Friday, August 31, 2007

False Acacias and Syrian Woodpeckers

There was a lot of noise yesterday, outside the window, pecking, calling... I looked out to see what the racket was. There was a pair of Syrians in the garden this time., a bright male with his red nape-patch and a female, both very lively. I scrutinised them carefully and could see that they were classic Syrians, not a hint of any Great Spoted-like plumage features. They were in a False Acacia (robinia) tree, pecking the bark and stretching up to pick at the hanging, dry seed pods. Interesting that, as that tree is not native to Europe, and I am not sure that there are records of Syrian Woodpecker eating its seeds. Then again, I did not actually see the birds eating the seeds, just saw them pecking at the pods. The biggest tree in the garden is another False Acacia, and that is now heavily marked with their peck marks, little patches of bark removed. This is often a sign of a tree that will be used as a nesting-site tree... hopefully next spring I will have this pair breeding here, in my own garden!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A sudden burst of activity

I stood on the back balcony yesterday evening. The walnuts and hazenuts are ripe, green in their shells, but probably not that good for eating. The trees are, in fact, rather lush. It's been very hot this summer but there has been several heavy rainstorms, sometimes almost "tropical-like'" downpours. As I stood there a male Black Redstart was singing strongly from the neighbours rooftop and another flicked back and forth below. A group of Blue Tits arrived and made a racket in the bushes and, almost inevitably, a Syrian Woodpecker "chipped" a few times nearby. Then small bird caught my eye as it dashed into the blue tit's bush and then out and on over the fence. I got a glimpse of white on the outer tail as it flicked it up and down... a red-breasted flycatcher! Now THAT is a VERY GOOD bird here, first in my garden, in fact the first I have seen within a few hours of Budapest, ever. Obviously not a local, but a bird on its way somewhere... south.

Monday, August 27, 2007

That photo on the right hand side

No one got back to me to answer the question "who did this?" regarding that shaved tree stump photo on the right. Well, maybe no one reads this blog anymore? Maybe those that do (if any) did not know the answer? Pity, as a free holiday in Hungary around the best birding sites was the prize... I forgot to mention that earlier :-) and too late now to claim it... Anway, the answer is... it is a typically shaved dead, rotting tree stump worked by a White-backed Woodpecker. More on this here, if you are interested in the signs woodpeckers leave:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Woodpeckers and football again!

My oldest son played in a football game here in Budapest yesterday (that's soccer my American friends!). You might recall that last season (spring this year) I wrote in a blog that I heard and saw woodpeckers while watching one of his matches. Well, yesterday whilst standing in the shade watching him score 2 goals in a 7-4 win, I heard 3 species during the 90 minutes: Green, Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Not bad for a non-birding event in a capital city!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hungary in late winter for geese

I have been asked by some birding friends to set up a short tour in Hungary in late winter, with geese as the main targets. So, I have set aside February 14 – 17, 2008 for this. That's 4 days - 3 nights: visiting Lake Tata, Transdanubian fishpond systems & the Kiskunsag National Park. We will look for flocks of Greater White-fronted Goose, some of the endangered Lesser White-fronted Goose, both Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese and probably a few Red-breated Geese, too. In addition there are also some special resident birds like Great Bustard, Saker Falcon, White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagles, eight species of woodpecker including Syrian, Grey-headed and Black, and other winter visitors such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike. In some years Wallcreeper winters in stone quarries hereabouts and if this is the case we will visit the best site. If you would like to join us, then drop me a line and I will send you more details.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The local Syrian Woody

A Syrian Woodpecker has called every morning for the last 3 days at about 6am. It's sharp, squeaky, call has woken me up like an alarm clock. Describing bird calls is hard... but here goes... it sounds like "kip" sometimes "dschik" sometimes "dschuck". But it is definitely a Syrian, the same bird, I know it personally. My wife is not impressed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Birdfinders tour photos

In May this year I guided a group for Birdfinders (UK tour company) in Hungary. They have now put photos and tour report from that trip up on their website:
There are some great pics there, e.g. Ural Owl and the woodpeckers, and the whole thing gives a taste of how we do things here and what we see. Take a look.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back in Budapest

