Crane show in Hortobágy National Park or no Blackbirds in Hungary

Friday – Sunday, October 4 – 6, 2013

Also this year we have chosen for the visit of the Hortobágy National Park the first October weekend. And as the three days spent in the Hungarian puszta revealed, it was a good decision.

During the bus ride we checked the number of species recorded in previous years. In 2011 we observed 49 species of birds, in 2012 it was 86 species. The criteria of listing were as usual; the species have to be observed at least by two participants and it have to be in Hungary. Each participant gives a tip, how many species he/she thinks we will see. The one who hits the tip exactly or his/hers tip is the closest to the final number is the winner. Especially towards the end of the trip there is a rush for finding more species, particularly among those with high tips. Last year we tried to observe Blackbird, a fairly common species, which as we found out, was not on our list in the end of our trip. Despite the involvement of all participants, we failed to spot him. As it turned out later, it was neither observed in 2011. The more we were curious if we will finally manage to record it during our visit of the Hungarian puszta this time.

As soon as we joined the highway, on the field nearby we spotted a flock of approximately 35 Great Bustards (Otis tarda). We could not include them to our list, because we were still in Slovakia.

During our drive we saw White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), flocks of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a number of Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo), or the highway lovers – Magpies (Pica pica) and Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) and House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) during our rest stops. Shortly before our destination we saw soaring Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca).

On the first evening we went to observe cranes. We moved to the site in the northern part of the park, prepared our spotting scopes and waited. In the beginning the surrounding country was quiet, but with declining sun objects of our interest started slowly to move. At first only smaller flocks began to appear over our heads, but as it was getting dark, flocks of cranes were bigger and also started to call loudly. Just before our departure, when it was already cold, flocks flew around us on every side, even relatively low over our heads. According to the different calls we could clearly recognize adults and juveniles. In addition to cranes there were also flocks of geese flying over our heads.

Common Cranes flying to fishponds / žeriavy popolavé tiahnúce na svoje nocoviská - Ján Dobšovič

On the second day before breakfast a few hardy participants took a walk in the surroundings of our accommodation. They observed Teals (Anas crecca), Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), a large flock of Jackdaws (Coloeus monedula) and Rooks (Corvus frugileus) and also cranes flying from their roosting places in to the steppe. They also observed Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis), Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) and Stock Dove (Columba oenas).

After breakfast we went for a walk into the puszta to one of the three areas ​​available to public. Then we visited the village of Hortobágy with its famous landmarks – ninearched bridge and Hortobágy csárda Road Inn, reportedly the oldest building in the puszta. We had a chance to visit the National Park Information Centre, Herdsmen Museum, exhibition of traditional crafts, birds in the aviary of the local rehabilitation station, craft markets or took a picture of sculptures showing local rural people. Before lunch we moved to a nearby ZOO, where they keep local breeds of domestic animals. Every year at this time there is a fair of Hungarian gray cattle bulls. So besides traditional breeds such as raczka sheep, mangalitsa pig or exotic-looking water buffalo we could also see the demonstrations of bulls and bidding on their price. After lunch at the famous Hortobágy csárda Road Inn we moved to another area to public – the false acacia forest, which is a home to colony of Rooks and Red-footed Falcons. At this time of year we did not see them here, but we were able to admire one peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) flying over our heads.

Bulls for sale / Býky určené na predaj - Ján Dobšovič

Our main aim this day were the fishponds of the National Park. We took a local narrow-gauged railway to to last pond, called Kondás. At the time of our visit, around 20,000 Common Cranes (Grus grus) spent night at this fishpond. Before their arrival we checked the ponds and their surroundings for birds from the observation towers. Among other species we observed 4 White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus), Curlews (Numenius arquata), 15 Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) and 20 Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erytropus). We saw also one Red Fox smelling about for prey on the muddy shore of the fishpond. Then we moved to the wooden path and hides at the edge of water. Cranes slowly began to appear. First only in small flocks, but soon a fantastic show started. Cranes flew from all directions. With loud calls they landed on the fishpond and took off again to fly around a bit and than to do it again. After sunset we almost could not see them but their voices were heard all the way to the train station from which the train drove us back in the dark.

At fishponds / Na rybníkoch - Ján Dobšovič

On Sunday, our program started again with the walk around our accommodation. We saw several flocks of geese, snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and of course the cranes. After breakfast, we have moved to the lakes on the River Tisa. Cranes sad goodbye to us feeding on the field by the road as we were leaving the puszta. Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus), Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) and Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) were added to our species list at the lakes. Our last stop was the ekocentrum in Poroszló. We could admire their impressive aquariums focused on local fish species, the exposition of reptiles and amphibians, area maps and climb up to the observation tower overlooking the surroundings. During our visit we also had the opportunity to watch the feeding of the otters, an attraction for visitors.

Aquariums in Porozsló ecocenter / Akváriá v ekocentre v Porozsló - Ján Dobšovič

After our last stop, we set off to Bratislava. The weather was very good during the whole trip and besides cold mornings days were sunny and warm. We were most pleased by cranes, which we observed in large numbers. And since we were not successful in observing Blackbird, we are already looking for the next year, which will surely be focused besides cranes also on searching for this maybe at a first glance common bird. We would like to express our thanks to all participants of this trip for a lovely company, to our guide Richard and last but not least to the Swarovski Optik company for the providing of binoculars and spotting scope.

The numbers of Common Cranes counted at Hortobágy during our visits in years 2011, 2012 a 2013 (according to
3.10.2013 85 500
4.10.2012 31 860
6.10.2011 90 860

List of observed species (74):
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
Greylag Goose (Anser anser)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata / Spatula clypeata)
Teal (Anas crecca)
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis / Podiceps ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Great Egret (Ardea alba / Egretta alba)
Pygmy Cormorant (Microcarbo pygmeus / Phalacrocorax pygmeus)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Coot (Fulica atra)
Common Crane (Grus grus)
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Curlew (Numenius arquata)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus / Larus ridibundus)
large gull (Larus cachinnans/michahellis)
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)
Stock Dove (Columba oenas)
Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus / Picoides syriacus)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major / Picoides major)
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Common Magpie (Pica pica)
Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula / Corvus monedula)
Rook (Corvus frugilegus)
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus / Parus caeruleus)
Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus)
Bearded Reeding (Panurus biarmicus)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Common Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
House Martin (Delichon urbicum / Delichon urbica)
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
unidentified warbler (Acrocephalus sp.)
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola / Saxicola torquata)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra / Miliaria calandra)
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Great Bustard (Otis tarda) – in Slovakia

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