Hungary

NEW Red-breasted and Lesser White-fronted Geese and Woodpecker Extravaganza

A 7-day, two-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 two of Europe’s rarest geese - the beautiful Red-breasted Goose and the endangered Lesser White-fronted, however, there is so much more to look forward to on this late autumn visit to the country’s celebrated Hortobágy National Park which, for good reasons, is a World Heritage site!

In November, other major targets include Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Saker Falcon, Great Bustard and the amazing Wallcreeper, plus there should still be thousands of Cranes to enjoy. We should see Long-eared Owls at their daytime roost and go in search of up to eight species of woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch. Join Limosa's Carl Downing for what promises to be a superb late autumn birding tour to Hungary!

Tour Dates & Prices

Sun 6th November 2022

Sat 12th November 2022

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Tour Cost: 7 Days from £1795 excluding flights

Deposit: £500Single Supp: £350Land Only: £1795Group Size: 10Leaders:  Carl Downing & local guides
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What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Hungarian bird guide
  • 6 nights accommodation in Hungary with four nights at the excellent Bibic Nature Lodge and two nights in Komlóska
  • All main meals and an evening wine tasting
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees and permits
  • All tour-based tips (drivers, lodge staff) and taxes
  • Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

International flights, insurance, airport meals/snacks, drinks and items of a personal nature.

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Notes

The Land Only Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Sacha will also be advised by Limosa when the trip is a confirmed departure and in many cases can hold flights for you until then.

Tour Highlights

  • A visit to the World Heritage site of Hortobágy National Park which is one of Europe's top birding spots!
  • Superb late autumn tour crammed with exceptional winter birds
  • Impressive gatherings of geese with a focus on finding the beautiful Red-breasted Goose and the endangered Lesser White-fronted Goose
  • White-tailed, Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzard, Saker, Great Bustard
  • 1000s of Common Cranes plus up to eight species of woodpecker
  • Daytime visit to winter roost site of Long-eared Owls
  • Based at the comfortable Bíbic Nature Lodge with great birding right on its doorstep!
  • Expertly led by Limosa’s Carl Downing and an English-speaking Hungarian bird guide

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly to Budapest and transfer east to the Hortobágy National Park. Night Balmazújváros

  • Three full days devoted to birding the steppe, wetlands and woods of the Hortobágy National Park. Three further nights Balmazújváros

  • Drive to the Bükk Hills to look for Wallcreeper and onwards to Zemplén Hills. Night Komlóska

  • Explore Zemplén Hills looking for up to eight species of woodpeckers, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Ural Owl. Further night Komlóska

  • Time for some last birding in the Zemplén Hills before we return to Budapest. Fly to UK

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Red-breasted Geese flying Janos Olah tabbed.jpg
In late autumn, small flocks of beautiful Red-breasted Geese join with Russian White-fronts on their journey from the Taimyr Peninsula to the Hungarian Hortobágy © Janos Olah

The Hungarian Hortobágy is one of Eastern Europe’s truly great birding areas and is rightly classified as a World Heritage site. Some of the continent’s rarest species make their home here and a late autumn visit 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, streaming south to escape the onset of the harsh Russian winter further north.

Throughout October and November, the numbers of winter wildfowl continue to build on the plains. 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.

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

The Hortobágy’s extensive grasslands support significant populations of rodents, notably the squirrel-like European Souslik, and these 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 where 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. 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 established winter roosts across the Hortobágy.

On the edge of the steppe, in freshly cut fields of alfalfa, Great Bustards should already be present in post-breeding flocks and with the fields laid bare, late autumn is a great 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 will spend two nights in the Bükk and Zemplén Hills where we will go in search of the extraordinary Wallcreeper and could see as many as eight species of woodpeckers including White-backed, Syrian and Grey-headed. Our trip will conclude with an evening wine tasting and dinner at well-known family wine cellar in the Tokaj World Heritage area. Here we can sample the famous Tokaj Wine which King Louis XIV described as 'Vinum Regum Rex Vinorum', in other words the king of wines and the wine of King’s! What could be a better way to end our Hungarian odyssey!

