Friday, December 28, 2007

Winter Woods

Not had much time to keep up with this blog, nor my woodpecker blog. First it was Christmas, and all that that entails (mainly eating, drinking, family visits, etc, etc). And now New Year is coming (more eating, drinking, family visits, etc, etc). But I managed to get out into the woods above the city for a few hours the other morning. The crisp, cold air helped blow away a few festive season cobwebs. A thin layer of snow lay on the ground but it was quite productive. A Black Woodpecker was hacking away at a broken beech stump, several Great Spotteds were busy, a couple of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were in dispute over something and I managed to get a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker to respond to a few calls. A flock or two of Hawfinches kept zooming overhead and a mixed flock of other songbirds were moving through the woods, including a band of Long-tailed Tits looking very much in the Christmas mood with their white "woolly hat" heads.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Season's Greetings

Yes, it's THAT time again... well, in a few days... so...

Happy Christmas & Season's Greetings!

I thought this photo would be appropriate...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Winter, Wallcreepers, Woodies

There is light snow in Budapest and other cities and a bit more on higher ground. All the to-be-expected winter birds are also here in Hungary now. A couple of Wallcreepers are dotted about (they use stone quarries, castle and fort walls and sometimes large buildings in towns) and Red-breasted Geese keep being found, not in large numbers, just a few mixed in with other geese. Long-eared Owls are in several sizable roosts, often huddled in pines, in parks, even in Budapest. The woods are mainly silent except for the tapping of feeding woodpeckers, but with little foliage on the trees they are often easy to track down and observe. All in all, it is rather mild and I wonder whether that is why so few birds are coming to my bird-table seed...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Black Woodpecker... anytime

I have read and also heard said, that Black Woodpeckers are shy birds, that they are wary of humankind and that they cannot abide disturbance. This is not my experience at all. They can be hard to find sometimes, I mean, they are forest birds, wild birds, but I would say that Black Woodpeckers are, if anything, one of the more tolerant woodpeckers. Indeed, they are significantly more confiding than, for example, Green Woodpecker. Just today, I took a stroll in the Buda Hills and, after hearing some heavy hacking in the woods, made a few imitations of woodpecker calls. And within a minute in flew a Black Woodpecker. It was certainly curious, not at all shy. At this time of year a typical Black Woodpecker day is composed of foraging, feeding, resting, preening and roosting. Overall, the main daytime activity is foraging, with birds looking for food for around 50% of daylight hours. But this one, a male, had time to check out who was about. Once he had done that, he was off, back to his hacking.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bradt Wildlife Guide

Those nice people at Bradt, who are publishing my next book - Central & Eastern European Wildlife - have put some details up on their website. After a bit of thought and discussion, there is going to be a full face photo of a wolf on the cover, as well as around 160 colour photos dotted throughout the book. Please take a look and get your order in! Seems it is due out next July.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A foggy day

I took a nice Italian couple out today... as well as their 11 month old daughter. That was new record for me, i.e. the youngest person I have ever taken birding (she was no trouble at all, either). First stop was the northern part of the Kiskunsag and a search for Great Bustards. It looked bad, cold and a bit foggy, but before 10 am we were watching a group of 17 big males, some even strutting their stuff as if it were spring. Later, a mile further on, we saw another 10 or so. Then we headed for a Long-eared Owl roost, finding about 20 birds huddled in some pines. Then it was back to Budapest and a change of habitat, the woods of the Buda Hills. But there was thick fog up there, and it got colder. Somehow we located a Black Woodpecker and after a bit of walking, calling and bumping into several dog-walkers and joggers who appeared from out of the pea-soup, at least two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Planning for 2008 and other tasks

With the weather poor I am catching up at home after a busy year of guiding visitors across Central and Eastern Europe. I am spending more time at my PC. In particular, I am confirming and planning my movements for 2008. It seems I will definitely be in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Romania, Poland and Hungary, and maybe some other countries next year. If you fancy visiting any of these destinations to look for birds and other wildlife in 2008, just drop me a line and I will lt you know what the availabilty is on my own trips and on those I lead for the companies. As promised, I am also adding photos and notes to my woodpecker blog.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Woodpecker blog 1 - Woodpecker website 0

That is the result, the final score... 1 - 0.

The bad news is... I am closing down my Woodpeckers of Europe website. The good news is... I am putting all the info from that site onto my Woodpeckers of Europe blog. In case you don't already know, it is here: ttp://

A blog is much easier, cheaper, and less time consuming to maintain, than a website. Please take a look, and if you wish to contribute, just get in touch. The Great Spotted Woodpecker in this photo was photographed by my good friend Jari Peltomaki in Finland. Jari is a great supporter of my woody blog, and a top photographer, especially of woodpeckers.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Scorpion in a taxi

Took a taxi in Budapest yesterday. On the dashboard the driver had a block of plastic (or some material or other) with a small scorpion embedded, enshrined, in it. It looked very much like a yellow scorpion Mesobuthus gibbosus to me. He said he got it as a gift somewhere in the Balkans. Poor thing won't be stinging anybody anytime soon... Scorpions are not insects but arachnids, as are spiders and mites. Insects have six legs, arachnids have eight. Scorpions are viviparous (giving birth to live young) and the young are often carried on the back of their mother. There are around 25 species of scorpion found in Europe, mostly in the warmer, drier south. They can be seen in gardens, yards and orchards with rocks, old walls and ruins. They sometimes enter houses. The yellow scorpion grows to 7.5 cm in length and often appears rather translucent. It lives in bare, arid areas from the coast up into the mountains, by day typically hiding under rocks, logs and in crevices. Scorpions are nocturnal hunters, preying on other invertebrates which are grasped in their claws and then paralyzed with a venomous sting from the famous tail. The stings of scorpions found in Europe are relatively harmless to most people (said to be similar to those of wasps) though they are painful and cause numbness, and to be on the safe side, all scorpions should be left alone and never handled.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Polish Mountains

I have just got back from a 5 day trip around two of Poland's most impressive mountain ranges. The Bieszczady Mountains in the very south-east of Poland are remote, in a cul-de-sac, with Slovakia to the south and the Ukraine to the east. This is a poor region, with fine forests of beech and spruce. I travelled for 2 days here with 3 Polish friends and saw Ural Owl, Nutcracker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Crested Tit, and followed fresh Brown Bear tracks through the snow to a sleeping place beneath a spruce. The bear was not at home, but fresh dung and prints in the snow showed he was not far away. Then it was on to the High Tatras, by a round-about route through Slovakia, as the road we wanted to take was blocked with snow. And it did snow... a bit earlier than expected, several weeks earlier than usual. The next day the snow stopped and the high rocky peaks became visable and looked stunning from our cosy lodge in the valley below. We walked for most of the day being passed by two tourists who had decided to take the easy option... pulled along in a horse drawn sleigh! On our final day we walked over the frozen Orawa peatbog just to the east of the high peaks, and my expert companions found the tracks of roe deer, brown hare, wolf and black grouse. All in all, a wonderful winter adventure.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wildlife on Mediterranean Islands

I have written a chapter on wildlife for a forthcoming book on MEDITERRANEAN ISLANDS. The book is due out in March 2008, published by Portfolio Books Ltd, UK. There is a fascinating blend of wildlife, including mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects, inhabiting the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Many species found on mainland Europe also occur on these islands but, living as they have in splendid isolation, some animals have evolved into distinct island races, whilst others have gone a step further and become endemic (unique to a particularly area) species found nowhere else on the planet. My main experience of Med island wildlife is from Sicily and the Greek and Croatia islands, where there are some wonderful reptiles and often very good birding. Look out for this book after the New Year!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Up-dates to my woodpecker blog

I'd just like to say that after a few weeks of neglect, I am now once again adding topics and photos, including Quiz Woodpeckers, to my woodpecker blog. Please take a look...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Football and Woodpeckers.... again!

I took my oldest lad to his football ("soccer" to you US birder friends of mine) game in a town just south of Budapest. As we got out of the car in a suburban street I heard a Syrian Woodpecker calling. He went off to get changed and I wandered about. Just before kick-off I heard the bird again, and then saw it fly into a large poplar tree by the pitch. It was then joined by another and they both had a bit of a dispute, all the while calling. Two birds for sure, maybe three. It seems that football grounds are prime Syrian Woodpecker habitat here in Hungary... By the way, the game ended 3-4, my son's team winning in a thriller, with him scoring 2 and winning a penalty, too :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wet and cold... but birds

Today was a cold and rainy day in the Apaj area, SE of Budapest. I took aUK birder around, our main target being Great Bustards. We got those, at 3 sites, including a dozen males flying by like jumbo jets... if you know what I mean. We explored the grasslands and fish-ponds seeing Water Rail, Great Grey Shrikes, lots of Hen Harriers, a White-tailed Eagle, lots of Great White Egrets, a very late Little Egret, big flocks of Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and Fieldfares, etc, etc. At the end of the day we visited a roost of Long-eared Owls in the south of Budapest... 3 in one tree, 12 in another, probably even more there... and a very obliging female Syrian Woodpecker by the Danube. Yes, it was cold and wet, but quality birds are still around.

Friday, November 16, 2007

After a break... he is back

No, not me, the local Strian Woodpecker... I have not heard him for a while hereabouts. He - and she for that matter - has not been in our garden recently. Then yesterday, while bringing in the post, I heard him call at the back. A few of those squeaky chips. I will be putting out some fat with nuts for to entice them into the garden more this winter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Woodpecker blog

A note for those of you who look at my woodpecker blog... as you may have noticed, I have not up-dated it recently. Well, October and early November was a very busy time for me, mostly guiding birders, so I just did not have the time. In the next few weeks I will be dealing with it more... adding photos and text.

