Hungary

Carnival Of Cranes

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Hungary in autumn

Limosa’s autumn birdwatching tour to Hungary focuses on one of Europe’s greatest wildlife spectacles - the annual arrival of tens of thousands of Common Cranes on the marshes, fields and steppe of Hungary’s celebrated Hortobágy National Park. October finds peak numbers of Cranes gathering here, alongside flocks of wild geese and waders, many birds of prey, Great Bustard, Dotterel and Stone-curlew. From there we head to the glorious autumnal hill forests of the Zemplén for chances of Ural and Eagle Owls, gangs of Hawfinches and a superb range of woodpeckers. Add two characterful rural hotels and you’ve got our classic Hungary birding tour!

Tour Dates & Prices

Sat 3rd October 2020

Sat 10th October 2020

  • Booking Closed

Sat 9th October 2021

Sat 16th October 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1995 inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £175Land Only: £1795Group Size: 10Leaders:  Mike Crewe & local guides
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What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Hungarian bird guide
  • Return flights - London Heathrow to Budapest, nonstop with British Airways
  • 7 nights accommodation in Hungary, staying at two comfortable, characterful rural hotels
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided (plus some local wine, too!)
  • Wine-tasting evening at a Tokaj winery
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (drivers, staff, local guides) & taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds for the tour

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks and other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1995* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £175*Land Only: £1795*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Zoltan Ecsedi & to be announced
Join the Wait List

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Hungarian bird guide
  • Return flights - London Heathrow to Budapest, nonstop with British Airways
  • 7 nights accommodation in Hungary, staying at two comfortable, characterful rural hotels
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided (plus some local wine, too!)
  • Wine-tasting evening at a Tokaj winery
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (drivers, staff, local guides) & taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds for the tour

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks and other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • Some of the most spectacular autumn birding anywhere in Europe
  • 4 nights at a superb, purpose-built lodge overlooking wetlands in the Hortobágy National Park
  • October finds peak numbers of Cranes in the Hortobágy - as many as 100,000 birds!
  • Wild geese arriving, White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Saker, Great Bustard, Dotterel
  • Greater Scaup, Little Crake, Black-winged Pratincole, Kittiwake... surprise finds on our last visit!
  • 3 nights at a pretty village hotel beside the beautiful hill forests of the Zemplén
  • Long-eared, Ural and Eagle Owls, up to 8 species of woodpecker, Hawfinch
  • Expertly led by Limosa's Mike Crewe and our specialist team of Hungarian bird guides

Outline Itinerary

  • Morning flight London Heathrow-Budapest. We transfer east to our lovely lodge overlooking the Hortobágy National Park. Night Balmazújváros

  • Exploring the steppe grasslands, wetlands and woods of Hungary's premier national park - the Hortobágy. Balmazújváros (3 nts)

  • We head north today via Debrecen Great Wood to the forested Zemplén Hills. Night Komlóska

  • The superb hill-forests of the Zemplén, seeking birds of prey, owls and woodpeckers... plus we sample the famous Tokaj wines! Komlóska (2 nts)

  • Return to Budapest, birding as we go. Afternoon flight back to London Heathrow.

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
Black_Woodpecker_Janos_Olah tabbed.jpg
A super close-up of a Black Woodpecker - note the oddly shaped iris © Janos Olah

The Hungarian Hortobágy is one of Eastern Europe’s truly great bird areas. In addition to its wealth of scarce resident birds, in autumn, the sweeping steppe grasslands and reed-fringed lakes of this most famous Hungarian National Park are a vital staging post for huge numbers of passage migrants and winter visitors streaming south to escape the onset of the harsh Russian winter further north.

An October visit to the Hortobágy is hard to beat!... Flocks of winter wildfowl and droves of stately Great Bustards assemble on the plains, where they are joined by legions of regal, trumpeting Common Cranes. At its peak, there may be upwards of 100,000 of these magnificent birds in the area! At one spot we visit, it is quite possible to find an incredible 20,000 Cranes roosting together. The sight and sound of these huge birds flying to roost against a backdrop glowing red with the last rays of autumn sun is an experience never to be forgotten.

With them from the north come skeins of wild geese. The majority of birds arriving now will be Russian White-fronts, but we should see Eastern Greylag and long-necked Taiga Bean Geese, too. With the help of our expert guides and their network of local contacts, we also have a chance of finding the rare Lesser White-fronted Goose feeding amongst them - and have sometimes been lucky to see Red-breasted Goose, too.

