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.