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.