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Hungary RETURNING! Classic Hortobagy & Zemplen

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Hungary

With only one change of hotel, this classic spring tour now offers more time to enjoy the amazing birdlife of eastern Hungary. The celebrated Hortobágy National Park is famous for its birds - and at its best in spring, when Great Bustard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker and Red-footed Falcon haunt the steppe, and wetlands are buzzing with Moustached and Savi's Warblers, Bluethroat and Little Crake. To the north, the picturesque and forested hills of the Zemplén are simply a joy - and can boast Ural Owl, White-backed Woodpecker and Collared Flycatcher among a long list of 'five-star' breeding birds.

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
Stephen Daly
local guides

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1895

inc flights London Heathrow-Budapest, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £165
Land Only: £1695

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CK Red footed Falcon m ground ROM 0514 S Daly

Parties of engaging Red-footed Falcons are an exciting feature of our visit to the Hortobágy National Park in spring © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

A visit to eastern Hungary in spring rates as one of the classic European birding tours. For not only is the Great Hungarian Plain a vital refuge for many of the continent's rarest breeding birds, in spring it is also a major staging post for large numbers of passage migrants. To the north, the superb hill forests of the Zemplén are a haven for woodland birds - including no fewer than 9 of Europe's woodpecker species. And with just the one change of hotel mid-tour, our revamped itinerary allows maximum time to enjoy these two outstanding sites.

Our travels begin amid the bird-rich marshes and steppe of Hungary's famous Hortobágy National Park. Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Eurasian Spoonbill, Pygmy Cormorant, Little Bittern, Great Egret and Ferruginous Duck feature among an outstanding list of wetland species breeding in the park and, in years when water levels are right, we may also encounter thousands of graceful White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns dancing over the marshes.

Birds of prey are plentiful here too, with White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and Saker Falcon to watch for - not to mention scores of sociable Red-footed Falcons that so epitomise this wonderful national park in spring. We might also be lucky to find the tiny Little Crake, picking its way quietly through the reedmace or to see a Long-eared Owl glaring down with fiery orange eyes from its roost.

The stately Great Bustard finds one of its few remaining strongholds on the Hortobágy's vast grassy plains. We have special permission to visit a display ground and hope to gain an insight into the private life of these aristocratic and Turkey-sized birds. In spring, small birds of note include Moustached and Icterine Warblers, white-spotted Bluethroat, Penduline Tit and Lesser Grey Shrike. This is an excellent time to come across scarce migrants in the Hortobágy and most trips produce some surprises - such as  Dotterel, Broad-billed Sandpiper or Great Snipe!

After a four-night stay on the Great Hungarian Plain, we travel north to the majestic hill forests of the Zemplén. Of international importance for breeding birds of prey, we could find a dozen or more species here - among them Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Goshawk. We also hope to encounter the impressive Ural Owl and Eurasian Eagle Owl; both species should have young in the nest by now. Black Storks ride the thermals over the hanging beech woodlands and White Storks clatter from their rooftop nests as we go in search of a wealth of smaller birds - everything from Bee-eaters and Barred Warblers to Crested Tits and Collared Flycatchers. The Zemplén's picturesque woodlands also hold woodpeckers in abundance - remarkably nine different species breed, including Black, Grey-headed, Syrian and the declining White-backed.

The glorious Zemplén Hills are a region that is famous for its wines and we will spend our final evening in a wine cellar at Tokaj, sampling the ‘King of wines and the wine of kings’!

Limosa has been operating birding tours to this fabulous corner of Eastern Europe since 1992. This year's trip will be led by Limosa's Stephen Daly and one from a team of expert English-speaking Hungarian bird guides that we've now worked with for many years.

Make the most of your visit to this bird-rich corner of Europe and join us for this classic spring tour to Hungary!