The Hortobágy’s extensive grasslands support significant populations of small mammals, notably the squirrel-like European Souslik. These in turn attract numerous birds of prey - and October is an excellent month to look for them. White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzards, Goshawk and Saker Falcon... we have seen them all on this tour. And as we search the steppe for them, we may encounter a solitary Great Grey Shrike watching over the grasslands, witness the pre-migration gathering of bug-eyed Stone-curlews or perhaps enjoy close-quarter views of migrant Dotterels; these super mountain plovers stop off in Hungary every autumn, when up to 200 birds may be present.

No less exciting are the Hortobágy’s many ‘fish ponds’ - something of a misnomer as these are immense, reed-fringed lakes that shelter the likes of Pygmy Cormorant, Bittern, Great Egret, and Bearded and Penduline Tits. Come October, Long-eared Owls will already be gathering in significant numbers at their favoured 'winter' roosts and an autumn visit adds the prospect of passage waders, with Spotted Redshank, Little Stint and Ruff among species we regularly see. October is also a great time of year for rarities: over the years, surprise finds on our tours here have included Sociable Plover, Black-winged Pratincole, Arctic Skua and Slender-billed Gull!

We conclude our autumn trip with a three-night stay in the beautiful Zemplén Hills. In October, the picturesque autumnal forests of beech, oak and hornbeam are a glorious sight to behold. Specialities here include Ural and Eagle Owls, gangs of Hawfinches and up to eight different species of woodpecker - including Black, Middle Spotted and the rare White-backed.

Limosa ran its first ‘Carnival of Cranes’ tour as long ago as October 1993 and autumn birding trips to Hungary have been a regular feature of our programme ever since. Why not join us this year for a truly enchanting autumn week and share in the delight of one of Europe’s most thrilling birdwatching experiences!

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Dotterel is a scarce but regular autumn visitor that typically lingers in the Hortobágy until the first snows arrive © Janos Olah

Day 1
TO BUDAPEST & THE HORTOBÁGY

Our autumn birdwatching tour to Hungary begins with the British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow to Budapest. We'll be met on arrival in the Hungarian capital by ‘Zoli’, our expert local guide, and travel east (a journey of about three hours) to reach the freshwater marshes, woodlands and puszta steppe of the magnificent Hortobágy National Park.

We spend our first four nights here, staying at an excellent, purpose-built birdwatchers’ lodge near Balmazújváros - overlooking a splendid wetland site on the edge of the National Park. It's the ideal base from which to explore the Hortobágy, with its 50,000 hectares of lakes, reedmarsh and forest set amidst large swathes of original steppe grassland or puszta. Night near Balmazújváros

Days 2 - 4
HORTOBÁGY NATIONAL PARK

Of major importance here are the region’s many halastoi or ‘fish ponds’. In reality, these are not really 'ponds' at all, but huge man-made lakes, broadly hemmed with reed. Marsh Harriers float on upturned wings above the golden swathes as we watch for restless parties of Bearded and Penduline Tits in the fringing willows and reeds.

Elegant Great Egrets, mahogany Ferruginous Ducks and lumbering White-tailed Eagles are usually about in autumn, as skeins of Eastern Greylags and incoming Russian White-fronted Geese clamour noisily across the Hungarian sky. We’ll sift carefully through the flocks of geese in our quest to find the scarce Taiga Bean Goose - and with any luck, may unearth a rare Lesser White-fronted Goose, too. With its neat pink bill, prominent white forehead blaze and distinctive yellow 'eye-ring', this petite grey goose is both one of Europe’s rarest and most attractive.

All this is but a prelude to the spectacle of the 'Carnival of Cranes'. Few sights or sounds in nature are more stirring than the massed arrivals and wild bugling cries of these great birds, as wave after wave of elegant cranes passes against a reddening October sky. Although we are unlikely to find them all together in one place, recent counts by satellite have revealed peak numbers in the Hortobágy at this season can be in excess of 100,000 birds! With our local guide, we will visit one of the major roosts.

Out on the surrounding steppe, Great Bustards gather in small flocks - or droves - as winter approaches. Moving sedately across the autumnal fields, these proud, turkey-sized birds can often be easier to spot now than in spring.

An abundance of European Souslik and other small rodents also makes the puszta grasslands one of the best places in Europe for birds of prey. In October, we should see Saker Falcon, Hen Harrier and Common Buzzard hunting over the steppe, with the newly arrived Rough-legged Buzzard and resident but scarce Eastern Imperial Eagle also possible. We may come across a dashing Merlin chasing down a hapless Meadow Pipit and could be lucky to encounter one or two of the season’s rarer visitors - perhaps a Short-toed Snake Eagle, the cinnamon-tailed Long-legged Buzzard or a wandering Pallid Harrier from much further east.