Saker Janos Olah tabbed.jpg
The Hortobágy National Park is an important stronghold for the rare Saker Falcon © Janos Olah

Day 1
FLY TO BUDAPEST AND ON TO THE HORTOBÁGY WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Our November birdwatching tour to Hungary begins with a morning flight to Budapest. We will be met on arrival in the Hungarian capital by our expert English-speaking Hungarian guide and travel east (a journey of about three hours) to reach the magnificent Hortobágy National Park.

Our tour spends four 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 is 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 Balmazújváros

Days 2 - 4
HORTOBÁGY NATIONAL PARK AND DEBRECEN GREAT WOOD

Every 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 winter here, pulling with them other species, including pink-billed Eastern Greylags, 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 namesakes. Thanks to its bold pattern of black, white and chestnut-red, the Red-breasted Goose is rather 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 these rare species!

The arrival of the geese more or less signals the departure of the Hortobágy’s big autumnal flocks of Common Cranes. Stopping off here in their tens of thousands during October, they depart again in November to complete the long haul south to their winter quarters in Northern Africa. Many thousands should still be about for us to enjoy and we will 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. Here, 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 and Marsh Harriers float on upturned wings above the ripening swathes of reed, as we watch for parties of comet-tailed Bearded Reedlings and bandit-masked Penduline Tits foraging in the reeds and willows. For anyone who enjoys an identification challenge, a real delight is watching the large gulls as both Caspian and Yellow-legged should be seen!

Out on the surrounding steppe, Great Bustards gather in small flocks as winter approaches. Moving sedately across the sweeping autumnal fields, these proud 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 late 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 quietly into winter.

An abundance of the ground squirrel-like 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 although both are scarce, we will also hope to find Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles. 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! Three further nights Balmazújváros

Day 5

BUKK AND ZEMPLEN HILLS

After what should be an amazing time in the Hortobágy, we will reluctantly leave this region and drive to the Bükk Hills where our goal is to track down the butterly-like Wallcreeper which winters here in small numbers in a number of abandoned quarries. With a modicum of luck we might also come across Alpine Accentor here too.

Depending on how long our search for Wallcreeper takes, we may have time to visit some local woodlands and start our quest for the region's woodpeckers. We will continue onwards to the Zemplén Hills. Night Komlóska

Day 6

ZEMPLEN HILLS

Our focus today will be on the wooded slopes and valleys of the Zemplén Hills where an incredible eight species of woodpeckers can be found. We have a chance to see Black, Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers in the forests, while Green and Syrian Woodpeckers can be found near the settlements.

We will also look for raptors like Eastern Imperial Eagle and Northern Goshawk and will also hope to find the impressive Ural Owl. This enigmatic large owl is not easy to find but we most definitely have a chance.

As we search for all of these species, we will also be keeping our eyes and ears open for the Dunnock-like note of Short-toed Treecreeper, the enchanting snowy-headed eastern form of Long-tailed Tit, and the ‘cherry-stone cracking’ Hawfinch

Being our final evening in Hungary, after dark we will visit a well-known family wine cellar for dinner where we can sample the famous Tokaj Wine. King Louis XIV, the French 'Sun King', described the Tokaj wine as 'Vinum Regum Rex Vinorum', in other words the king of wines and the wine of King’s and we are sure you will agree !! Further night Komlóska

Day 7
RETURN TO BUDAPEST, FLY TO UK

We have time for a last look around the Zemplén Hills this morning before returning to Budapest airport for our late afternoon flight back to the UK, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Hungary concludes early this evening.

Lesser Whitefronted Goose Tibor Juhasz tabbed.jpg
A diminutive adult Lesser White-fronted Goose amongst the grasses of the Hortobágy National Park © Tibor Juhasz

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-fronted.

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 possibilities include Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Saker Falcon, Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Bustard. We should see Long-eared Owls at their daytime roost and also plan to visit the Bukk and Zemplen Hills in search of woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch.

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

BIRDS
100-130 species

ACCOMMODATION
Four 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 with a further two nights at Komlóska.

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 7.

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
Due to the pandemic, it is proving extremely difficult to predict future flight prices and schedules, especially when a trip is scheduled for beyond the period when flights can be booked. As a result, we have taken the decision to price our holidays as excluding all flights.

To keep the process as simple as possible for our clients, however, we are now working closely with a dedicated agent at Travel Counsellors who will be able to advise you which flights we are recommending and he will be able to book these for you.

GROUND TRANSPORT

By minibus.

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