Friday, January 25, 2008

Ground Woodpecker

I will soon be off to South Africa. Everybody has told me that the wildlife, including the birds, are going to be fantastic. Folks have mentioned Elephants, Lions, Meerkats and all kinds of birds. The one I am most interested on is one they did not mention... Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus. I believe I have a decent chance of finding it in spots not too far from the Cape. I am not against bumping into the odd Ostrich or Secretary Bird, or even a Rhino, but woodies are my thing and terrestrial species like Ground Woodpecker are fascinating... as soon as I see one I will try to write it up and this blog...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

All go on the writing front

Yes, this is the time, winter, when I spend more time indoors, get a cold or the flu, and sit and write. As I have already mentioned the Mediterranean Islands book which includes my chapter on wildlife will be out soon. It will also soon be time to check the proofs for Central and Eastern European Wildlife, which is due out in July and, though I don't want to let the exact cat out of the bag just yet, I am also working on another title, I will give you a clue: it focuses on a bird, one of my favourites. But more on this later...

Monday, January 21, 2008


It is not as cold as it was, in fact a kind of false spring has arrived and all the snow has gone, at least in the lowlands. So got away for a day to the hills at the weekend, to the Zemplen. Ended up in Tokaj and after seeing my 4th Eastern Imperial Eagle, 7th Hen Harrier and about 99th Common Buzzard, decided to dive into one of the local wine cellars. The owner had some bottles of Tokaj Aszu that looked like they were 100 years old, covered in a fluffy down of fungi. In fact, they were from the 1960s. Great stuff, famous stuff, warming stuff. Not the stuff you get on a supermarket shelf, airport duty-free or even in a specialist wine-shop...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mediterranean Islands book

Last autumn I wrote a chapter on wildlife for a new book. Entitled Mediterranean Islands it is edited by Charles Arnold, with publication scheduled for this March. An accompanying wall map has already been published. It will be distributed by Portfolio Books Ltd (UK) in a new imprint also called Mediterranean Islands. The wildlife content includes an outline of the Med's mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and other fauna, with particular emphasis on the many island endemics.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Birding Eastern Europe

Take a look at this blog Birding Eastern Europe:
which deals specifically with birds, birding and birding tours in Eastern Europe. Countries covered range from Estonia and Poland by the Baltic in the north to Romania and Bulgaria by the Black Sea in the south, and just about everywhere in-between like Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. As many of you will know, there are some fantastic birds and great birding holiday destinations in these countries.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


This spring I will probably being taking part in a monitoring and mapping project for the Hungarian Ornithological Society backed by the Ministry of Environment and EU funding. I have offered to work on 6 woodland species: Black, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers and Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers. I may take on 3 selected areas, 1 each in the Borszony, Gerecse and Bukk hill ranges. This is all part of a nationwide project on bird distribution in Hungary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A thaw...

Well, the temperature rises a touch and I walk through the local park... no snow, no ice, just mud. A Syrian Woodpecker makes a few "chips" and there's suddenly lots of Hawfinches, calling from the tree tops. Now, where were they last week ?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Responsible travel, irresponsible comments

There is a UK-based company called "Responsible Travel". What they are trying to do is admirable, in a nutshell, they are encouraging "green", "low-impact", "responsible" tourism. But a fellow woodpecker enthusiast recently pointed me in the direction of this statement on their website, in a section on birdwatching Hungary:

"We work closely with the Bukk National Park and private forestry companies to ensure habitat protection for the White Backed Woodpecker and in the past 5 years we have seen a doubling of the population".

This is simply not true. I (and others here in Hungary) am quite certain that there has been no "doubling" of the White-backed Woodpecker "population" in the Bukk, nor indeed anywhere in Hungary in the last 5 years. Even if the Bukk's forests were managed specifically for this species (which is not the case), the habitat could not support such an increase in such a short period of time. I know the Bukk very well, and I know White-backed Woodpecker and its habitat requirements well (sorry to sound immodest) and some areas of the Bukk are good for this species, but statements like the one above are irresponsible. Once such opinions and claims get onto the internet, they go around, get repeated, and become enshrined as "fact". Now, if this species had indeed doubled in number in 5 years (which, I repeat, it has not), it would not exactly encourage foresters and forestry companies to change their management methods. In fact, it would allow them to state that everything they do is just perfect for such woodland birds and that there is no reason to change their forestry policy.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

C & E European Wildlife book

It's looking good. Here are on-line details and a preview of my next book which will be published in the UK by Bradt in July this year:
Central & Eastern European Wildlife: 1st Edition
160 pages · 160 colour photos · 15 maps
ISBN: 978 1 84162 231 1 (9781841622311)
ISBN: 1 84162 231 1 (1841622311)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Birds in the garden... just to clarify

A few blog entries ago I wrote that despite there being low temperatures and lots of snow, very few birds were visting our garden (backyard to my US friends)... well, I put out more seed, some on the table, some on the ground, and also some coconut and fat, and a few more have arrived. But not in the numbers I expected. Today a friend who lives nearby called me and said he read my blog and that he, too, had very few birds in his garden (yard). He lives about a mile away, if that. He was concerned. But I have to say, I do not go in for the doom and gloom approach, that some put forward when things do not go as expected on the bird front. The birds are not fewer in number overall here, no, not at all, I think they are just elsewhere. As he said, after our conversation, maybe they just went where "the cooking is better"...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

South Africa

I am trying to organise things for a trip to South Africa at the end of ths month. Though, as everyone knows, there are lot of big (and small) mammals there, and I am certainly going to try to see some, I am mostly keen on seeing the eight species of woodpecker that I believe are present. The one which has caught my imagination more than any other is Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceous. Does anyone know where I can download the calls of this species and the other woodpeckers in SA ? I looked around the net, but there does not seem to be anything...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Below Zero

Cold now, really cold. Below Zero. I think they might make a film and call it "Ice-station Budapest". Actually, it is freezing all over Central and Eastern Europe right now. A few birds have started to turn up in our garden, and take the sunflower seed I put out. Nothing unusual or rare, just the expected stuff. There are some goodies in the countryside though... a sprinkling of Red-breasted Geese, sea-ducks (yes, that's right sea-ducks) on the Danube here and there and the odd Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor. Most open waters are frozen. Great Bustards, being resident, are still viewable, though they must be having a hard time now.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thick snow now

Well, it has started to fall now. In came the New Year and down came the snow. I put out some seed yesterday for the birds, but no sign of anything. Where are they ? You think you know a thing or two and then you are dumbfounded. No passerines at all at the bird table. Most winters see a really good range in our garden. But so far this winter, it has been very poor.