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.