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!