Monday, November 12, 2007

February birding break 2008

My birding tour to Romania in August next year is fully subscribed, as is my trip to Poland in October. There are a few places however on my budget short birding break to Hungary from February 14-17, 2008. This short tour takes in the Kiskunsag region and lakes and woods in Transdanubia. We will focus on finding geese (Red-breasted Goose possible), raptors (Saker highly likely), woodpeckers (8 species possible) and, with a little luck, Wallcreeper. One or two of these sought-after birds usually winter. If all this tempts you, then get in touch!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Last Frogs

Well, no need to panic! I don't mean the last frogs on the planet. No, I am not talking about extinctions here, just the frogs that I have seen recently, the last ones before they all hibernate for the winter. A few days ago I saw a rather lethargic European Tree Frog, crawling along a fish-pond dyke. Then a couple of slow Agile Frogs. Unusual that, I mean the "slow" bit. Agile Frogs are, as their name suggests, rather agile, with long legs and are great leapers and hence often hard to catch. But for some days now I have neither heard, nor seen any amphibians at all. Hopefully they are now all tucked up nicely in their sleeping quarters. I look forward to seeing them in the New Year!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Red-breasted Goose

Another tour completed, and did my 4x4 come in useful ? You bet it did. We managed to get off-road and slide our way round the farmlands and fish-ponds of the Hortobagy, saving miles of muddy walking, and we did NOT get stuck! Just took the vehicle through the car-wash and they were NOT that happy! The rewards were Sakers, Eastern Imperial Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards and lots of geese. The highlight of the week for Tony and Bob from the UK, was a superb White-backed Woodpecker at close range, after a lot of searching. For me, it was my first Red-breasted Goose of the autumn, swimming along with Greylags (which dwarfed it) at 200 yards range. This attractive little goose is now being spotted around the country, in small numbers.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Back to normal... well, sort of. I mean, some decent weather has returned, no wind, no rain, and I am back in the woods trying to find and show visiting birders the birds they need. The target today was White-backed Woodpecker. It often is. It seems to be THE woody most birders need. It took time... pecking here, signs there, a few calls, and Black, Grey-headed, Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all seen in the meantime. But finally, just before dusk, we got one... quite a slog up a hillside, but we got it (him).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wallcreepers and Red-breasted Geese

Yes, winter is setting in, here in Hungary. No snow or ice yet, but there is a chill in the air. A sure sign of winter arriving is that the first Wallcreeper and Red-breasted Goose have been reported. I set off today on another trip and, besides the usual suspects, I hope to see at least one of these special and sought after species. I have changed from summer to winter tyres in anticipation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wildlife book due in February

My next book, Central & Eastern Europe: a Wildlife Guide, is set to be published in mid-February 2008. Those nice folks at the publisher Bradt - - are working hard to meet a date of February 15th... watch this space and then buy the book!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tough trip... weather wise

Well, that was a tough trip, the worst weather-wise here in Hungary this year. We started with strong winds and finished with drizzle, with stronger rain in-between. Yet we muddled through, toughing it out, using my 4x4 to the full and getting most of the key birds... 1000s of Common Cranes, 30 Great Bustards, Pygmy Cormorants, Rough-legged Buzzards, several White-tailed Eagles, Long-eared Owls by day, a superb Common Bittern and at the 11th hour, on the way to dropping off my guests at the airport, an Eastern Imperial Eagle. A couple of days at home, then off again...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Windy weather

It had to happen... we have hit a spell of bad weather... strong winds, now rain. It has been hard finding the birds. But two Syrian Woodpeckers did oblige, very well, a new species for the folks I am guiding here in Hungary. Despite the bad weather, we will see lots of Cranes though. It will be hard to miss them...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Over 100,000 Common Cranes

Just back from the Hortobagy... there are an incredible 100,000 plus Common Cranes in the east of Hungary right now. This is a record number. A synchronised count was done last Thursday and the figures are quite accurate. Most are roosting on fish-ponds in the Hortobagy area. Four birder friends (2 from Malta, 1 from England, 1 from N Ireland) and I watched 25,000 plus going to one roost. If all that was not enough, we also saw 14 different raptors on our tour... Saker, Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrel, Hen and Marsh Harriers, Rough-legged, Long-legged and Common Buzzards, Eastern Imperial, Greater Spotted and White-tailed Eagles, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk... and all the 8 woodpecker species that were possible! It is cold now, frost in the morning, but still lots to see on the bird front in Hungary.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October in the woods

It is not easy in the woods in autumn... most songbirds have left and those that remain are not singing. But the woodpeckers are resident and today we found 6 species: Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, White-backed, Grey-headed and Syrian in a village.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Otter and otter

Just finished a tour in Eastern Hungary... 9 folks from the UK flew home today. Off again tomorrow with another group... busy days indeed. The highlight of the week was judged to be the 10,000 plus Common Cranes we watched going to their night-time roost. Other highlights included 2 Otters, one a very large male, bounding down a track by the fish-ponds. Just after that we saw 30 plus Lesser White-fronted Geese and a White Pelican, the latter a vagrant to Hungary. All in all, a very birdy trip, with glorious weather.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Just finished our 2nd day in the Hortobagy NP... we set off today with the "targets" of Stone Curlew, Great Bustard, Dotterel and getting photos of Common Cranes on the ground. Glad to say. we got the lot. 5 Stone Curlews, 17 and later 26 bustards, 61 Dotterels and as many cranes feeding in fields as we wanted. Other birds included Red-throated Pipits moving through, the first Rough-legged Buzzard of the autumn... very warm for October and so butterflies about, too.

Monday, October 8, 2007

all woodies seen

So, second day of birding with my UK group and we did indeed get the Syrian Woodpecker. So that is 8 out of 8 possible woodpeckers seen on this trip. We saw a male and then a female Syrian in orchards to the south of the Bukk hills. But later 2 Sakers and 3 Eastern Imperial Eagles stole the show. Tomorrow, on to the plains....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

woodies today

It was a day of woodpeckers today in the forests of the Bukk Hills... 7 of 8 possible species seen. Black, Green, Grey-headed, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted before breakfast! White-backed added later. Tommorrow we should add Syrian Woodpecker.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Autumn colours

Autumn (the Fall as my American friends prefer to say) is now here. There is a chill in the air in the morning and the leaves are now a range of colours... browns, yellows, reds and golds... The days are getting shorter and shorter. Today I set off with a group from the UK, to the east, to the forests of the Bukk Hills and the grasslands and wetlands of the Hortobagy. I will try to find time to up-date this blog during the trip and keep you posted on the birds and other wildlife we find.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dotterels etc

Just got back from 2 days in the Bukk and Hortobagy areas with 3 nice Welsh folks... was hard work with the woodpeckers but in the end we got Lesser, Middle, Great, Syrian, Green and Black... the open country stuff proved easier.... 2 Sakers, 2 adult Eastern Imperial Eagles, 3 White-tailed Eagles, dozens of Pygmy Cormorants, LOTS of Common Cranes, 8 Great Bustards, 20 Stone Curlews and 50 Dotterels at close range... October really is fine birding month here in Hungary!!!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sociable Plover

I took a couple of American birders around the Kiskunsag today: several Great Grey Shrikes, Great Bustards in 3 spots, lots of finches, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a White-tailed Eagle and lots of shorebirds on the drained fish-ponds. But the bird of the day, at least for me, was Sociable Plover (Sociable Lapwing) that I found hanging around with the 100s of Northern Lapwings. It is always nice to find rare birds...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Red Squirrel

I could hear a few calls of Syrian Woodpecker in our garden, through the bathroom window, so I stepped out to look. A female was in the big robinia tree, pecking away, chipping away. Then I noticed some movement in the bushes below and spied a Red Squirrel. That's the first one I have ever seen in our garden though actually, they are not uncommon here in Buda. For example, my kids see them regularly in their school yard.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bargain Birding Tours in 2008

Next year is going to be another busy year of guiding for me. My agenda is already pretty full with tours for companies, clubs, couples and individuals already inked in, and I am not finished with 2007 yet! My own budget, bargain, birding tours for 2008 include:
HUNGARY 14th-17th February (rare geese, raptors and Great Bustards, maybe Wallcreeper)
ROMANIA 23rd-30th August (Danube Delta, wonderful)
POLAND 25th-31st October (birds and large mammals)
These trips are all definitely running, just one of two places left on each, so if you are tempted, then drop me a line pretty soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rosalia longicorn

I am almost sure this is going to be a new one for you... I was in the Bukk Hills in NE Hungary the other day, a quick trip to check a nice beechwood out. Crawling along a rotting fallen log was a long-horned beetle, a rosalia longicorn. There are hundreds of species of long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae) and their larvae are experts at nibbling into tree-bark and timber in mature forests, a habit which does not endear them to foresters, but woodpeckers just love them, especially White-backeds and Three-toeds. In their adult stage many long-horned beetles are large, attractive insects with males in particular sporting impressive long antennae. The beech forests of the region (such as the one in the Bukk I visited) are home to rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) a really handsome member of the family with its light blue body, legs and antennae all dotted with black. Though both sexes have long antennae those of males, at between 3-4cm long, are twice the length of their body. No photo, sorry, but Google the name and I'm sure it will be on the net somewhere.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tchik, Tchik

For once the first woodpecker I heard this morning in the garden, from the balcony, was NOT a Syrian. No, as I stepped out I heard the sharp, harsh tchik, tchik of a Great Spotted Woodpecker coming from the hazel that borders the neighbouring garden. I suppose this call, one of its most regular and familiar calls, could be written as chick, chick or even kik, kik ... much is in the ear of the beholder. It takes a little time to differentiate this call from a similar one made by Syrian, which is softer, less sharp, less harsh, but after a while, having heard both species regularly, one gets one's ear in.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quiz woodpeckers

