Hungary - 17th-20th March 2007

Published by Derek Charles (derek AT

Participants: Walter Veale, Garry Armstrong, Aidan G. Kelly, Andrew Crory, Derek Charles, Wilton Farrelly.



This short trip was primarily to see Lesser White-fronted Goose. It is difficult to see this species in Europe. Birds in Holland often associate with ‘foster' Barnacles or birds from the reintroduction scheme in Scandinavia. Travelling to see birds that you can be confident are genuinely wild is very difficult.

After some research, we decided upon a trip to eastern Hungary based upon:

The chances of birds been present and in accessible locations
The availability of a direct flight from Ireland
The availability of a quality local guide
The opportunity to see other quality species

The trip did not disappoint and highlights included:

Forty-four Lesser White-fronts at three different locations.
A raptor fest of over 500 birds and 11 species
Middle-spotted & Syrian Woodpeckers
Specialities such as Pygmy Cormorant and Saker.


The six participants were: Walter Veale, Garry Armstrong, Aidan G. Kelly, Andrew Crory, Derek Charles & Wilton Farrelly.

Travel & Guiding Arrangements

A direct flight from Dublin with Malev Airways arriving midday in Budapest. An evening return on the Tuesday meant that we had just over 3 full days birding.

We pre-arranged guiding and in-country travel with Saker Tours (website: , email: ). Their guide was Zoltán Ecsedi who was excellent. His local birding knowledge and experience allowed us to see all key species in a very short period of time. It would be difficult to see how you could visit the goose sites without local knowledge.

We based ourselves in the Hortobagy, staying at the Trofea Hunting Lodge. The Hortobagy area is huge with vast habitats.

Saker tours provided a minibus with driver.

The total trip cost including travel, guiding, accommodation and food was less than £400 per person. This was good value.


It is impossible to predict the weather when going on a trip to Hungary at this time of year. We arrived in temperatures of 19C and left at 3C but generally it was mild. It was also dry for three of the four days but at times very windy.

Sunrise was about 05:45 and sunset about 18:00 so there was plenty of time for birding.

Food & Accommodation

The food and accommodation was good as was the service at the Trofera Lodge. The starter for the second night of a cold fruit soup was the only food course we returned uneaten! The lodge is in its own small wood and has a small lake. The woods are worth an early morning walk.

During the day we birded, eating lunch on the move.


We based our travel on a ‘compromise’. Lesser White-fronts are seen in late winter in small numbers but are most likely to be seen in early to mid April but by then other winter visitors will have left. We decided on arriving on the 17th March (St. Patricks day!). When we arrived, nearly all other migratory geese (circa 60,000) had left on the 15th March, a date that is traditionally recognised as the date for spring beginning in the Hortobagy. This meant that we did miss other species target species such as Red-breasted Goose and Spotted Eagle.

Our itinerary and highlights were:


After arriving at Budapest airport we drove direct to Hortobagy. The three hour journey was uneventful with Crested Lark being the only non Irish species recorded. Upon reaching Hortobogy we stopped at a small pool by the side of the road. Eight, Garganey were a nice surprise among the Teal and Shoveler and large numbers of Ruff reminded us that finally we had arrived. The first of many Hen Harriers were seen over a distant field and just after we left the pool a Great Grey Shrike was spotted sitting on a wire. One surprise for all of us was the number of Great White Egrets in every suitable habitat. Over the next hour we counted 34 and we stopped counting them for the rest of the trip. No Little Egrets were seen during the whole trip with only small numbers of Grey Herons present.

In the fields our first Russian White-fronts were present and then out off nowhere a distant Eagle was spotted. We piled out of the bus and we duly recorded our first White Tailed Eagle. These birds are so impressive and soon a second bird joined the first. Walter spotted a Pygmy Cormorant in flight and as we had stopped beside a fishpond we had a quick look. Marsh Harrier was the first bird seen with 10 more Pygmy Cormorants fishing on the pool. Six, Spoonbill were in flight and Caspian Gulls flew past in one or twos.

