Saturday, September 29, 2007

Red Squirrel

I could hear a few calls of Syrian Woodpecker in our garden, through the bathroom window, so I stepped out to look. A female was in the big robinia tree, pecking away, chipping away. Then I noticed some movement in the bushes below and spied a Red Squirrel. That's the first one I have ever seen in our garden though actually, they are not uncommon here in Buda. For example, my kids see them regularly in their school yard.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bargain Birding Tours in 2008

Next year is going to be another busy year of guiding for me. My agenda is already pretty full with tours for companies, clubs, couples and individuals already inked in, and I am not finished with 2007 yet! My own budget, bargain, birding tours for 2008 include:
HUNGARY 14th-17th February (rare geese, raptors and Great Bustards, maybe Wallcreeper)
ROMANIA 23rd-30th August (Danube Delta, wonderful)
POLAND 25th-31st October (birds and large mammals)
These trips are all definitely running, just one of two places left on each, so if you are tempted, then drop me a line pretty soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rosalia longicorn

I am almost sure this is going to be a new one for you... I was in the Bukk Hills in NE Hungary the other day, a quick trip to check a nice beechwood out. Crawling along a rotting fallen log was a long-horned beetle, a rosalia longicorn. There are hundreds of species of long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae) and their larvae are experts at nibbling into tree-bark and timber in mature forests, a habit which does not endear them to foresters, but woodpeckers just love them, especially White-backeds and Three-toeds. In their adult stage many long-horned beetles are large, attractive insects with males in particular sporting impressive long antennae. The beech forests of the region (such as the one in the Bukk I visited) are home to rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) a really handsome member of the family with its light blue body, legs and antennae all dotted with black. Though both sexes have long antennae those of males, at between 3-4cm long, are twice the length of their body. No photo, sorry, but Google the name and I'm sure it will be on the net somewhere.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tchik, Tchik

For once the first woodpecker I heard this morning in the garden, from the balcony, was NOT a Syrian. No, as I stepped out I heard the sharp, harsh tchik, tchik of a Great Spotted Woodpecker coming from the hazel that borders the neighbouring garden. I suppose this call, one of its most regular and familiar calls, could be written as chick, chick or even kik, kik ... much is in the ear of the beholder. It takes a little time to differentiate this call from a similar one made by Syrian, which is softer, less sharp, less harsh, but after a while, having heard both species regularly, one gets one's ear in.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quiz woodpeckers

I have been working steadily on my new WOODPECKER BLOG. I have got a lot of basic info down, and plenty of fine photos from all over Europe. Now I have started to include photos of "quiz" woodpeckers, that is, so-called "mystery bird" photos. Actually, the ones I have uploaded so far are not that difficult to ID to species, though getting sex and ages right has been harder. I will add a few more tricky ones in the next few weeks. Please take a look:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Common Cranes

The mass migration of Common Cranes (Grus grus) through eastern Hungary will soon be starting. In fact, the first few early arrivals are here, joining the few that now oversummer. Numbers will really start to build up as October gets underway. In recent years over 70,000 cranes have ended up resting and feeding in the east of Hungary, mainly in the Hortobagy region. A great sight indeed, but the noise they make often impresses people, too, sometimes more so than the spectacle. October is going to be a very busy month for me and my team of birding guides. We have groups, families and individuals to show around and most want to see the Cranes... but we won't neglect the other birds, geese, ducks, Great Bustards, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black Woodpecker, etc, etc... There is still a little time for you to get over here and on board to see all this wonderful stuff, but if you are tempted please get in touch very soon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kiskunsag again

I went to the Kiskunsag again for a day, this time guiding a keen birder from San Diego in Southern California. It was interesting to compare the sightings from two consecutive days. More or less the same number of species, the 2 Rollers we saw in the same places as the day before, the Great Bustards more or less in the same spots but the Monday Red-footed Falcons half a mile away from the Sunday ones, and more of them! An addition yesterday was two White-tailed Eagles, one adult, later one immature. Another difference was that yesterday we really struggled to see Bearded Tits! Though they called and called, they would not show themselves... finally a male did, but it was hard work. Maybe because this was one of the species that my guest really wanted to see? You know, Murphy's law and all that? Or is it some other kind of law?

Sunday, September 16, 2007


We went out today from Budapest, around the grasslands, farmlands and ponds of the Kiskunsag region. Within an hour of picking my TV film-maker chum Nigel and his wife up at their Budapest hotel, we were watching our first Great Bustards. Next up was a late juvenile Roller, then a couple of Turtle Doves, a few of Red-backed Shrikes and later a group of stunning Red-footed Falcons sitting on the ground and flying about hawking for insects... males, females and young birds. It was surprisingly warm, a glorious September day. After a rather too hearty Hungarian Sunday lunch we headed to some fishponds. Here we saw came across a Pond Terrapin crossing the track. On the bird front there was a Purple Heron, Penduline and Bearded Tits and Whinchats and White Wagtails moving through in good numbers. A Hobby was following a flock of Swallows. Finally, we scanned a pond that was being draine, a magnet for shorebirds including Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper... also a gang of Spoonbills and the first Little Gull of the autumn. All in all, a good mix of resident and passage birds.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Woodland woodpecker activity

I had an hour in the deciduous woods above the city. There are lots of signs of woodpecker activity in the woods. Autumn is upon us and the old beech trees in particular are being hacked out by Black and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. They are not breeding now, of course, and have no need to excavate nest-holes or feed chicks, so more time can be spent foraging. They are also a little more visible now, as the trees are beginning to shed their leaves. I have started to put info and photos of the signs that woodpeckers make on my other blog, which concentrates on woodpeckers: If you get a minute, take a look.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Black Redstart