In October, we will also make a special effort to look for Dotterel, another scarce but regular autumn visitor to the Hortobágy, which typically lingers here from August until the first snows of winter arrive. As we search the steppe for this confiding upland plover, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for passerine migrants such as Great Grey Shrike, Red-throated Pipit and Lapland Bunting before the mellow hues of the Hungarian autumn slip into winter.

Last but not least, October is a great month to find both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls in the Hortobágy. Our local guides will check out some favoured roost sites for us, visits to which have been a highlight for many participants on previous tours. We will see if we can beat our previous record count of 74 birds! Three further nights near Balmazújváros

Day 5
GREAT FOREST & ZEMPLÉN HILLS

Leaving the Hortobágy today we head north towards the rolling Zemplén Hills, breaking our journey with a visit to the Great Forest near Debrecen, Hungary’s second city. Preserving some of the oldest oak woodland in the area, we'll try for the big Black Woodpecker, the mouse-like Short-toed Treecreeper and the 'snow-headed' eastern form of Long-tailed Tit.

Our destination this evening is the picturesque wine-growing district of Tokaj, close to the border with Slovakia. We spend three nights here, staying at a superbly situated hotel right on the doorstep of the Zemplén’s beautiful hill-forests. Night Komlóska

Days 6 - 7
ZEMPLÉN HILLS

With the unmistakable scent of autumn in the air, birdwatching in the beautiful Zemplén Hills is an absolute delight. Rising to almost 1000m (3000 ft) and pretty as a picture, the Zemplén's extensive forests of ancient beech, hornbeam and oak are outstanding for woodpeckers... species to try for include Black, Grey-headed, Syrian, Middle Spotted and White-backed!

Roving gangs of Hawfinches will also be much in evidence here in autumn as we search for two of the region’s largest but most elusive avian residents: Ural Owl and Eagle Owl. The likes of Goshawk, Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper are among a range of other forest dwellers to watch for - and, if we are lucky, perhaps the scarce Golden Eagle or an Eastern Imperial Eagle will soar into view. Two further nights Komlóska

Day 8
RETURN TO BUDAPEST, FLY LONDON

We should have time for a last look around the Zemplén Hills this morning, or to stop for birds along the way as we travel back to Budapest.

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

[For operational reasons it may occasionally be necessary to switch the itinerary around, visiting Zemplén first and the Hortobágy second. Should this be necessary, please note that the change will not affect our birding or the places visited.]

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Bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun, Common Cranes gather to roost in the Hortobágy National Park © Janos Olah

WHAT TO EXPECT
An 8-day birdwatching tour to Hungary in autumn, focusing on one of Europe’s great wildlife spectacles - the annual arrival of tens of thousands of Common Cranes over the marshes and steppe of Hungary's Hortobágy National Park.

October finds peak numbers of Cranes gathering here - alongside flocks of wild geese and waders, birds of prey, Dotterel and Great Bustard. Add the prospect of seeing Ural and Eagle Owls, gangs of Hawfinches and a superb range of woodpeckers in the glorious autumnal forests of the Zemplén Hills - plus two characterful rural hotels - and you’ve got our classic Hungarian tour!

Hungary frequently enjoys an ‘Indian Summer’ in autumn, when the weather is often pleasantly warm and sunny. In October, daytime temperatures in Budapest average warmer than the UK, typically 12-16C (53-61F). However, the weather can equally be mixed - just like back home - so pack rainwear and waterproof walking shoes or boots, just in case!

BIRDS
120-140 species

ACCOMMODATION
We stay at two comfortable and characterful hotels, with all rooms en suite.

We begin with four nights in the Hortobágy region, staying at an excellent new lodge in Balmazújváros, purpose-built for birdwatchers and overlooking a splendid wetland site on the edge of the Hortobágy National Park.

For our 3 nights in the Zemplén Hills, we stay at a pretty rural hotel in the hamlet of Komlóska, set in wonderful wooded surroundings at the end of the road - with great forest birding right outside!

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 on Day 8.

Hungarian meals are tasty and substantial. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotels. Lunches will 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.

In the Zemplen Hills, our walks are typically shorter, mostly along forest tracks and trails; expect some slopes here of course, but nothing too strenuous and all taken at a gentle pace.

Wear waterproof walking shoes or boots.

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

Ground Transport  Minibus with local driver

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One of Europe’s great wildlife spectacles - arrivals of Common Cranes to the Hortobagy © Agoston Paksz

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