We then headed to a field where Zoltan had seen 2 Lesser White Fronts the previous day. We searched through the flock of White-fronts for thirty minutes but no joy, then for the next hour or so we checked the surrounding areas. We searched through big flocks of Greylags, and White-fronts, but no Lessers. We were getting worried!

We checked the original flock again and after a frustrating fifteen minute wait Zoltan finally found one! Given a good view Lesser White-fronted Goose is an easy bird to identify, but when one is in long grass, sleeping or feeding then they are not easy to pick out but eventually everyone got a good view of this juvenile. Relief all round and we just had time to check a winter roost of Long Eared Owl nearby. Two birds were present and it was a great end to a long day.

Day 2

Everyone was up at the crack of dawn, 6am to be precise. We walked around the hotel lake and checked the adjoining small woodland. Five hundred Cranes honking nearby was the first surprise of the morning and a Great Grey Shrike posed briefly on top of a nearby bush lit up perfectly in the morning sunlight. A couple of Hawfinch atop a nearby tree was a welcome aversion to the commoner species present and Garry and Walter claimed to have seen a Brambling, which raised a few eyebrows!

After breakfast Zoltan collected us and we set off to a raptor watch point. Over the next hour or so we saw a distant Long Legged Buzzard, Hen Harriers, and Marsh Harriers, Sparrow hawks, Buzzards and best of all a pair of Saker. The male eventually took off hunting and flew right over our heads giving wonderful views of this powerful raptor.

We then headed to one of the Hortobagy Fishponds. On arrival we were greeted by the amazing sight of 5 White Tailed Eagles in the air together. It soon became apparent at least 20 birds were in the area. Zoltan told us that up to 100 birds wintered in the area - that would have been something to see. We made our way up to the hide and over the next few hours we added many water birds to the trip list. Highlights included Ferruginous Duck, Smew, hundreds of Black Necked Grebes, 2 Red Necked Grebes, Yellow Wagtail, 30+Caspian Gulls, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Penduline Tit, Garganey. The hoped for Lesser White-fronts never put in an appearance.

Back to the bus and back to the goose hunt but as we passed through a small village Wilton spotted a Woodpecker on a pole. We all jumped out of the minibus and eventually everyone was rewarded with good views of a Syrian Woodpecker which turned out to be the only positive sighting of the whole trip.

Further along we found a goose flock but this time no Lesser Whitefronts or so we thought because after half an hour Zoltan found the same Lesser Whitefront as yesterday and the bird showed extremely well at times. We were now happier! A White Stork in a field further down the road was the first spring migrant of the season but we didn’t stop as we were now looking for Bustards. After a long windy bumpy track we eventually came across 3 Great Bustards feeding. After a good look we left them to it and ended the day on another raptor watch. Highlight this time was 4/5 Rough Legged Buzzards giving excellent views sitting and in flight.

Day 3

The early morning walk round the hotel ground added four new species to the trip list, Blue Tit, Mistle Thrush, Black Redstart and Blackcap as well as good views of Hawfinches and Cranes.

Then it was into the minibus and an hours drive to a wooded area on the edge of Debrecen. We walked round this deciduous forest for the next couple of hours and it was Woodpecker heaven. We had stunning views of 3 Black Woodpeckers, an amazing bird. Four or five Middle Spotted Woodpeckers afforded close views as well, Great Spotted Woodpeckers meant we were able to compare the two species and eventually a Green Woodpecker perched long enough for everyone to get a view. The wood was full of Short-toed Treecreepers, Nuthatch and Marsh Tits and Yellowhammers on the edge of the wood were the only ones of the trip. This area was one of the highlights of the trip

Back to Hortabagy and we stopped near the territory of a pair off Long Legged Buzzards and soon on a distant barn a bird was spotted. It afforded good scope views but luckily another landed much closer and we got superb views of this majestic raptor. Whilst watching a Saker flew in low towards the Buzzards but tailed off as soon as he reached the edge of their territory. Further along we watched a Great Grey Shrike continually hover over the rough grass in its search for insects, interesting behaviour.

