Thursday, 28 February 2008

Destinations: Dobrudja - Romania & Bulgaria

Dobrudja (aka Dobrugea) is a large region that lies along the the Black Sea coast of eastern Romania and spread southwards into north-east Bulgaria. The northern border is the Danube Delta, the western the Danube. Much of Dobrudja is dry, rolling country, once mainly steppe, nowadays a mixture of steppe and vast croplands, with rather poor settlements scattered throughout. There are also some rugged, rocky hills and very birdy lakes and lagoons. Some deciduous woodlands, natural and planted, also dot the landscape here and there. All in all, this is a vast mosaic of birding opportunties. Dobrudja's breeding birds include Stone Curlew, Red-footed Falcon, Montagu's Harrier, Levant Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Quail, Roller, Lesser Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears and Short-toed and Crested Larks. In most years Rose-coloured Starlings invade and nest in noisy colonies. Reed fringed lagoons are home to Paddyfield Warbler, a decidedly "eastern" species that creeps into Europe here. From November through to March the region's vast fields of winter-wheat often attract flocks of Greater White-fronted and Red-breasted Geese.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Special birds: Pygmy Owl

Though just 16-18 cm in length (Eurasian) Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum is a feisty little predator that preys on small mammals and birds, sometimes birds as large as itself. It occurs fairly commonly in the north of the region, in mature coniferous and mixed forests in the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. South of here, it is less common, though it does occur in the Alps, Carpathians and Balkan ranges. It often nests in old woodpecker cavities and rarely uses nest-boxes to breed though it will use them as larders. The best periods to search for this species are spring and autumn, when they call at dawn and dusk. The most familar call is its "song", a piping series of notes not unlike that of a Bullfinch. In autumn an ascending shrill piping call is made which is sometimes called "the ladder" call.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Destinations: Lake Ferto - Hungary

This large shallow lake is perhaps more well known by its German name the Neusiedler See. Indeed much of the lake lies in Austria. The shores of the Hungarian part are less "developed" than the Austrian side with larger reedbeds, a result of having previously been right on the "Iron Curtain" and out-of-bounds. Common and Little Bitterns, Great White Egret, Purple Heron and Spoonbill all nest in this former "no-man's land". Bluethroat, Bearded Tit and Moustached, Savi's and Great Reed Warblers are all common, too. Breeding ducks include Shoveler and Ferruginous. In the south-west a road skirts the lake from Fertorakos through Balf to Hidegseg and being high above the areas gives panoramic views. Just south of Fertorakos a road runs westwards through reedbeds to a lakeside resort and here reed dwelling birds can be observed without having to enter the strict reserve. From Fertod a road heads north to Fertoujlak right on the Austrian border (things have changed, I was detained here in 1989). The salt marsh here called Mekszikopuszta is good for breeding Black-tailed Godwit and Kentish Plover and passage waders. The reedbeds are generally best from April to June though Moustached Warblers often stay around well into October. White Storks breed in villages and occur in groups around the lake, along with Black Stork, in August before migrating south. Autumn brings many 1000s of grey geese to the lake on passage with some staying on to winter. Bean Geese are the most numerous. Hen Harriers and Rough-legged Buzzards occur from October through to March.
Red-breasted Geese occur most winters and Short-eared Owls, sometimes parties of of up to a dozen, are possible in autumn on grasslands near the lake. The lake is around 210 km west of Budapest and about an hour by car from Vienna crossing the border at Klingenbach-Sopron. Most of the area is a National Park (Ferto-Hanság NP) with a Visitors' Centre, the Kócsagvár (Egret Castle), in Sarród. There are several marked paths and bicycle routes around the lake. New border crossings with Austria have been opened making exploration from there easier.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Tour Company Profile: Birdfinders

Birdfinders are based in Dorset, England and operated by keen birder Vaughan Ashby. They run birding tours to all corners of the globe including several Eastern European destinations. Birdfinders are also one of a growing number of tour companies that now offer the option of carbon offsetting for customers that fly with them. This year (2008) their week-long tour to Hungary is scheduled for May 17 - 24. Exciting birds seen on this tour itinerary last year included Pygmy Cormorant, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Great Bustard, Ural and Eagle Owls, Rose-coloured Starling and River, Aquatic and Barred Warblers. Follow this link for further details: Hungary in Spring

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Special birds: Common Crane

Common Cranes Grus grus breed in the Baltic States and Poland in large numbers. A few pairs also nest in the Czech Republic. They are fairly easy to find in the north of the region from April through to September. In autumn these large but graceful birds head south to wintering areas in North Africa and the Middle East and pass through and stop-off in all the countries highlighted in this blog. However, the greatest concentrations reside in eastern Hungary in October. In recent years over 100,000 Common Cranes have been counted in the Hortobagy National Park in late October where they rest on drained ponds and feed-up in surrounding farmlands and grasslands before moving on as winter proper arrives in November.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Destinations: Kiskunsag - Hungary

The Kiskunsag is a flat lowland region in eastern Hungary that lies between the Danube and Tisza rivers. It begins less than an hour SE of the capital by road. The town of Kecskemet lies at its heart and Szeged is to the south. Habitats include salt-lakes, marshes, fish-ponds, reedbeds, sandy dunes and large expanses of arable land and puszta (lowland grassland) dotted with robinia copses. The puszta can be wet or dry, depending on the year's rainfall, and with long grass or short, depending upon the grazing regime. Whatever, the region is good for birds all year round though all things considered, mid-late April (shorebird passage), May (summer visitors back), August (return migration) and October-November (wildfowl passage) are probably the best months to bird. There is a rich mix of wetland and grassland bird species and many, such as Great Bustard, are resident and can be found all year round. Other classic Kiskunsag birds include Kentish Plover, Collared Pratincole, Stone Curlew, Eurasian Roller, Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Grey Shrike and Whiskered Tern. In winter there are often a few Red-breasted Geese scattered amongst larger flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese. Several fragmented areas, including most of the salt-lakes along road 52, comprise the Kiskunsag National Park.