I have been working steadily on my new WOODPECKER BLOG. I have got a lot of basic info down, and plenty of fine photos from all over Europe. Now I have started to include photos of "quiz" woodpeckers, that is, so-called "mystery bird" photos. Actually, the ones I have uploaded so far are not that difficult to ID to species, though getting sex and ages right has been harder. I will add a few more tricky ones in the next few weeks. Please take a look:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Common Cranes

The mass migration of Common Cranes (Grus grus) through eastern Hungary will soon be starting. In fact, the first few early arrivals are here, joining the few that now oversummer. Numbers will really start to build up as October gets underway. In recent years over 70,000 cranes have ended up resting and feeding in the east of Hungary, mainly in the Hortobagy region. A great sight indeed, but the noise they make often impresses people, too, sometimes more so than the spectacle. October is going to be a very busy month for me and my team of birding guides. We have groups, families and individuals to show around and most want to see the Cranes... but we won't neglect the other birds, geese, ducks, Great Bustards, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black Woodpecker, etc, etc... There is still a little time for you to get over here and on board to see all this wonderful stuff, but if you are tempted please get in touch very soon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kiskunsag again

I went to the Kiskunsag again for a day, this time guiding a keen birder from San Diego in Southern California. It was interesting to compare the sightings from two consecutive days. More or less the same number of species, the 2 Rollers we saw in the same places as the day before, the Great Bustards more or less in the same spots but the Monday Red-footed Falcons half a mile away from the Sunday ones, and more of them! An addition yesterday was two White-tailed Eagles, one adult, later one immature. Another difference was that yesterday we really struggled to see Bearded Tits! Though they called and called, they would not show themselves... finally a male did, but it was hard work. Maybe because this was one of the species that my guest really wanted to see? You know, Murphy's law and all that? Or is it some other kind of law?

Sunday, September 16, 2007


We went out today from Budapest, around the grasslands, farmlands and ponds of the Kiskunsag region. Within an hour of picking my TV film-maker chum Nigel and his wife up at their Budapest hotel, we were watching our first Great Bustards. Next up was a late juvenile Roller, then a couple of Turtle Doves, a few of Red-backed Shrikes and later a group of stunning Red-footed Falcons sitting on the ground and flying about hawking for insects... males, females and young birds. It was surprisingly warm, a glorious September day. After a rather too hearty Hungarian Sunday lunch we headed to some fishponds. Here we saw came across a Pond Terrapin crossing the track. On the bird front there was a Purple Heron, Penduline and Bearded Tits and Whinchats and White Wagtails moving through in good numbers. A Hobby was following a flock of Swallows. Finally, we scanned a pond that was being draine, a magnet for shorebirds including Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper... also a gang of Spoonbills and the first Little Gull of the autumn. All in all, a good mix of resident and passage birds.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Woodland woodpecker activity

I had an hour in the deciduous woods above the city. There are lots of signs of woodpecker activity in the woods. Autumn is upon us and the old beech trees in particular are being hacked out by Black and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. They are not breeding now, of course, and have no need to excavate nest-holes or feed chicks, so more time can be spent foraging. They are also a little more visible now, as the trees are beginning to shed their leaves. I have started to put info and photos of the signs that woodpeckers make on my other blog, which concentrates on woodpeckers: If you get a minute, take a look.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Black Redstart

Though autumn is well on its way, the nights drawing in, and temperatures beginning to fall, some birds are still singing. A pair of Black Redstarts live in our neighbours' yard and the male, a cracking jet black and charcoal-coloured fellow with a bright rusty tail and a large white wing panel, sings from time to time from the top of their TV satellite dish. I say "sings", well, if you have ever heard a Black Redstart "sing", you will know that I use that term loosely. This song has a sharp, loud crackling element, something like pebbles being shaken together in a bag. Not an ugly song, and in a funny way rather pleasant... but he is no Nightingale.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bad day all round

It was a bad day all round... at the weekend I watched one of my sons play football. He did not get into the game at all, though he was not the worst player out there. Anyway, he and some others were substituted at half-time as his team were losing 3-0. The end result was a 9-0 loss!!! And to make matters worse I only heard one species of woodpecker call during the game...a Syrian. Maybe the local Greens and Great Spotteds just knew it was going to be a bad day, a bad game and a bad result and so did not bother to turn up?

Saturday, September 8, 2007


I was at Lake Tisza in NE Hungary briefly, guiding a chap from the UK. We had a surprise day-time observation of a European beaver Castor fiber. It was swimming along a backwater and then climbed out briefly onto a bank. The European beaver is the continent's largest rodent, a stocky, robust mammal with short legs, webbed hind feet, a round head, long yellow teeth and, of course, a large flat tail. The tail is used as a horizontal rudder. Besides being mainly nocturnal, these aquatic rodents swim very low in the water, with the tail often submerged. There are not over common in Hungary but are increasing, especially on rivers in the NE and NW and SW. There have also been a few reintroductions as part of a WWF project. Beavers live in families of up to six individuals led by a pair of adults. Territories may be linear, along a stretch of river or channel, or based around a pond or lake. In some areas of Europe beavers have even colonised wetlands in urban areas. European beavers are now fairly common in the Baltic States and Poland in wooded lake-districts and wide river flood-plains lined with softwood trees like birch, willow and poplar. Further south they are not as widespread, inhabiting quieter rivers such as tributaries of the Danube in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia. I am running a trip to Poland next year (see post below this one) and it is almost certain that we will see beavers on that trip.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A tour to Poland

Some of you will know that I am often asked to guide birders and wildlife lovers in Eastern Europe. A destination that has been requested a lot recently is POLAND. So, after much thought, I have come up with an original itinerary for next year. If you are interested to hear more, or wish to join us, then get in touch. Here is a brief outline: POLAND - Autumn in the Polish Carpathians: Birds and Mammals: dates 25th - 30th October, 2008. 7 days, 6 nights. We will take in two fantastic areas in southern Poland: the Tatra and Bieszczady National Parks. We will focus on finding mammals (with chances of Wolf, Brown Bear, Lynx, Alpine Marmot, Chamoix, Elk, European Beaver, European Bison and others). Indeed, I will have a local tracker do some homework before our visit in order to increase our chances of finding these mammals. Special birds on this trip should include Pygmy & Ural Owls, Hazel Grouse, and woodpeckers such as White-backed and Three-toed. October is also a great month for photographers as many trees are covered in shades of reds, yellows and brown. It's a year away, but don't delay, I expect this exciting trip to fill up fast...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My NEW woodpecker BLOG

I have set up a new BLOG. I intend it to eventually replace my WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE website. I will be able to keep the blog fresh and it will save me time and expense. It will take a little time to sort it all out, but I hope that withinh a month it will be packed with info and nice photos of the Picidae from all over Europe. Please take a look and let me know what you think of it, and the idea. Here is the address:

Great Spotted... spotted

So I heard the usual tapping in the garden. I stepped onto the balcony to peer into the trees and there it was. But no, it was not him (or her), not my Syrian. Rather, it was a male Great Spotted Woodpecker. Four things: 1) You can't take anything for granted. 2) There is no difference in tapping (as in feeding action) between these species. 3) There are differences in drumming. 4) Both these species live side by side, share the same areas, habitats, they overlap... though some of the literature denies this... incorrectly.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Anvil, smithies, workshops

There is a new development in my local Syrian Woodpecker observations. The birds have wedged a walnut in a joint between two boughs on the biggest false acacia tree in the garden. This is known as an anvil (sometimes termed “workshop" or “smithy"). The anvil is a crevice or crack in a tree, log, post or even a wall, where woodpeckers wedge and process hard food items such as nuts, cones, fruit stones and large insects. Great Spotted, Syrian and possibly Green Woodpeckers use anvils. Nuthatches do this, too, but an important difference between anvils used by Nuthatches and those used by woodpeckers is that Nuthatches only use an anvil once, thus no piles of debris accumulate beneath it, whereas woodpeckers use favourite anvils repeatedly. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are unique in creating customised anvils to suit the food item regularly fed upon in an area. Anvils are often used for long periods hence debris, cones, nutshells, hard insect remains, accumulate beneath them. Sometimes trees with several crevices used as anvils are dotted with wedged cones and nuts and in winter take on a strange Christmas tree appearance. Beside walnuts, the stones of plums, almonds, cherries and apricots are often wedged in anvils by Syrian Woodpeckers.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Barking Mad

Went out into the forest for a fw hours, to check on a Black Woodpecker territory. I heard a couple of sudden, loud, barks in the forest. But not dogs... a Roe Deer. Both roe males (bucks) and females (does) bark and it always seems to sound sharper and louder on otherwise silent mornings. Like all deer this species has excellent senses of smell and hearing but their eyesight is a little suspect. Roe deer quickly spot movement but often stand and stare at stationary objects. It is always wise to keep still and silent when watching wildlife but especially so with Roe Deer which can be approached closely if the wind is blowing the right way. This is what I did, and I soon saw the buck that had barked, a fine animal with a rich chesnut coloured coat and sturdy little antlers.

