Pipit, Lapland Bunting or even Twite before the mellow hues of the Hungarian autumn slip into winter.

An abundance of European Souslik and other small rodents also makes the puszta one of the best places in Europe for birds of prey. In early November, we should see Saker, Hen Harrier and Common Buzzard hunting over the steppe, with good chances of a newly arrived Rough-legged Buzzard and both scarce Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles also possible. We might well come across an ‘exocet’ Merlin chasing down a hapless Meadow Pipit, and perhaps see Goshawk, Peregrine or even something rarer.

November is also a great month to see both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls in the Hortobágy. Our local contacts will check out some favoured Long-eared ‘day roosts’ for us, visits to which have been a major highlight for participants on many previous tours. We will see if we can beat our previous record of 74 birds!

Before leaving the Hortobágy area, on one day we will drive east (about 30 minutes or so) to visit the Great Wood near Debrecen, Hungary’s second city. Preserving some of the region’s oldest oak woodland, it is possible to see five species of woodpecker here in November. We shall be hoping especially to find the attractive Middle Spotted and big Black Woodpecker, but there are Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Green Woodpeckers to watch for, too. As we  search for them, we’ll also be keeping our eyes and ears open for the mouse-like Short-toed Treecreeper, the enchanting, snowy-headed eastern form of Long-tailed Tit and the ‘cherry-stone cracking’ Hawfinch. Four further nights near Balmazújváros

Day 6                              
RETURN TO BUDAPEST, FLY LONDON
We have time for a last look at the Hortobagy this morning before returning to Budapest.

British Airways late afternoon flight to London Heathrow, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Hungary concludes early this evening.

Grey geese with Red breasted Geese Janos Olah resized

Red-breasted, White-fronted and Eastern Greylag Geese - with Common Cranes in the background, Hortobágy NP © Janos Olah

What To Expect

Limosa’s November birdwatching tour to Hungary is centred around finding Europe’s two rarest geese: the beautiful Red-breasted Goose and the endangered Lesser White-front.

But there is so much more to look forward to on this late autumn visit to the country’s celebrated Hortobágy National Park: there should still be thousands of Cranes about and other major targets here include Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Saker Falcon, Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Bustard. We’ll see Long-eared Owls at their daytime roost and visit nearby Debrecen Great Wood in search of up to seven species of woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch.

Hungary frequently enjoys an ‘Indian Summer’ in autumn, when the weather is often pleasantly warm and sunny. However, the weather can equally be mixed - just like back home! Some rainfall is possible so pack rainwear and waterproof walking shoes or boots, just in case! In early November, daytime temperatures in the Hortobágy region typically range from 6-10C (43-50F).

Birds

100-130 species

Accommodation

Five nights accommodation in Hungary staying at Bibic Lodge, a comfortable new hotel near Balmazújváros, purpose-built for birdwatchers and overlooking a wetland site on the edge of the Hortobágy National Park.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch following our arrival in Hungary on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 6.

Hungarian meals are tasty and substantial. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the lodge; lunches may be a mix of visits to traditional Hungarian inns (csarda) and tasty picnics in the field.

Walking

In the Hortobagy, easy walks over flat terrain. Wear waterproof walking shoes or boots.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow-Budapest, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport  By minibus.

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