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?