Friday, August 31, 2007

False Acacias and Syrian Woodpeckers

There was a lot of noise yesterday, outside the window, pecking, calling... I looked out to see what the racket was. There was a pair of Syrians in the garden this time., a bright male with his red nape-patch and a female, both very lively. I scrutinised them carefully and could see that they were classic Syrians, not a hint of any Great Spoted-like plumage features. They were in a False Acacia (robinia) tree, pecking the bark and stretching up to pick at the hanging, dry seed pods. Interesting that, as that tree is not native to Europe, and I am not sure that there are records of Syrian Woodpecker eating its seeds. Then again, I did not actually see the birds eating the seeds, just saw them pecking at the pods. The biggest tree in the garden is another False Acacia, and that is now heavily marked with their peck marks, little patches of bark removed. This is often a sign of a tree that will be used as a nesting-site tree... hopefully next spring I will have this pair breeding here, in my own garden!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A sudden burst of activity

I stood on the back balcony yesterday evening. The walnuts and hazenuts are ripe, green in their shells, but probably not that good for eating. The trees are, in fact, rather lush. It's been very hot this summer but there has been several heavy rainstorms, sometimes almost "tropical-like'" downpours. As I stood there a male Black Redstart was singing strongly from the neighbours rooftop and another flicked back and forth below. A group of Blue Tits arrived and made a racket in the bushes and, almost inevitably, a Syrian Woodpecker "chipped" a few times nearby. Then small bird caught my eye as it dashed into the blue tit's bush and then out and on over the fence. I got a glimpse of white on the outer tail as it flicked it up and down... a red-breasted flycatcher! Now THAT is a VERY GOOD bird here, first in my garden, in fact the first I have seen within a few hours of Budapest, ever. Obviously not a local, but a bird on its way somewhere... south.

Monday, August 27, 2007

That photo on the right hand side

No one got back to me to answer the question "who did this?" regarding that shaved tree stump photo on the right. Well, maybe no one reads this blog anymore? Maybe those that do (if any) did not know the answer? Pity, as a free holiday in Hungary around the best birding sites was the prize... I forgot to mention that earlier :-) and too late now to claim it... Anway, the answer is... it is a typically shaved dead, rotting tree stump worked by a White-backed Woodpecker. More on this here, if you are interested in the signs woodpeckers leave:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Woodpeckers and football again!

My oldest son played in a football game here in Budapest yesterday (that's soccer my American friends!). You might recall that last season (spring this year) I wrote in a blog that I heard and saw woodpeckers while watching one of his matches. Well, yesterday whilst standing in the shade watching him score 2 goals in a 7-4 win, I heard 3 species during the 90 minutes: Green, Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Not bad for a non-birding event in a capital city!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hungary in late winter for geese

I have been asked by some birding friends to set up a short tour in Hungary in late winter, with geese as the main targets. So, I have set aside February 14 – 17, 2008 for this. That's 4 days - 3 nights: visiting Lake Tata, Transdanubian fishpond systems & the Kiskunsag National Park. We will look for flocks of Greater White-fronted Goose, some of the endangered Lesser White-fronted Goose, both Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese and probably a few Red-breated Geese, too. In addition there are also some special resident birds like Great Bustard, Saker Falcon, White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles, eight species of woodpecker including Syrian, Grey-headed and Black, and other winter visitors such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike. In some years Wallcreeper winters in stone quarries hereabouts and if this is the case we will visit the best site. If you would like to join us, then drop me a line and I will send you more details.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The local Syrian Woody

A Syrian Woodpecker has called every morning for the last 3 days at about 6am. It's sharp, squeaky, call has woken me up like an alarm clock. Describing bird calls is hard... but here goes... it sounds like "kip" sometimes "dschik" sometimes "dschuck". But it is definitely a Syrian, the same bird, I know it personally. My wife is not impressed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Birdfinders tour photos

In May this year I guided a group for Birdfinders (UK tour company) in Hungary. They have now put photos and tour report from that trip up on their website:
There are some great pics there, e.g. Ural Owl and the woodpeckers, and the whole thing gives a taste of how we do things here and what we see. Take a look.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back in Budapest

Got back from the UK last night. The British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water was a soggy affair... a very British outdoor event. I, like many others, walked around in wellies (rubber boots) on the Sunday. Still, it was a success. My talk on the Danube Delta went well on the Friday and i met many folks who I have guided in Eastern Europe over the years. I also talked to the tour companies that I lead tours for and did a couple of book signings on the Wildsounds stand. My only real complaint is that the Osprey Ale was expensive (about 3 pounds a pint?) and too warm!!! Anyway, to those of you reading this who were there... well, it was good to catch up.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

A few weeks ago Green Woodpecker was a "new" species on my garden list (backyard list for to my American friends). Now, I have another new one, another woody, too. This morning with the balcony door open, I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the false acacia tree at the back. First time I have heard it round here, in a sub-urban setting. The nearest resident ones I know are in the woods above the city about 20 minutes away. Europe's woodpeckers are essentially resident and sedentary birds but they do move around, especially at the end of summer. Not true migration, more dispersal. You might recall from an earlier blog that two weeks ago, when guiding a group, I saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in a hedge in farmland in the Bukk Hills. The one in my garden is obviously on the move from and to somewhere... I doubt it will stay here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Red-footed Falcons

One of the most popular birds seen on my most recent trip around eastern Hungary was Red-footed Falcon. We had great close views of males, females and juveniles. Perched, flying, hunting, calling... I took my group to a clump of false acacia trees where several pairs bred this summer. The birds were still there and the juveniles were still expecting to be fed by the adults. Peter Waterton took this great digiscope-photo of one of the young.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scarlet Darter

Is there a more stunning dragonfly in Europe than a male Scarlet Darter? Crocothemis erythraea, also known as Broad Scarlet, a name which does not do it real justice in my opinion, is mainly found in the warmer Mediterranean region and north Africa. In recent years sightings have increased further north in Europe. The photo here was taken by Peter Waterton by the River Tisza in eastern Hungary last week.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bird Fair Lecture and Book Signings

I will be over in the UK this coming weekend for the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water. On Friday 17th August I will be giving a 30 minute lecture with slides on the Danube Delta in Romania. From 2.30 - 3.00 in Marquee 2, the Sights and Sounds Marquee. After that I will be doing a book signing on the WILDSOUNDS stand at 15:30. Then again at WILDSOUNDS at 12:00 on the Saturday (18th August). See you there?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, amphibians, plants

Well, my latest group was a real mixed bunch. Folks interested in all aspects of Hungary's wildlife. We saw 150 bird species, about 60 butterflies, over 30 dragonflies and various frogs, toads and other goodies. Highlights were a late, bright, Aquatic Warbler, superb and close views of feeding Eastern Imperial Eagles, a large Grass Snake that I managed to catch, loads of Great Banded Graylings, a few striking Common Gliders, a Lesser Emperor dragonfly and... well, all kinds of things, too many, as they, to mention. Credit is due to everyone in the party, all of whom mingles in and shared their knowledge. We even had time to eat loads of Magyar home cooking and visit a wine cellar...

Monday, August 6, 2007

birds and butterflies

Second day in the Bükk with my UK group. Best bird was probably a Grey-headed Woodpecker which I managed to call in and which als caled back. A White-backed Woodpecker was also notable. On the butterfly front, a superb Lesser Purple Emperor and several Common Gliders got the lepidopterists excited. Tomorrow, on, to the plain, where the birds will improve but the butterflies will tail off..

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Lesser Spotteds

Back in the Bükk Hills in NE Hungary with a group from the UK. Butterflies abound. Birds not easy in the hot weather but we still picked up Bee-eaters, Goldon Oriole, Red-backed Shrikes and a Black Woodpecker. The surprise was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in hedges at a site we stopped at for Lesser Spotted Eagle in the middle of fields. Funny that, never seen it there before, and it is rather strange habitat for the species. And, actually, we got the eagle elsewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Eventful times

I have not blogged for over a week... firstI had an accident, hurt my back, but I am OK now... then we went on holiday only to hear half way through that a water pipe had burst at home and the place was flooded... as well as the poor neighbour's below... got it fixed... then it happened again... now we have to deal with those nice people at the insurance company! Anyway, back in Budapest now. Just popped out to sort a few things and was greeted by my local Syrian Woodpecker, calling from a garden one street away. Two tiny young Balkan Wall Lizards also scurried past as I check the post-box.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


CNN and the like are reporting 500 dead in Hungary due to the heatwave. Temps in some places have been up to 40 degrees C but overall things are OK here. I am surprised by those figures. It's hot, but overall it seems OK. Anyway, just wanted to tell you all that we here are fine. Off on a family holiday tomorrow, so I probably won't be blogging for a week or so.

Monday, July 23, 2007

New book sneak preview

I have been talking to those nice people at my Publisher BRADT
The title of my book will be CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE: A WILDLIFE GUIDE. The cover will be a full face photo of a Wolf. I wanted a large carnivore on the cover, and it does get much better than a Wolf. Hopefully the editors will find very little to do with my manuscript and the book will be published next summer, less than one year away.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Green Woodpecker, new bird

Well, not a new bird for me... but a new bird for our garden. A new one for our garden-list (that's yard-list to my US friends!). But why now? It's up in the high 30s C here in Budapest and one calls... giving its famous laugh, the "yaffle", yesterday morning. Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) one of Europe's most familiar woodpeckers, indeed most familiar birds. A largely terrestrial feeder, with a taste for ants, but a tree-hole nester.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Three-toed Woodpecker plumages

Today, I received some photos and a question regarding Three-toed Woodpeckers in southern Germany. It all centres on the following and it's a topic that comes up every year...