White backed Woodpecker Hungary tour participant Mark Elliott May 2010 P1000700

The rare White-backed Woodpecker is one of up to 9 different species of woodpecker we could see on this tour © tour participant Mark Elliott

Day 1
FLY BUDAPEST, EAST TO NÁDUDVAR

Our spring birdwatching tour to Hungary begins with the British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Budapest, where Stephen and our local guide will be waiting to welcome everyone. We travel east to our first hotel (a journey of around 2.5-3 hours) and settle in at our characterful rural lodge set within Hungary’s celebrated Hortobágy National Park. Along the way, we have an opportunity for some initial birding - perhaps enjoying our first Red-backed Shrikes and Red-footed Falcons.

The Hortobágy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its unique landscape, culture and impressive wildlife. We should arrive by late afternoon. The grounds of our hotel offer a superb introduction to the astonishingly rich birdlife of Eastern Europe, with Golden Orioles singing from the trees and Little Bitterns fishing the fringes of the lake. Night Nádudvar

Days 2 - 4
HORTOBÁGY NATIONAL PARK

We have three full days to sample the sweeping steppe of the Hortobágy National Park. Two main targets here will be the magnificent Great Bustard and rare Saker; the latter is Hungary's national bird. The Hortobágy is an amazing place for birds and an exploration of the varied habitats of this fascinating national park could well yield over 100 species on our first full day!

In addition to Great Bustard and Saker, the Hortobágy is home to a rich variety of other breeding birds. Expect to see many herons, wildfowl and waders, White-tailed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and a burgeoning population of Pygmy Cormorants - the latter a far cry from our first visit here in May 1992, when there was only a handful of birds! We should also encounter some of the region's scarcest breeding species including Little Crake, Montagu's Harrier and Moustached Warbler. During our travels in the park, we will pay a visit to a colony of Red-footed Falcons, surely Europe’s most colourful and engaging raptor. This is also a terrific spot to look for Long-eared Owl, for both species breed in disused Rook’s nests.

Of major importance are the region’s many halasto or fishponds - although in reality these are hardly ‘ponds’ in the traditional sense, but more a series of huge shallow lakes, hemmed with reed. Marsh Harriers float on angled wings above the fresh green swathes as we watch for restless Bearded and Penduline Tits. Shiny Glossy Ibises, immaculate biscuit-buff Squacco Herons and mahogany-red Ferruginous Ducks are also to be looked for. Out on the open water, wildfowl can include Garganey, Gadwall and perhaps Red-crested Pochard. Both Bittern and Little Bittern haunt the massive reedbeds, and another special treat in spring are the hundreds of Whiskered Terns, which nest on floating vegetation at some of the fishponds, mixed in with Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes.

A host of exciting wetland passerines await us in spring, with breeding white-spotted Bluethroats and Savi's, Great Reed, Marsh and Icterine Warblers to watch for alongside migrant Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers in the waterside willows and patches of woodland.

We will visit a recently recreated wetland, where grazing by traditional Hungarian breeds is used to help maintain the ephemeral wetland habitat for birds. The intriguing ‘woolly’ Mangalica Pig, immense Hungarian Grey Cattle and the spiral-horned Racka sheep all find a home here. This is the most reliable site for Great Snipe in Hungary and late April and early May is the best time to look for this scarce migrant in the Hortobágy... they seem to have a penchant for the tussocky areas frequented by the Mangalica pigs!

It will be difficult to leave this spectacular area behind. Three further nights Nádudvar

Day 5
THE GREAT WOOD & ZEMPLÉN HILLS

We have a further opportunity to enjoy more of the Hortobágy's special birds this morning before setting off northwards to the rolling hill country of the Zemplén.

We'll pause along the way on the outskirts of Debrecen, Hungary's second city, where a stroll in the Great Wood could produce Great, Lesser and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers along with Short-toed Treecreeper and the handsome Collared Flycatcher.

Early evening arrival at our comfortable hotel in Komlóska village, on the forested southern slopes of the Zemplén Hills. Night Komlóska

Days 6-7
ZEMPLÉN HILLS

In this most picturesque corner of Hungary, White Storks clatter from their rooftop nests; Black Redstart, Golden Oriole and Serin are garden birds; and Bee-eaters frequent the region’s world famous vineyards. In the floodplain meadows nearby, we might still be lucky to hear the rasping call of Corncrake.