Got back from the UK last night. The British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water was a soggy affair... a very British outdoor event. I, like many others, walked around in wellies (rubber boots) on the Sunday. Still, it was a success. My talk on the Danube Delta went well on the Friday and i met many folks who I have guided in Eastern Europe over the years. I also talked to the tour companies that I lead tours for and did a couple of book signings on the Wildsounds stand. My only real complaint is that the Osprey Ale was expensive (about 3 pounds a pint?) and too warm!!! Anyway, to those of you reading this who were there... well, it was good to catch up.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

A few weeks ago Green Woodpecker was a "new" species on my garden list (backyard list for to my American friends). Now, I have another new one, another woody, too. This morning with the balcony door open, I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the false acacia tree at the back. First time I have heard it round here, in a sub-urban setting. The nearest resident ones I know are in the woods above the city about 20 minutes away. Europe's woodpeckers are essentially resident and sedentary birds but they do move around, especially at the end of summer. Not true migration, more dispersal. You might recall from an earlier blog that two weeks ago, when guiding a group, I saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in a hedge in farmland in the Bukk Hills. The one in my garden is obviously on the move from and to somewhere... I doubt it will stay here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Red-footed Falcons

One of the most popular birds seen on my most recent trip around eastern Hungary was Red-footed Falcon. We had great close views of males, females and juveniles. Perched, flying, hunting, calling... I took my group to a clump of false acacia trees where several pairs bred this summer. The birds were still there and the juveniles were still expecting to be fed by the adults. Peter Waterton took this great digiscope-photo of one of the young.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scarlet Darter

Is there a more stunning dragonfly in Europe than a male Scarlet Darter? Crocothemis erythraea, also known as Broad Scarlet, a name which does not do it real justice in my opinion, is mainly found in the warmer Mediterranean region and north Africa. In recent years sightings have increased further north in Europe. The photo here was taken by Peter Waterton by the River Tisza in eastern Hungary last week.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bird Fair Lecture and Book Signings

I will be over in the UK this coming weekend for the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water. On Friday 17th August I will be giving a 30 minute lecture with slides on the Danube Delta in Romania. From 2.30 - 3.00 in Marquee 2, the Sights and Sounds Marquee. After that I will be doing a book signing on the WILDSOUNDS stand at 15:30. Then again at WILDSOUNDS at 12:00 on the Saturday (18th August). See you there?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, amphibians, plants

Well, my latest group was a real mixed bunch. Folks interested in all aspects of Hungary's wildlife. We saw 150 bird species, about 60 butterflies, over 30 dragonflies and various frogs, toads and other goodies. Highlights were a late, bright, Aquatic Warbler, superb and close views of feeding Eastern Imperial Eagles, a large Grass Snake that I managed to catch, loads of Great Banded Graylings, a few striking Common Gliders, a Lesser Emperor dragonfly and... well, all kinds of things, too many, as they, to mention. Credit is due to everyone in the party, all of whom mingles in and shared their knowledge. We even had time to eat loads of Magyar home cooking and visit a wine cellar...

Monday, August 6, 2007

birds and butterflies

Second day in the Bükk with my UK group. Best bird was probably a Grey-headed Woodpecker which I managed to call in and which als caled back. A White-backed Woodpecker was also notable. On the butterfly front, a superb Lesser Purple Emperor and several Common Gliders got the lepidopterists excited. Tomorrow, on, to the plain, where the birds will improve but the butterflies will tail off..

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Lesser Spotteds

Back in the Bükk Hills in NE Hungary with a group from the UK. Butterflies abound. Birds not easy in the hot weather but we still picked up Bee-eaters, Goldon Oriole, Red-backed Shrikes and a Black Woodpecker. The surprise was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in hedges at a site we stopped at for Lesser Spotted Eagle in the middle of fields. Funny that, never seen it there before, and it is rather strange habitat for the species. And, actually, we got the eagle elsewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Eventful times

I have not blogged for over a week... firstI had an accident, hurt my back, but I am OK now... then we went on holiday only to hear half way through that a water pipe had burst at home and the place was flooded... as well as the poor neighbour's below... got it fixed... then it happened again... now we have to deal with those nice people at the insurance company! Anyway, back in Budapest now. Just popped out to sort a few things and was greeted by my local Syrian Woodpecker, calling from a garden one street away. Two tiny young Balkan Wall Lizards also scurried past as I check the post-box.