There is much individual variation in the plumages of European Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), especially within the central and southern European populations which are P.t.alpinus (for more on this see "Variation" on page 158 in my book WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE, and the drawings on page 157). I can say that it is not unusual to see birds in the Carpathians, Alps and Balkan ranges that have very white and largely unmarked backs, which is more typical of the more northerly distributed P.t.tridactylus race. A good feature to look for in such birds is the amount of dark (mainly black) markings (barring and flecking) on theunderparts, esp on the flanks and belly. Most of the "white-backed" alpinus show more black barring and flecking here than classic tridactylus birds. Some observers have suggested that white-backed southern birds are tridactylus birds within the range of alpinus. Some observers have even gone as far as to say that "all" birds in this area are white-backed, and therefore tridactylus, and that no birds have barred backs as alpinus are supposed to have. I know this to be view to be wrong. Classic alpinus birds with barred backs do exist. Yet, there is much to prove, and it is not impossible that the odd northern bird wanders southwards each year, but I personally believe that such white-backed birds are the result of extreme local individual variation rather than populations of tridactylus living amongst alpinus.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My 2008 tour plans becoming clearer

As you can see it's July 2007, but my 2008 movements are now almost sorted. I will be doing tours in Hungary, of course, both birding, butterfly, general natural history and photography tours for various companies and groups of people. But, at various times of the year, I will also be in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania... another busy year in store. And that is good... more birds, more travel, more wildlife, and no doubt many more interesting and colourful characters to meet :-)

Woodpeckers calling, hawkmoth buzzing

Though it is July and summer temps are at a high, (mid-30s C each day now) woodpeckers still call from time to time. I was at Lake Balaton again at the weekend. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were around the gardens and called each morning, a Middle Spotted, possibly two, called from time to time during the day from big oak trees in a neighbour's yard. In the later afternoon we went for an ice-cream at the other end of the village and I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call from a campsite. At the house there were the usual suspects: Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Song Thrush. The Balkan Wall Lizard was around and also a very active Hummingbird Hawkmoth. This is not the easiest time of year for birding, certainly not for woodland species, but if you keep your ears open even the woodies can be heard... and seen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Crane Migration in October

I would just like to remind everybody that I am guiding a special, private, budget-priced tour in Hungary this October (14th - 21 October, 2007). We will stay in the Bukk Hills and on the Hortobagy Plain. There are still some places open on this trip. Get in touch if you think you'd like to join us! It's a bargain and I will be working hard to ensure everything is staked out in advance! Email me and I will send you more info. Highlights will be many, many Common Cranes (up to 80,000 pass through Hungary at this time), plus Great Bustards, Saker Falcon, Eastern Imperial and White-tailed Eagles, Lesser White-fronted and Greater White-fronted Geese, lots of ducks, some shorebirds and 8 species of woodpecker including Black, Grey-headed and White-backed.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Collared Pratincole

Another trip just finished... a 3 day 4x4 birding "safari". All kinds of highlights despite some heavy rain on one day. Grey-headed and Syrian Woodpeckers, Great Bustards, Red-footed Falcons, 2 Sakers, 4 Eastern Imperial Eagle, Rollers, Bee-eaters and this one, a colony of Collared Pratincoles just 40 minutes from Budapest.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sousliks or Susliks (Citellus citellus) are ground squirrels. They used to be common on Hungary's dry, short-grazed grasslands and steppes (puszta). Nowadays they are absent from many places where they used to be easy to find. Anyway, today I took my 3 photographer guests back to Budapest and made a stop at a site I know where Sousliks are easy to watch and
often easy to take photos of. It worked out very well... all got great shots of a fantastic little rodent...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Another very windy day... hard work. Very strange for July.. nevertheless we carried on and my faithful owls did not let me down... a family of Little Owls living in hay-bales and a Long-eared Owl brooding chicks just 100 yards away. Not to mention the good old Red-footed Falcons... males, females, juvs, chicks. Also Spoonbills, Purple Herons and a male Great Bustard. Most provided good photographic subjects for my 3 guests. We even fitted in a few old breeds of domestic stock: Racka sheep and Mangalica pigs! Despite the wind we also saw a new butterfly for our trip: Bath White. But as I said... hard work... though it beats coal-mining :-)
Yesterday was not easy. It was windy, blowing a gale most of the day. But we were heading by road from Aggtelek through the Uppony and Bukk hills to the Hortobagy for most of the day, so we were spared the worst. In lulls in the windy overcast weather we saw, amongst others, Scarce Swallowtails, Knapweed and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Large and Green-veined Whites, Short-tailed Blues, Duke of Burgundy, a Peacock butterfly, and lots of Large Skippers... on the bird front a stop at Lake Tizsa turned up Little Bittern, Whiskered Terns, Purple, Grey, Night and Squacco Herons, and a Penduline Tit at the nest. Suppose not all that bad for a stormy day...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Aggtelek - Birds and Butterflies

We are in the Aggtelek Nat Park in NE Hungary... an overcast day but still a rich rage of birds and butterflies, though being July (summer) the butterflies are easier. Wryneck calling outside our hotel before breakfast, White Storks feeding in fields and various songbirds feeding young. On the butterfly front: Scarce Swallowtails, a Common Swallowtail, lots of Bath Whites, Eastern Wood and Marbled Whites, a Sloe Hairsteak, lots of Large Coppers, White Admiral, 2nd generation Maps, Spotted, Heath and Twin-spot Fritillaries and a range of Blues and Skippers... many caught on camera!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More butterflies and birds from the Bukk

Another day looking for butterflies and birds in the Bukk Hills, Hungary... a hot day, but a successful day. Lots of fritillaries and we are still looking at our photos and working them out! Also gliders, admirals and skippers. Birds included a superb male Rock Bunting, Hawfinches drinking at puddles, a Bee-eater colony, Short-toed Eagle, and 2 Honey Buzzards... July is not the easiest birding month in Hungary, indeed in Europe, but there are still plenty of goodies about to supplement the many butterflies. Tomorrow, on to Aggtelek...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Common Glider and other butterflies

I am in the Bukk Hills. I took 3 nice chaps from the UK around today, mainly looking for butterflies. We had good views of several Common Gliders, also Heath and Sliver-washed Fritillaries, White Admirals, Comma, Peacock, Bath White and lots of Nine-spot Moths. On the bird front there was Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers, Hawfinch... as well as some noisy Marsh Frogs...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The dormouse again

Was back at Balaton at the weekend. My youngest lad messing with fire again AND a new "hobby"... chopping up logs for the fire with an almighty axe! Anyway, the Edible Dormouse was calling again at dusk and for a while after. During the day a superb male Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica) was hanging around the veranda and I managed to catch him. He was very aggressive and feisty, though harmless, so I soon let him go. Birds in the garden included Black Redstarts, a Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatchers, a singing Serin and several (a family) Golden Orioles zooming around.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Roe Deer

You don't have to go far from Budapest to see Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus). People often ask me what the deer by the motorway are... Roe are far more widespread and easier to observe than Red Deer here. Indeed, from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans the herds of deer sitting right out in the middle of large crop fields will invariably be Roe Deer. Such herds are usually composed of does, juveniles, fawns and the odd buck, and may number dozens if not a 100 animals. Smaller groups of bachelors and young females are also formed. Roe are a small deer - the largest stand 60cm or so at the shoulder – with an unspotted reddish-brown coat in summer and a darker coat in winter. They have an attractive face with a black nose, a flashy white backside and tiny tail. For much of the year bucks – and sometimes does - have small antlers with two or three prongs which grow through the winter, lose their velvet in spring and are shed in the late autumn after the rut. Does often have twin fawns which are darker than adults and spotted and striped white.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back to the bustards

After a few travels outside Hungary and two butterfly-based tours here, it was back to the bustards today. I took a family from England into the Kiskunsag region south of Budapest with Great Bustards as the number one aim... we had 3 sightings, 3 females in one crop field, then 11 males in another and finally a magnificent fly-by by a lone male. Later around the fish-ponds we saw Penduline Tits at the nest, Great Reed Warblers all over the place, several Ferruginous Ducks, lots of Purple Herons, Great White Egrets, 2 Green Sandpipers, 1 black coloured Ruff, a brief Little Bittern and Common, Black and Whiskered Terns. All in a day's work!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Edible Dormouse

I mentioned the dormouse I heard calling in gardens above Lake Balaton the other day. After speaking to a couple of friends here in Budapest, one who is an expert on this mammal family, it seems the animal was a male Edible Dormouse (Glis glis) making it territorial calls. This species is the largest dormouse and often nests in buildings and nest-boxes as well as tree hollows. Next time I am at the place I am going to search for the creature. I have seen them before, but not for some years.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Butterflies in Bulgaria

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It was ultimately a birding trip in Bulgaria recently, but we saw lots of other wildlife, too, especially butterflies. Here is a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) taken by Rick Wright (from Arizona) during the trip. I will try to put a few more up on the blog in the next few days.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The call of the dormouse!

Well I think it was a dormouse... I am not sure so will check with a friend, a dormouse expert . The thing is... we went down to the in-law's summer house at Lake Balaton this weekend. Whilst sitting in the garden at dusk (where there is Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Nuthatch...) with one of the kids indulging in his pyro-mania at the Bar-B-Q and the other wolfing down the sausages... an errie, whistling call, drifted over in the smoke, from the neighbour's garden. I did not know what it was, and asked, and my mother-in-law (God bless her) promptly piped up "that's a dormouse" (in Hungarian of course). I asked how she knew, as she is not a top-flight naturalist, and she told me that another neighbour's attic had "once been full of them, before a beech marten arrived" and they had all heard those calls many times. For Edible Dormourse the mammal book I have (Collins Field Guide) only says "Vocal: noisy grunts and squeaks". For Common Dormouse it says "Vocalisations include mewing and purring sounds". I will get to the bottom of it...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

British Birdwatching Fair

I will be at the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, UK, again this year. Dates are 17th-19th August, Friday to Sunday, 2007. On the Friday from 2.30 - 3.00 pm I will be giving an illustrated talk entitled BIRDING IN THE DANUBE DELTA. See you there? I do not have a stand at the Fair, I never do, not really my world that... I prefer to "do the rounds" walking around (a kind of laid-back networking?) and spend time on the stands of travel companies such as Wildwings, Heatherlea, Birdfinders, Naturetrek, etc, answering any questions that clients have on destinations like Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Estonia, Czech Republic... I also drop in to see my publishers, Bradt and Wildsounds and always bump into various friends and clients as I go besides meeting up with the regulars in the beer tent...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

That Wryneck on the right...