Then back to the goose hunt! We travelled over more rough tracks until we reached two pools. Garganey, Great White Egrets, Ruff etc were all spotted round the pool as well as two newly arrived Wood Sandpipers. A couple of Rough Legged Buzzards toured the surrounding areas but it was geese we were after! We soon located 4 Barnacle Geese, rare here but not for us boys from Ireland. Again after a lot of searching, Zoltan found a Lesser White Front. This time it was an adult bird. We had prolonged but distant views. We were happy to have found an adult but would have liked closer views.

We eventually moved on to another managed wetland nearby. This area was full of birds. Marsh Harriers were ever present and lark flocks of ducks, geese and waders were searched through. Two Bean Geese were found and debate centred on whether they were Tundra or Taiga (a debate we never resolved!). Aidan had a Spotted Redshank in flight and Golden Plover was a new bird for the trip. White tailed Eagles put everything to flight every now and then and a Yellow Wagtail passed overhead. Garganeys and Black Necked Grebes kept everyone interested. A flock of pipits turned out to be Water Pipits and they played hide and seek in the short grass and a Whimbrel whistling overhead was again the only one of the trip.

We finished the day at a drained Fishpond but our late arrival meant it was difficult to check everything in the fading light but again we managed new birds for the trip in the shape of a Shelduck and 80 Avocets!

Day 4

Due to an early start we only managed a brief walk round the grounds of the Hotel but still long enough for Garry to find a stunning Firecrest.

Zoltan arrived soon after and told us the exciting news that his friend had found a flock of 42 Lesser White-fronted Geese! No surprises were we headed and an hour later we were looking at the birds. They were on their own so posed no id problems and we had good views. This was the target species of the trip and the numbers in this flock had surpassed our expectations.

One bird had a radio transmitter and their progress can be followed here.

We reluctantly moved on to one of the nearby Fishponds. This pond was home to a colony off Pygmy Cormorants and from the hide we could watch birds flying in and out. Also in the colony were nesting Spoonbills and a passing White Tailed Eagle put up two Night Herons. From the watch point Bearded Tits, Savis Warbler, Moustached Warblers and Penduline Tits could be heard but due to the high winds getting good views of them were not easy, but eventually most people had views of at least some of the species. On the lake Ferruginous Duck and Caspian Gulls were the main highlights and in the goose flock nearby another Barnacle Goose was found.

Then it was time to leave the Hortobagy and head back to Budapest. On our way out of the area Marsh Harriers, Hen Harriers and Buzzards could still be seen. After an hour we stopped at an area with an Imperial Eagle nest site but due to poor weather we had no luck so with one last throw of the dice we visited another nest site but on arrival, again no luck, the nest was empty. However Walter spotted a lot off commotion and lo and behold not one or two but three Eastern Imperial Eagles appeared at the far end of the field! An amazing end to a great trip!

Species Lists

A summary of the birds seen is given below; listed in the order which they were seen. Some of the species we recorded as Rare are much more common in Hungary at other times in the year.

