Friday, November 30, 2007

Polish Mountains

I have just got back from a 5 day trip around two of Poland's most impressive mountain ranges. The Bieszczady Mountains in the very south-east of Poland are remote, in a cul-de-sac, with Slovakia to the south and the Ukraine to the east. This is a poor region, with fine forests of beech and spruce. I travelled for 2 days here with 3 Polish friends and saw Ural Owl, Nutcracker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Crested Tit, and followed fresh Brown Bear tracks through the snow to a sleeping place beneath a spruce. The bear was not at home, but fresh dung and prints in the snow showed he was not far away. Then it was on to the High Tatras, by a round-about route through Slovakia, as the road we wanted to take was blocked with snow. And it did snow... a bit earlier than expected, several weeks earlier than usual. The next day the snow stopped and the high rocky peaks became visable and looked stunning from our cosy lodge in the valley below. We walked for most of the day being passed by two tourists who had decided to take the easy option... pulled along in a horse drawn sleigh! On our final day we walked over the frozen Orawa peatbog just to the east of the high peaks, and my expert companions found the tracks of roe deer, brown hare, wolf and black grouse. All in all, a wonderful winter adventure.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wildlife on Mediterranean Islands

I have written a chapter on wildlife for a forthcoming book on MEDITERRANEAN ISLANDS. The book is due out in March 2008, published by Portfolio Books Ltd, UK. There is a fascinating blend of wildlife, including mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects, inhabiting the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Many species found on mainland Europe also occur on these islands but, living as they have in splendid isolation, some animals have evolved into distinct island races, whilst others have gone a step further and become endemic (unique to a particularly area) species found nowhere else on the planet. My main experience of Med island wildlife is from Sicily and the Greek and Croatia islands, where there are some wonderful reptiles and often very good birding. Look out for this book after the New Year!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Up-dates to my woodpecker blog

I'd just like to say that after a few weeks of neglect, I am now once again adding topics and photos, including Quiz Woodpeckers, to my woodpecker blog. Please take a look...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Football and Woodpeckers.... again!

I took my oldest lad to his football ("soccer" to you US birder friends of mine) game in a town just south of Budapest. As we got out of the car in a suburban street I heard a Syrian Woodpecker calling. He went off to get changed and I wandered about. Just before kick-off I heard the bird again, and then saw it fly into a large poplar tree by the pitch. It was then joined by another and they both had a bit of a dispute, all the while calling. Two birds for sure, maybe three. It seems that football grounds are prime Syrian Woodpecker habitat here in Hungary... By the way, the game ended 3-4, my son's team winning in a thriller, with him scoring 2 and winning a penalty, too :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wet and cold... but birds

Today was a cold and rainy day in the Apaj area, SE of Budapest. I took aUK birder around, our main target being Great Bustards. We got those, at 3 sites, including a dozen males flying by like jumbo jets... if you know what I mean. We explored the grasslands and fish-ponds seeing Water Rail, Great Grey Shrikes, lots of Hen Harriers, a White-tailed Eagle, lots of Great White Egrets, a very late Little Egret, big flocks of Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and Fieldfares, etc, etc. At the end of the day we visited a roost of Long-eared Owls in the south of Budapest... 3 in one tree, 12 in another, probably even more there... and a very obliging female Syrian Woodpecker by the Danube. Yes, it was cold and wet, but quality birds are still around.

Friday, November 16, 2007

After a break... he is back

No, not me, the local Strian Woodpecker... I have not heard him for a while hereabouts. He - and she for that matter - has not been in our garden recently. Then yesterday, while bringing in the post, I heard him call at the back. A few of those squeaky chips. I will be putting out some fat with nuts for to entice them into the garden more this winter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Woodpecker blog

A note for those of you who look at my woodpecker blog... as you may have noticed, I have not up-dated it recently. Well, October and early November was a very busy time for me, mostly guiding birders, so I just did not have the time. In the next few weeks I will be dealing with it more... adding photos and text.

Monday, November 12, 2007

February birding break 2008

My birding tour to Romania in August next year is fully subscribed, as is my trip to Poland in October. There are a few places however on my budget short birding break to Hungary from February 14-17, 2008. This short tour takes in the Kiskunsag region and lakes and woods in Transdanubia. We will focus on finding geese (Red-breasted Goose possible), raptors (Saker highly likely), woodpeckers (8 species possible) and, with a little luck, Wallcreeper. One or two of these sought-after birds usually winter. If all this tempts you, then get in touch!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Last Frogs

Well, no need to panic! I don't mean the last frogs on the planet. No, I am not talking about extinctions here, just the frogs that I have seen recently, the last ones before they all hibernate for the winter. A few days ago I saw a rather lethargic European Tree Frog, crawling along a fish-pond dyke. Then a couple of slow Agile Frogs. Unusual that, I mean the "slow" bit. Agile Frogs are, as their name suggests, rather agile, with long legs and are great leapers and hence often hard to catch. But for some days now I have neither heard, nor seen any amphibians at all. Hopefully they are now all tucked up nicely in their sleeping quarters. I look forward to seeing them in the New Year!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Red-breasted Goose

Another tour completed, and did my 4x4 come in useful ? You bet it did. We managed to get off-road and slide our way round the farmlands and fish-ponds of the Hortobagy, saving miles of muddy walking, and we did NOT get stuck! Just took the vehicle through the car-wash and they were NOT that happy! The rewards were Sakers, Eastern Imperial Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards and lots of geese. The highlight of the week for Tony and Bob from the UK, was a superb White-backed Woodpecker at close range, after a lot of searching. For me, it was my first Red-breasted Goose of the autumn, swimming along with Greylags (which dwarfed it) at 200 yards range. This attractive little goose is now being spotted around the country, in small numbers.