Very few of you got back to me with ideas on the ID of the "mystery" bird in the photo on the right. Well, it's a Wryneck. And no one got it right! So if you knew that why didn't you get in touch? You could have claimed the 1st prize of a week's free birding in Hungary (sorry, offer closed now). Flight photos of this woodpecker species are few and far between. This shot was taken last year in Hungary by my Hungarian mate Szabolcs Kokay.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lesser Spotted feeding Great Spotted

I have received this very interesting note by email from Russia...
"Earlier this month a Moscow bird photographer recorded a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding (on several occasions) the young of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker pair in Vladimir province.

Photos can be seen at .

Vladimir Fridman (a local woodpecker expert) has done a quick literature search, but so far hasn't been able to find any mention of similar cases for these two species". I have heard (but not seen) about such things. Have you seen one woodpecker species feeding the young of another ?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Back from Bulgaria

I am back in Hungary. The Bulgaria trip was a great success. We covered a lot of ground, visited a wide range of lanscapes and habitats and saw most of the country's key birds... Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, Ruddy Shelduck, (Eurasian) Black Vulture, Paddyfield Warbler, Pied Wheatear, Masked Shrike, Black-headed Bunting etc, etc. But it was, overall, the Wallcreeper that was declared "bird of the trip". The views we had were really excellent, close, and memorable.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bulgarian Black Sea coast birds

We have been birding the Black Sea coast and hinterland in the last few days, from the Turkish border to the Romanian. Plenty of terns, some waders, raptors, and excellent views of some real specialities like Pied Wheatear, Paddyfield Warbler and Ruddy Shelduck as well as displaying Short-toed and Calandra Larks. We also spotted three Bottle-nosed Dolphins from a headland. They are regarded as endangered in the Black Sea thesedays. One lucky member of the group also found found Rose-coloured Starlings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Terrapins, Turtles

There are three species of native terrapin (turtles if you prefer) in Europe. Today, in SE Bulgaria, we saw 2 of them. European Pond Terrapin and Balkan Terrapin. The former is much more widespread, the latter only found in the SE of Europe. The first has a spotted neck, the second a striped one. Both species were seen basking, in typical terrapin fashion, on logs just above the water on freshwater backwaters near the Black Sea.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Masked Shrike

And another great day in Bulgaria with my group of US birders... highlights were Eastern Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, lots of Isabelline Wheatears, a Bee-eater colony, black-headed race Yellow Wagtails... but ultimately a confiding Masked Shrike in an oak wood near the Turkish border was the bird of the day. We are now on the Black Sea coast...

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Another fantastic birding day in Bulgaria... in the Eastern Rhodope Mts. Highlights were several Black Storks, Blue Rock Thrush, Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatear, Olivaceous Warbler, stunning Long-legged Buzzards, singing Cirl and Black-headed Buntings, etc, etc... BUT the overall highlight was the many Griffon Vultures feeding on a carcass and then joined by first 1, then 2, then 3, Black Vultures (Eurasian Black Vultures to you US birders, aka Cinereous Vulture). Tommorow we move on, to the Black Sea coast... plenty more goodies in store.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


I am in Bulgaria, guiding a group of birders from the USA. Today was our first full day, and what a start... singing male Black-headed Bunting, Long-legged Buzzard, Woodchat Shrike, Black Stork, etc, but the highlight has to be the male Wallcreeper flying in to its nest site and feeding the female. Absolutely stunning views... flying, perching, flickering, singing, interacting... all at close range, no scopes needed, in fact no binoculars needed, they were that close!

Friday, June 8, 2007


I am getting an increasing number of emails about hybrid or possible hybrid woodpeckers. Most concern Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (D. major). Syrian is mainly a bird of secondary lowland habitats such as orchards, vineyards, parks and gardens and rarely enters forests proper, Great Spotteds inhabit almost all woodland types. These two species regularly meet and often live side by side. Always take a good look at any Syrian Woodpeckers encountered, as interbreeding with Great Spotted Woodpeckers that produces hybrid young, which show plumage features from both parents, do occur.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Next book with Bradt

I have just put together and sent to the publisher BRADT the rough drafts for my next book CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN WILDLIFE - A VISITOR'S GUIDE. I expect to be working on these and the first version of the edited text through the summer and autumn. Several readings and checkings will have to be made to get things right. The people at BRADT seen very good (not all publishers and editors are). Maybe you have seen the BRADT series: In the USA they are published by The Globe Pequot Press.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Saker Falcon

I just got an email from a birder who was on a recent tour I led here in Hungary. He wrote that his bird of the week was Saker Falcon. In fact, he (we) saw at least 8 different adult birds on that trip and a few chicks were 'scoped, too. So he had his main target, his "lifer" over and over again. Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) is a raptor conservation success story here in Hungary. After decades of decline, due to pesticide use, egg collecting and the robbing of chicks for the falconry trade, this powerful falcon has recently made something of a comeback. Pairs are dotted around the southeast of the region with a core population of around 150 pairs in Hungary's lowlands. Sakers are built to take medium-sized birds like doves, pigeons and shorebirds and mammals such as hamsters and sousliks, but they are also not averse to stealing prey from other raptors.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Frog eats dragonfly

The other day, I just remembered, something a had never seen before, and wanted to mention. We were having a picnic by a canal at Nagyivan, Hortobagy, Hungary. It was full of frogs, mainly Marsh and Edible Frogs, some pretty big. Dragonflies and Damselflies were flitting over the water, some mating, and I watched a River Clubtail, a fine specimen, to-ing and fro-ing. Then plop, splash. A frog leapt out of the water, and the insect was gone, pulled under. It was all over in a flash.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The biggest and the smallest European woodpeckers

I went up into the Buda Hills for a few hours with two folks from the US of A today. The first bird we saw was a Hooded Ctow, as we got out of the car, then a male Great Spotted Woodpecker showed well, working away on a broken bough. There were people walking dogs and lots of joggers so we went off deeper into the beech woods. A Black Woodpecker called. I called back. It called again from closer by. We soon located it, high up, but in the clear, calling and drumming on an exposed snag. Superb... and I have seen lots. My American guests had never seen one before. Further on we saw a couple of Middle Spotteds and a drumming Lesser Spotted. So we had the BIGGEST and the smallest European woodpeckers, seen, calling, drumming, within a few minutes of each other.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Yet another Hungarian tour completed...

I have just finished another tour of eastern Hungary... most of the special species were seen. Last night the group had a vote on what should be "bird of the trip". Black Woodpecker, Collared Pratincole, Bluethroat, Great Bustard, Long-eared Owl and Long-legged Buzzard all got mentioned, but it was Aquatic Warbler that "won". Though I would have gone for the Syrian Woodpeckers feeding chicks at the nest hole (at 2 sites), I have to admit we DID get really good views of several singing male Aquatics one evening. The light was perfect, the weather perfect, too.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Eagles

No, I am not talking about the Hotel California etc... rather, I am thinking of the Eastern Imperial Eagle we saw being mobbed by a Common Buzzard today. And the 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles that flew almost over our heads yesterday and the one that did this afternoon in the Bukk Hills. Tomorrow we move on, onto the lowlands.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

One tour finishes, another begins

I have just finished a tour with a group from the UK, in 2 hours I go back to the airport to pick up another one. This is the busy season. We visited the Bukk and Zemplen Hills, Hortobagy and sites between. There were many highlights, Great Bustards, Red-footed Falcons, Sakers, Lesser Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Ural Owl, a family of Eagle Owls, Aquatic Warbler, Collared Pratincoles and nesting woodpeckers. But a bonus were two views of flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings... are they going to invade and breed this year... all will be clear soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Today's bird

There are several candidates for the best bird seen today. The two Lesser Spotted Eagles in the Bukk hills this morning performed well... the Eastern Imperial Eagle in the Zempen hills that soared overhead was not close, but was a lifer for most... and after hard work, the Wryneck showed well, too. We are seeing good birds...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ural Owl

We had the most superb views of a Ural Owl today. I took 16 UK birders to a site in the Bukk Hills in Hungary, but we had to search au naturel, as I have not found the nest in this area this year. I stopped our bus at the first likely spot and there it was, the bird was sitting out in the open, hunting by day. Everyone got views from the vehicle, then the bird flew off. So we crept off the bus, and relocated the beauty. More great views, an incredibly confiding bird.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Just had an hour free. Lots to do regarding my manuscript for the new book. The publisher is now sourcing the photos and I have been discussing this and letting all my photographer friend in the region know. So just popped up into the beecj woods above Budapest. The Black Woodpeckers were there, surprisingly noisy after a week or two of relative silence. They tend to go quiet when raising new chicks, then get active and loud again later. I have seen lots of Black Woodpeckers, but I never tire of them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Photographs of C & E European wildlife

The publishers (Bradt) of my next book - Central and Eastern European Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide - are now looking around for high quality colour photographs to illustrate it. If YOU have any good shots of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, landscapes or habitats, taken in the region (from the Baltic States south to the Balkans) that you'd like to see published... then drop me a line and I'll put you in touch with the right person. They will pay a fee for all photos published.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Well, they have arrived. The Red-breasted Flycatchers. I have heard and seen a few singing in the broadleaved forests of the Bukk Hills, and friends have seen them elsewhere. They are scarce thesedays in Hungary, Collared Flycatcher is much more common. They are superb little birds, especially the males with bright red throats, though not all males show much red.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Manuscript handed in...