Cloaked in majestic forests of oak, hornbeam and beech, the beautiful hill woodlands of the Zemplén will come as a revelation to western eyes. In spring, its quiet glades ring with the shivering trills of Wood Warbler and scarce Collared Flycatchers secrete themselves beneath the dappled canopy, while out on the more open, sunlit slopes, Woodlarks spiral and Barred Warblers dance in characteristic song-flight. Black Stork and Raven build their secluded nests deep within the forests and the bandit-masked Red-backed Shrike is still a refreshingly common sight throughout this pretty region.

Like the Hortobágy, the Zemplén is especially important for nesting birds of prey. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled here for Goshawk, Hobby and 'wing-clapping' Honey Buzzards, along with up to four species of eagle, including Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Snake Eagle. With local knowledge, we also hope to find two of Europe’s largest nocturnal predators: Eurasian Eagle Owl and Ural Owl. Numbers of the latter have been boosted significantly over the last three decades through the provision of specially designed nestboxes made by our intrepid old friend and ‘man-of-the-woods’, Zoli.

Aside from being a sheer delight to stroll through and picnic in, these ancient woodlands are simply outstanding for woodpeckers. No fewer than nine of Europe’s woodpeckers breed in the Zemplén forests, including Grey-headed, Black, Syrian and the threatened White-backed. Two further nights Komlóska

Day 8
TO BUDAPEST, FLY LONDON

There'll be time to enjoy for some final birding and lunch in Hungary today as we leave the hill country behind and make our way back towards Budapest.

Bidding a reluctant farewell to our local guide, we board British Airways early evening flight to London, where our spring birdwatching tour to Hungary concludes.

Ural Owl Zemplen Hungary Janos Olah May 2010 100518 011857

Ural Owls breed in the hill-forests of the Zemplén and are likely to have well-grown in the nest by the time we visit in early May © János Oláh

What To Expect

With only one change of hotel, this classic spring tour now offers more time to enjoy the amazing birdlife of eastern Hungary.

The celebrated Hortobágy National Park is famous for its birds - and at its best in spring, when Great Bustard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker and Red-footed Falcon haunt the steppe, and wetlands are buzzing with Moustached and Savi's Warblers, Bluethroat and Little Crake.

To the north, the picturesque and forested hills of the Zemplén are simply a joy - and with Ural Owl, White-backed Woodpecker and Collared Flycatcher among a long list of 'five-star' breeding birds.

This part of central Europe typically enjoys sunny weather at this time of the year, when it is usually pleasantly warm. In May, daily temperatures in Budapest range between 19-27C (66-80F). Just as at home however, some wet weather is possible, especially in the hills, so we recommend you dress pretty much as you would in the UK at this season. 

Birds

170-200 species

Accommodation

7 nights in comfortable and characterful accommodation, with all rooms en suite. We begin in the Hungarian Hortobágy, with four nights near Nádudvar, where we stay at a former hunting lodge with its own private lake and perfectly situated on the edge of the National Park.

Our pretty hotel in the Zemplén Hills (Hungary) is at Komlóska, a hamlet at the end of a quiet road, set in wonderful wooded surroundings. We spend three nights here.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with a packed lunch following our arrival in Hungary on Day 1 and concluding with lunch there on Day 8.

Food is wholesome and good. Breakfasts and dinners will usually be taken at the hotels. Lunches are a popular mix of sit-down meals at a traditional Hungarian inn (csarda) and picnics in the field.  

Walking

Easy in the Hortobágy, where the terrain is flat.

In the Zemplen Hills our walks are typically shorter, mostly along forest tracks and trails. Some uphill stretches are unavoidable here of course, but we follow well-established forest trails and all our walks are taken at a gentle birdwatching pace.

Sturdy waterproof walking shoes advised.

Travel

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

Ground Transport  By minibus with local driver

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