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.