It is with a great sigh of relief that I can announce that I have handed in my latest manuscript. After a year of writing (between guiding visiting birders and tour groups, dealing with my family and following the fortunes of Everton FC) I have finished the text for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN WILDLIFE - A VISITOR'S GUIDE. This will be published by BRADT in the UK next year. They have a great series of city, country and wildlife guides, including many destinations off the beaten track, all packed with superb photographs. My new book will include chapters on MAMMALS, BIRDS, REPTILES, AMPHIBIANS, BUTTERFLIES AND DRAGONFLIES and others like LOOKING FOR WILDLIFE and WHERE TO GO... I cover the wildlife found in 15 countries from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black and Adriatic Seas in the south. Keep an eye open for it next year...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Here is another photo of European Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus apodus) from Dalmatia (Croatia). Taken by my Irish pal Godfrey McRoberts. This legless lizard really is a superb animal, large, easy to catch, very docile, harmless. On this photo you can see the deep groove that runs down its flank very clearly.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Edible Frogs

I thought I'd try to clarify something that came up on recent Hungary tours I have led. We heard and saw a lot of Edible Frogs (Rana kl. esculenta). Now this amphibian is not a true species, it's a hybridogenetic form, the result of inter-breeding between marsh and pool frogs. Hence the “kl” in the scientific name, which means klepton and indicates a hybrid. Though composed of hybrids, populations of edible frogs are maintained because females mate with male pool or marsh frogs to produce young. Male edible frogs are, as it were, unable to contribute further. Edible frogs are common in wetlands in Hungary and geberally north of the central Balkans, the south of the range coinciding with that of the pool frog. By the way, it is not the only frog that is "edible". Ask any stork, egret or heron...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Breaking news... football bird

It's official now. Syrian Woodpecker is THE bird of football pitches in Hungary. I watched my oldest lad play again today, this time in the Hidegkut district in the north of Buda (by the way his team won 3-0, and with 3 games left are second in the table, crunch game against the 1st placed club next week, and the winner will almost certainly end up as champions). Anyway, mid way through the first half, with my mind fully on the game, and the young referee playing a blinder, giving my lad his first yellow card of the season, I heard a "kip,kip,kip" in the trees behind. I said to the tream trainer "That's a Syrian Woodpecker" and he looked at me as if I was from Mars...

Friday, May 11, 2007


I opened the kitchen window and immediately heard a call, a squeaky "kip". Then the Syrian flew over the garage and into the neighbouring garden. Then an hour later I went to the local shop and in the next street heard another "kip". In the morning I opened the balcony door and one was hacking away at the walnut tree. Are they feeding young in the nest-hole nearby? Probably, as I have not seen any fledged young around yet.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Aquatic Warbler

One of the real highlights of my recent Hungary tour was the views we had of Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola. It was a very windy day on the Hortobagy on May 8th. I was not sure at all that we would be able to find and observe this rare warbler. My good friend Dr Gabor Kovacs, a real expert on the species, agreed to help us out as he knew of a few very active singing males that he thought would come up onto the tops of sedge and grass stalks to sing if the wind dropped just a little. At 6pm we were in place and waited. Sure enough the wind dropped a little, several White-winged Black Terns flew by, a flock of Ruff and Wood Sandpiers rose up from the marsh and a Spoonbill came close overhead and a Reed Bunting and several Yellow Wagtails sat up and sang. The, the first Aquatic Warbler called, then flittted by, then sat up. Good views for all! We waited, and then another started to sing, did a flight display and sat up even closer to us than the first... success. Gabor was right. Of course.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

First May Group Birding Tour done!

Just finished my first Hungarian 2007 spring birding trip. We visited the Kiskunsag, Aggtelek, Bukk and Hortobagy regions and places in between. Highlights were (according to the happy participants) Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, the masses of Great White Egret Egretta alba, the nesting White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, 17 Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus migrating together, a close Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, several elegant Montagu's Harriers Circus pygargus, Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus, the last, very close, roadside Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca of the trip, bands of Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus hunting together, the Great Bustards Otis tarda, 6 breeding plumage Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus, White-winged Black Terns Chlidonias leucopterus, Roller Coracias garrulus, a very cooperative Grey-headed Woodpecker (Gray-faced) Picus canus, a performning Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus, a close, superb, singing male Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola, numerous Barred Warblers Sylvia nisoria, a pair of courting Lesser Grey Shrikes Lanius minor...

Recent Croatia Tour Photos

Here are a few pics from Croatia in April... quite a trip! Thanks to Godfrey McRoberts.
1. Paklenica Nat Park
2. Godfrey birding in the brink
3. Yours truly at Krka Falls
4. European Glass Lizard

Sunday, May 6, 2007

non birds on this birding trip

Of course other things are seen on birding trips... for example, today, we looked for Rock Bunting in some stone quarries... seeing Sand Lizard, Green Toad and loads of butterflies in the process. Just as well, it was a hard day, rainy, damp...

Saturday, May 5, 2007

On Tour Again

I am on tour again, with some folks from the UK. It rained badly for most of the day but there were still lifers for everyone today in the Bükk Hills in Hungary, including superb views of a singing, displaying male Barred Warbler. Other goodies today were 2 Wrynecks, a Black Woodpecker, a Honey Buzzard and several Collared Flycatchers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Back to Hungary

No rest for the wicked.... off today with a group birding around Hungary. Will will take in a good mix of sites and habitats. Plains, wetlands, woodlands. Targets include Great Bustard, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Aquatic Warbler, 9 species of woodpecker... the usual suspects. Nesting is well under way, in fact, as regards the woodies, it is well advanced. No doubt many (like this Syrian in the photo left) have aleady fledged.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Croatia - Reptiles

Croatia, particularly the Dalmatian Coast and hinterland, is a great place for reptiles and for herpetologists interested in seeing them and photographing them. On my recent trips the following species were seen: Hermann's Tortoise, Pond Terrapin, Dalmatian Algyroides, Green Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Common Wall Lizard, Italian Wall Lizard, Dalmatian Wall Lizard, Slow Worm, European Glass Lizard, Four-lined Snake, Grass Snake, Dice Snake and Nose-horned Viper. Some of the views were brief, others prolonged and some full of incident. For example, one of the Dice Snakes was seen after it had been dropped into a lake by a Night Heron who had struggled to carry it off.

Rock Partridge

Croatia is an excellent country in which to get to grips with Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca). It was one of the sought after species on my recent trips. A "lifer" for many tour participants. They are common in Dalmatia, from sea-level up into the mountains, but often tricky to see, as they tend to flush and speed off rapidly into bushy cover. We had several flight views before finally getting birds perched on the top of rocks. I know several birders who have long European lists but who still "need" this species. I have also met several who have "seen" it and ticked it in countries where it does not occur! One of the reasons for this is that its range is poorly documented and, for example, in the Collins Bird Guide (overall the best European field guide and the one which is widely used) the range map for Rock Partridge is wrong. The maps for Rock Partridge and the similar Chukar (Alectoris chukar) are swopped. Rock Partridge should be shown as occurring in the central southern European region and the western Balkans and Chukar in the eastern Balkans and Turkey. The maps in Birds of Europe (Helm) are more accurate.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Croatia - Butterflies

It was April (a bit early in the year really) and we were mainly looking for birds, but we still managed to observe 35 species of butterfly in Croatia. Highlights were daily Swallowtails (Papilio machaon) lots of Scarce Swallowtails (Iphiclides podalirius) - see photo left - many Southern Festoons (Zerynthia polyxena), Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), some superb Cleopatras (Gonepteryx cleopatras), a Little Tiger Blue (Tarucus balkanicus), Green-underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis), a Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) and an endemic species, Dalmatian Ringlet (Proterebia afra). The Cleopatras and Brimstones were most numerous in the Krka NP, and the most Southern Festoons were higher up in the Paklenica NP.

Croatia - Dragonflies

There were some non-birding spectacles during my time in Croatia in the last two weeks. One was the masses of Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo) on the pools, ponds and channels around the waterfalls in the Krka National Park (see photo left). This delightful creatures were very active, zooming around, flitting from reed to reed and mating. We also saw Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans), Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) and a large, lovely goldenring, a Cordulegaster species. Not sure if it was Common, Balkan or Sombre... it did not stay still long enough and I am no expert on dragonflies.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Croatia - Birds

Just got back from Croatia where I guided two groups from the UK. We spent all of our time in Dalmatia, taking in Lake Vrana, the Paklenica and Krka National Parks and various coastal and inland habitats. I intended to up-date my blog everyday whilst there, but could not get on-line anywhere! No wireless connections in our hotels. Anyway, in the next few days I will try to put up some sightings and photos from the trips on here. Birds highlights included Pygmy Cormorants, Golden Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Rock Partridge, White-winged Black Terns, REAL Rock Doves, Scops Owls keeping us awake most nights, Alpine Swifts, Black-eared Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes, Eastern Orphean Warblers, Rock Nuthatches, Woodchat Shrikes, Alpine Choughs and Spanish Sparrows. A good range of birds of mostly rocky places!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Common Wall Lizard

As I went down the neighbouring street yesterday I spied something small on the pavement. About the length of a cigarette. It was a lizard with no tail. I bent down to take a close look and it stayed still. It did not seem injured, but was in a ridiculously exposed place, right in the centre of a busy pathway. Maybe just trying to warm up, and it was a very sunny day, getting to the right temperature for it to be active. It was rather greyish brown, with a rufous tinge to its flanks. I think it was a male Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). But as soon as I got close, it darted off, straight to the adjacent garden wall and into a crevice. All very typical behaviour. This species is often in and around human settlements. The neighbour's cat often sits around waiting for them to move in our yard and then tries to leap on them. But they are fast, and he rarely suceeds in actually catching any.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Full swing now. I am well into my stride guiding visiting birders in and around Budapest. Day by day the birds are arriving. Already seen a few Savi's Warblers and the River Warblers and Barred Warblers will show up soon, too. Serins and Black Redstarts are singing and buzzing around. Fire-bellied toads are calling... poo-poo-poo- ... by the 1000s in the marshes, like laid-back Hoopoes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Syrians active

The Syrian Woodpeckers in the local park are very active. There is a pair, though I cannot find the hole. Maybe it is in a nearby private garden, where I am unable to enter and explore. I have seen them drumming in the park, in a horse chestnut tree, and heard then calling and interacting with the Great Spotted Woodpeckers there... but am not sure at all that they are breeding there.