Though autumn is well on its way, the nights drawing in, and temperatures beginning to fall, some birds are still singing. A pair of Black Redstarts live in our neighbours' yard and the male, a cracking jet black and charcoal-coloured fellow with a bright rusty tail and a large white wing panel, sings from time to time from the top of their TV satellite dish. I say "sings", well, if you have ever heard a Black Redstart "sing", you will know that I use that term loosely. This song has a sharp, loud crackling element, something like pebbles being shaken together in a bag. Not an ugly song, and in a funny way rather pleasant... but he is no Nightingale.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bad day all round

It was a bad day all round... at the weekend I watched one of my sons play football. He did not get into the game at all, though he was not the worst player out there. Anyway, he and some others were substituted at half-time as his team were losing 3-0. The end result was a 9-0 loss!!! And to make matters worse I only heard one species of woodpecker call during the game...a Syrian. Maybe the local Greens and Great Spotteds just knew it was going to be a bad day, a bad game and a bad result and so did not bother to turn up?

Saturday, September 8, 2007


I was at Lake Tisza in NE Hungary briefly, guiding a chap from the UK. We had a surprise day-time observation of a European beaver Castor fiber. It was swimming along a backwater and then climbed out briefly onto a bank. The European beaver is the continent's largest rodent, a stocky, robust mammal with short legs, webbed hind feet, a round head, long yellow teeth and, of course, a large flat tail. The tail is used as a horizontal rudder. Besides being mainly nocturnal, these aquatic rodents swim very low in the water, with the tail often submerged. There are not over common in Hungary but are increasing, especially on rivers in the NE and NW and SW. There have also been a few reintroductions as part of a WWF project. Beavers live in families of up to six individuals led by a pair of adults. Territories may be linear, along a stretch of river or channel, or based around a pond or lake. In some areas of Europe beavers have even colonised wetlands in urban areas. European beavers are now fairly common in the Baltic States and Poland in wooded lake-districts and wide river flood-plains lined with softwood trees like birch, willow and poplar. Further south they are not as widespread, inhabiting quieter rivers such as tributaries of the Danube in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia. I am running a trip to Poland next year (see post below this one) and it is almost certain that we will see beavers on that trip.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A tour to Poland

Some of you will know that I am often asked to guide birders and wildlife lovers in Eastern Europe. A destination that has been requested a lot recently is POLAND. So, after much thought, I have come up with an original itinerary for next year. If you are interested to hear more, or wish to join us, then get in touch. Here is a brief outline: POLAND - Autumn in the Polish Carpathians: Birds and Mammals: dates 25th - 30th October, 2008. 7 days, 6 nights. We will take in two fantastic areas in southern Poland: the Tatra and Bieszczady National Parks. We will focus on finding mammals (with chances of Wolf, Brown Bear, Lynx, Alpine Marmot, Chamoix, Elk, European Beaver, European Bison and others). Indeed, I will have a local tracker do some homework before our visit in order to increase our chances of finding these mammals. Special birds on this trip should include Pygmy & Ural Owls, Hazel Grouse, and woodpeckers such as White-backed and Three-toed. October is also a great month for photographers as many trees are covered in shades of reds, yellows and brown. It's a year away, but don't delay, I expect this exciting trip to fill up fast...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My NEW woodpecker BLOG

I have set up a new BLOG. I intend it to eventually replace my WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE website. I will be able to keep the blog fresh and it will save me time and expense. It will take a little time to sort it all out, but I hope that withinh a month it will be packed with info and nice photos of the Picidae from all over Europe. Please take a look and let me know what you think of it, and the idea. Here is the address:

Great Spotted... spotted

So I heard the usual tapping in the garden. I stepped onto the balcony to peer into the trees and there it was. But no, it was not him (or her), not my Syrian. Rather, it was a male Great Spotted Woodpecker. Four things: 1) You can't take anything for granted. 2) There is no difference in tapping (as in feeding action) between these species. 3) There are differences in drumming. 4) Both these species live side by side, share the same areas, habitats, they overlap... though some of the literature denies this... incorrectly.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Anvil, smithies, workshops

There is a new development in my local Syrian Woodpecker observations. The birds have wedged a walnut in a joint between two boughs on the biggest false acacia tree in the garden. This is known as an anvil (sometimes termed “workshop" or “smithy"). The anvil is a crevice or crack in a tree, log, post or even a wall, where woodpeckers wedge and process hard food items such as nuts, cones, fruit stones and large insects. Great Spotted, Syrian and possibly Green Woodpeckers use anvils. Nuthatches do this, too, but an important difference between anvils used by Nuthatches and those used by woodpeckers is that Nuthatches only use an anvil once, thus no piles of debris accumulate beneath it, whereas woodpeckers use favourite anvils repeatedly. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are unique in creating customised anvils to suit the food item regularly fed upon in an area. Anvils are often used for long periods hence debris, cones, nutshells, hard insect remains, accumulate beneath them. Sometimes trees with several crevices used as anvils are dotted with wedged cones and nuts and in winter take on a strange Christmas tree appearance. Beside walnuts, the stones of plums, almonds, cherries and apricots are often wedged in anvils by Syrian Woodpeckers.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Barking Mad

Went out into the forest for a fw hours, to check on a Black Woodpecker territory. I heard a couple of sudden, loud, barks in the forest. But not dogs... a Roe Deer. Both roe males (bucks) and females (does) bark and it always seems to sound sharper and louder on otherwise silent mornings. Like all deer this species has excellent senses of smell and hearing but their eyesight is a little suspect. Roe deer quickly spot movement but often stand and stare at stationary objects. It is always wise to keep still and silent when watching wildlife but especially so with Roe Deer which can be approached closely if the wind is blowing the right way. This is what I did, and I soon saw the buck that had barked, a fine animal with a rich chesnut coloured coat and sturdy little antlers.