Magpie Common
Woodpigeon Common
Hooded crow Common
Crested lark Scarce Small numbers seen
Lapwing Common Often seen with Starling flocks
Collared Dove Common
Pheasant Common
Black Headed Gull Common Only small gull seen
Starling Very Common
Kestrel Common
Buzzard Very Common Seemingly a pair in every large field
Raven Scarce
Goldfinch Common
Mallard Common
House Sparrow Common
Mute Swan Scarce
Rook Abundant
Coot Very Common
Fieldfare Common
Great Grey Shrike Scarce At least 10 seen during trip
Great White Egret Common Surprisingly common in every suitable area
Garganey Locally Common Over 50 seen at three sites
Teal Common
Ruff Common
Shovelor Common
Hen Harrier Locally Common Over 30 seen
White Fronted goose. Common
White Tailed Eagle Locally Common At least 30 seen
Pochard Common
Marsh Harrier Very Common Over 100 seen
Black Tailed Godwit Scarce Only seen at 3 sites
Cormorant Common
Pygmy Cormorant Scarce away from breeding colony 100 Pairs at breeding colony only small numbers elsewhere
Spoonbill Same as above species Same as above species
Caspian Gull Localised Around 50 seen mostly 1st winters
Snipe Locally common
Green Sandpiper Rare 5 birds seen
White Wagtail Locally common
Common Gull Scarce Small numbers in flocks of Black Headed Gulls
Ringed Plover Rare 3 birds seen
Stonechat Very Common
Lesser White Fronted Goose Rare 44 seen. One flock of 42 birds and two singles
Long Eared Owl Rare 2 at roost, including one calling
Blackbird Common
Great Tit Locally Common A few seen round the hotel
Dunnock Common
Chaffinch Common
Skylark Common
Robin Common
Crane Common Over 1000 seen either in fields or flying
Tree Sparrow Very Common
Wren Rare Only one seen in hotel grounds
Goldcrest Common Seen round hotel
Chiffchaff Rare Two birds singing near hotel
Song thrush Very Common
Greenfinch Common
Hawfinch Locally common Seen at Hotel and Woodpecker site
Redwing Rare Only a few seen/heard
Long tailed tit Rare Two or three in hotel grounds
Brambling Rare Like the above two or three seen near hotel
Sparrowhawk Uncommon 4/5 birds seen
Corn bunting Common
Jackdaw Common
Long Legged Buzzard Rare 3 / 4 birds seen
Saker Rare 3 / 4 birds seen
Blue tit Locally Common Seen round hotel
Ferruginous duck Uncommon 7/8 at 2 localities
Tufted Duck Common Seen at the fishponds
Goldeneye Common Seen at fishponds
Smew Rare 4/5 seen at fishponds
Scaup Uncommon Small numbers at fishponds
Black Necked Grebe Very Common Seen at fishponds
Red necked grebe Rare 2 birds at fishponds
Great crested grebe Common Seen at fishponds
Grey Heron Common Second commonest heron after great white
Penduline Tit Rare One or two seen, larger numbers heard but not seen in windy conditions
Peregrine Falcon Uncommon 3 / 4 birds
Reed bunting Common Seen near reed beds/fishponds
Water rail Uncommon Several heard at fishponds
Gadwall Common Seen at Fishponds
Pintail Uncommon Small numbers at Fishponds
Wigeon Common Seen at Fishponds
Curlew Fairly Common
Redshank Common
Dunlin Common
Yellow wagtail Rare 2 birds seen, newly arrived migrants
Yellow legged gull Rare 1stw seen at fishponds
Syrian woodpecker Rare 1 bird seen in a village
White stork Rare 2 newly arrived migrants seen
Great bustard Rare 3 birds
Rough legged buzzard Uncommon About 15 birds seen
Blue tit Locally common Seen near hotel
Mistle thrush Rare Only one bird seen, near hotel
Black Redstart Rare 2 birds near hotel
Blackcap Rare 1 / 2 in woods near hotel
Short toed treecreeper Locally common 5 / 6 birds in small wood
Black Woodpecker Rare 3 birds seen
Great Spotted Woodpecker Locally common 4 / 5 birds seen in “woodpecker wood”
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Locally common 4 / 5 birds seen in same wood as above
Nuthatch Locally common Same as above 2 species
Marsh Tit Locally common Again same as above
Yellowhammer Rare 2 / 3 birds on edge of forest
Green Woodpecker Rare 1 / 2 birds seen, more heard
Wood Sandpiper Rare 2 newly arrived migrants
Barnacle Goose Rare 5 birds recorded
Meadow Pipit Locally common
Bean Goose Rare Surprisingly only 2 recorded
Spotted Redshank Rare One bird in flight
Golden Plover Uncommon
Water Pipit Locally common 5 / birds at one marsh
Shelduck Rare Just recorded at drained fishpond
Avocet Locally common
Firecrest Rare One bird seen near hotel
Linnet Locally common
Moustached Warbler Rare A few heard and seen at fishponds
Savis Warbler Rare One bird heard singing
Night Heron Rare Two birds at fishponds flushed by WT Eagle
Whimberal Rare Just one migrant recorded
Eastern Imperial Eagle Rare 3 birds seen, the last birds of the trip