Monday, April 9, 2007

It sometimes works out like that

Two days ago I was in the Buda Hills with 2 nice folks from the UK looking for woodpeckers, we did not have much time as it was getting towards the end of the day, but I though I might find them a Black Woodpecker (which they had never seen before). We walked around a territory I know but the Black Woodies would not play. One called briefly, but would not reveal itself. But we did see a superb male Grey-headed Woodpecker, which was also a "lifer" for my guests. It responded almost at once to my imitations of its calls and flew in and posed very well. In the end we ran out of time. Then, yesterday, I went with the family to an arboretum about an hour away. You know, a bit of a stroll in the flower carpeted woods and then Easter Sunday lunch. Guess what? Of course. A Black Woodpecker called. I called back and in it swooped, over our heads. And then its mate. Two Black Woodpeckers. The kids hardly looked at them. It sometimes works out like that.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I took two birders from the UK out on a day-trip yesterday... to the Kiskunsag region, about an hour south-east of Budapest. Warm but a touch windy... but a good day for birding. White Storks are already on their village high-street nests. Later we picked up a Black Stork that came conveniently close. We had good waders, including an almost all white Ruff, Spoonbills, lots of Great White Egrets, two Purple Herons, and some very bright male Yellow Wagtails. A very nice moment was this... we 'scoped a singing Savi's Warbler whilst a Bitttern boomed nearby, a Water Rail squealed and a Bearded Tit whizzed past. We had to put in a bit of work (well, just a bit of off-roading and climbing up a tall observation tower) to finally nail the Great Bustards... a few males in the heart of the grasslands, thinking about lekking. We rounded it off with a male Grey-headed Woodpecker back in Buda... not a bad day...

Friday, April 6, 2007

I had to take one of my boys to his football (soccer for you north Americans reading) game yesterday, over the river in Pest. While hanging around, waiting for the game to kick-off, I heard the call of a Green Woodpecker... the famous laughing "yaffle". It did it twice. It's quite an industrial area that, near the busy Arpad Bridge, though there are several football fields there and plenty of trees. So, there you go... even when taking a "time out" (that's a football, not soccer, term for you Brits reading this) from woodpecker watching... one turns up. No rest for the wicked they say.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

That preening woodpecker

I asked if anyone knew what the preening woodpecker was in the photo on the right. I was not a trick question, and it wasn't really hard. A few people got back to me and all got it right (obviously it was too easy, I will have to find a real hard one next time). Well, yes, it is a FEMALE GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos major). Taken by my good friend Szabolcs Kokay here in Budapest (Szabolcs is a wildlife artist and painted the plates and drew the sketches in my book WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE).

Monday, April 2, 2007


They are here. The Wrynecks have arrived and are calling intensely. Wryneck Jynx torquilla is Europe's only migratory woodpecker. The other nine species are resident (8 of them in Hungary, 7 can even be seen in Budapest). Wrynecks don't look like typical woodpeckers, in a way, they are more like songbirds. They do not excavate holes in trees, but they do nest in holes, using natural holes or those made by others. They readily use nest-boxes, too. They don't drum, either. If you look at the beak in the photo on the left, you can see that it is not suitable for boring holes in timber at all. The question is, has the Wryneck evolved away from the true woodpeckers? Did it once have a strong, chisel-like beak? Or did the other woodpeckers once have beaks like the Wryneck? Did they evolve their strong beaks later whilst the Wryneck did not?

Friday, March 30, 2007

I think I sometimes take it for granted. I mean, with a tiny bit of effort, like driving 15 minutes up into the hills, I can see Black Woodpecker ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. I have at least two pairs staked out in the Buda Hills (there are several more, but I just haven't had time this spring to check them). They are using beech trees, hacking out their large oval holes, getting ready to breed. I say "taking it for granted" because it is not at all unusual for folks in the UK to ask me "if I know any sites for Black Woodpecker?" or "I need Black Woodpecker, what's the chances of seeing one?" Well, the "chances" are very good, nothing ever guaranteed, of course, because we are dealing with a wild bird here. But I am fairly confident that anyone visiting Budapest who wants me to find them one of these magnificent forest carpenters, the largest European woodpecker species, will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring & Autumn Birding Tours

I am now getting ready ready for the spring season. I will soon be in Croatia with two groups and then back in Hungary for the May season, later I will be in Bulgaria. It is going to be a busy time, but I will try to keep this blog up-dated with sightings, events and maybe even photos. I have a private trip in Hungary schedued for 2 - 9 May, and if anyone fancies joining that we can take one or two at this late stage. We will be looking for all kinds of goodies - Great Bustard, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Ural Owl, Aquatic Warbler etc etc etc. Click this link to get an idea of what we will be doing:
If you need time to plan and decide where you are going birding, then consider coming to Hungary in autumn for the Common Crane migration. From October 14 - 21. We see Great Bustards and the raptors then, too, as well as wildfowl and waders:
Wherever you go this spring... Good birding. I have this feeling it is going to be a bumper year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Syrian Woodpecker calling

All I did was pop out to the post office. Down the street, turn left, 100 metres, and then I heard it. A Syrian calling in someone's back garden. When you live in a place that has both Great spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers side by side, you soon learn to separate them on call. Don't think I will find it's nest hole though, too many houses, too many dogs... unless it's in the park nearby. I will keep an eye open there. By the way, I have been asked why this woodpecker is named "Syrian" ? Well, the species was first described (as Picus syriacus) by Hemprich & Ehrenberg in 1833... in, yes, correct, Syria.

Warblers and White Storks

It's back to the warm, sunny weather again. Blackcaps are singing in the gardens round hear and I have heard the odd Chiffchaff. Plenty of woodpecker activity again, some hacking out holes. The first White Storks are back in Hungary, and I expect a flood of them in the next week or so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Winter Fights Back ?

A few days ago spring was well and truly here. I even saw two Peacock butterflies in our yard.
Then a cold wind arrived and things have gone a bit quiet. We've gone from summer to winter in 2 days... though it's still March. I think the first butterflies and frogs and toads that popped out last week got a bit of a shock. But think ahead... any of you that fancy a trip to Hungary to see plenty of amphibians, reptiles and butterflies in the summer, take a look at this:

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I managed to get into the Bukk Hills for a few hours. I checked an area with big beeches where White-backed Woodpeckers (one of my very favourite species) had a nest last year. A few trees had been knocked over by high winds in the winter, but the site is still good. Plenty of dead wood. A female was drumming (just in case you did not know, females drum, too) and after a bit of searching, I got decent views.
The global range of White-backed Woodpecker lies within the Palearctic from Fenno-Scandia and central Europe eastwards through boreal Asia, to Kamchatka, China and Japan. Though generally regarded as an “eastern” species White-backed Woodpeckers probably inhabited all of Europe including Britain in the past, possibly up to the Middle Ages, when there was still much old forest covering the landscape. Today it is Europe’s rarest woodpecker, being often very local in the boreal and temperate zones of central and Eastern Europe, Fenno-Scandia and Russia.
Elsewhere it has a rather scattered distribution with small relic populations of the lilfordi race in the Pyrenees, the Balkans and the Apennines in Italy. Over most of its European range White-backed Woodpecker is uncommon, if not rare, though in some areas such as the Carpathians and the lowland forests of Belarus it is widely distributed. A major contraction in range, particularly in the west of Europe, occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet despite its overall rarity in Europe the species can be locally the most common woodpecker.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

It's all action now on the woodpecker front. I had a quick walk round the oak and beech woods above Budapest and several species are drumming, calling and hacking out holes. The Middle Spotted Woodpeckers are calling like mad. Yesterday I witnessed a couple of males having a fairly serious argument. Now that spring is here, their all red crowns are bright red and they used them well, fluffing them up like a punk-rocker's hairstyle (showing my age here folks). Mostly bravado, and chasing around tree trunks, but there was a bit of bill pointing and jousting, fake stabbing. No doubt a female was nearby watching it all. Maybe thats' why the males were so aggressive. Showing off. It's time to get mating and nesting.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Great Bustards

More signs of spring... the Great Bustards are starting to think about lekking. I went out into the Kiskunsag region yesterday, about an hour south-east from Budapest. A flock of 20 of these large birds were lounging around in some crops. A male stood up flapped his huge wings, walked around a bit and then puffed his chest out, then pushed his tail up. Suddenly he changed from a largely brownish-orange bird into a snow-ball. Someone once described displaying cock Great Bustards as "foam-baths" But it was a bit half-hearted, he soon gave up, none of his companions seemed bothered. Maybe another few weeks are needed before things take off on the displaying, lekking, courting and breeding front.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A syrian in the garden

I opened the balcony door to let some fresh air in. It shouldn't be so warm in here, it's still only March. Almost at once a few faint "chips" drifted in. One of our local Syrian Woodpeckers was about. I peeped out and there she was, a female, on a shrub at first, low down, then she hopped onto a walnut tree (on of their very favourite trees). A classic Syrian: almost totally black outer tail feathers, just a few white dots there, a pinkish ventral area, fine ending to the bill, and white cheeks. No red at all on the crown... a female. She made a few more "squeaky doll" calls and was off. A noticed a few half-finished holes in the adjacent garden. Now that would be nice, if a pair set up home hereabouts.