Eastern Hungary and the Romanian region of Transylvania contain a fascinating diversity of habitats and offer some of the finest wildlife-watching in Europe. This exciting journey through the Hortobágy Plain, the Carpathian Mountains and the Zemplen Hills features a thrilling array of birds including Ural and Eagle Owl, Wallcreeper, Great Bustard, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker, Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Grey Shrike, Capercaillie, Nutcracker, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers and a roll-call of European warblers. Equally exciting is the prospect of seeing Brown Bears in Transylvania - the best place in Europe to observe these majestic creatures.


Great Bustard

Black-necked Grebe

Carpathian Brown Bear

Wallcreeper

Red-footed Falcon

Bee-eaters

Roller

Ural Owl

White-backed Woodpecker

Ortolan Bunting

Day 1 Saturday 6 May 2017

We depart London Heathrow in the morning on a scheduled British Airways flight to Budapest. On arrival in Budapest we'll meet our local guide and drive for about three hours to our hotel on the edge of the Hortobágy National Park. Optional birding in the afternoon before our welcome dinner. Two nights in the Hortobágy.

Day 2 Sunday 7 May 2017

We spend our first day in the southern fringes of the Hortobágy National Park to seek out the mighty Great Bustard. Even though females will be on nests, the huge males will still be conducting their brilliant 'turning-inside-out' displays. Hungarian Grey Long-horned Cattle and the strange Racka Sheep with their long twisted horns can be seen on the grasslands, recalling the atmosphere of the Asian steppe. Breeding Montagu's Harrier occur here and we will make a special effort to find the scarce Stone Curlew. Another speciality of this area is the Aquatic Warbler, which has its southernmost breeding outpost in the Hortobágy. Despite the global rarity of this species, the marshy meadow depressions in specific grasslands provide a summer home for hundreds of singing males. There are plenty of other birds to be seen including raptors, warblers, shrikes and buntings. Tawny Pipits are drawn to this area too and we should have little difficulty finding this large pallid pipit. After this introduction, we will no doubt be eagerly looking forward to our return to this superb region later in the week.

Day 3 Monday 8 May 2017

We travel east into Romania today. Our birding will start in the Bihar area where we will visit a reservoir which often has many interesting migrants plus Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Ferruginous Ducks and all three species of marsh tern: White-winged Black, Whiskered and Black Tern. All will be in their resplendent breeding plumage and are a fabulous spectacle to watch as they gracefully hawk insects on the wing. In this area we will also seek out the localised Ortolan Bunting. In the afternoon we will arrive in the tiny village of Torockó at the foot of the Szkelyk Mountain - a truly spectacular limestone valley in Transylvania. This World Heritage site is a great base to explore the surrounding hills. We will watch out for superb displays flight of the Rock Thrushes and enjoy a supporting cast of Woodlarks, Rock Buntings and Alpine Swifts. Golden Eagle is possible here and we'll also find both Lesser and Great Grey Shrikes breeding side by side - a unique experience! In the evening we will search for Eurasian Scops Owl. Overnight in Torockó.

Day 4 Tuesday 9 May 2017

After spending the morning birding in the Torockó area we head further east towards the higher mountains of Transylvania. Along the way we will stop and look for Crag Martin, which is a localised bird in Eastern Europe. We arrive at Szkelyudvarhely and in the afternoon look for Thrush Nightingale and visit the Szentpál Fishponds, another great birding area. Located along a superb migratory route, this tiny fishpond system boasts an impressive species list and previous visits have produced Purple Heron, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Great Snipe and Red-throated Pipit. This can also be a good time to find the gorgeous Citrine Wagtail, a very scarce migrant but one which is now seen annually here. Three nights near Szkelyudvarhely in Zetelaka.

Days 5 & 6 Wednesday 10 - Thursday 11 May 2017

Over the course of the next two days we explore a variety of habitats in this area. We visit the Hargita and Grgnyi Mountains and also visit the truly spectacular Bicaz Gorge. In the higher elevation coniferous forests we will look for the huge but elusive Capercaillie, for Hazel Grouse and also for Three-toed Woodpecker. We bird along the roads and clearings of the Carpathian pine forests where Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Nutcracker, Crested Tit and Firecrest are all common and will try our best to find Pygmy and Tengmalms Owls, though the latter is highly dependent on the food supply so we only have a chance in the 'good owl years'. Another star bird is the Red-breasted Flycatcher but the main avian attraction of this region is the beautiful and butterfly-like Wallcreeper. Sometimes it is not easy to find them on the huge surfaces of the limestone walls, but with patience, we will succeed! Each afternoon we head into the forests and start our approach to the Brown Bear hides. With the help of local foresters, we will select hides where we have the best possible chance to observe these magnificent but declining creatures in the wild. The population of Brown Bears in Transylvania is currently estimated at around 1800 individuals and as many as 20 inhabit the Hargita region. Being here at the very best time of the year greatly increases our chances of enjoying some superb encounters. As we wait for the bears to arrive before sunset, we may also see other forest creatures such as Wild Boar and Red Deer.

Day 7 Friday 12 May 2017

We begin our return journey across Transylvania taking a different route through the famous small town of Sighisoara. We'll visit the home-in-exile of Count Dracula, a 15th century Romanian ruler displaced by the invading Ottoman Turks, who gained a notorious reputation for bloodthirsty behaviour and was later the inspiration for the modern vampire legend! We continue the drive back towards Hungary and in the late afternoon we visit a superb wetland area just south of the Hortobágy in the Bihar region. Two nights in the Hortobágy.

Day 8 Saturday 13 May 2017

We'll spend the whole day in the Hortobágy National Park. Red-footed Falcons are special birds of the region which breed in colonies and use old nests previously occupied by Rooks! Rooks are declining across most of Europe but with the help of artificial nest boxes, the population of 'Red-foots' is on the increase in Hungary. Nearby fishpond systems will be brimming with birds. Open water attracts Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Garganey and Ferruginous Duck and the surrounding reed beds will be alive with the song of Great Reed, Savi's and Marsh Warblers. We'll also seek out the much rarer Moustached Warbler. Great White and Little Egrets, Spoonbills, Purple Herons, Night Herons, Squacco Herons, Bittern, Little Bittern and the Glossy Ibis all inhabit the reed beds and in the noisy cormorant colony we can observe the diminutive and highly localised Pygmy Cormorant. All three marsh tern species are possible at this time of the year and there are also great flocks of migrant shorebirds on the drained and freshly exposed mudflats. Collared Pratincoles, Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers and Temminck's Stints are all possible among the commoner species and with luck and patience we may see Little Crakes. The huge feeding flocks of shorebirds are frequently disturbed by raptors such as White-tailed Eagles, Peregrines and Sakers. While exploring the various wetlands we will also see Bearded and Penduline Tits and stunning Bluethroats are common. Nearby sand pits support breeding Bee-eaters while Hoopoe and Roller are also relatively common. The northern part of Hortobágy is a slightly different landscape with the steppe here having more patches of woodland. The grassland is full of Sousliks - the favourite rodent prey of Eastern Imperial Eagles, Sakers and Long-legged Buzzards. Northern Goshawk and White-tailed Eagles may appear above the forested patches and, with luck, even Lesser Spotted Eagle. We will also visit the Dinnys-lapos man-made wetland, where Common Cranes are now present almost throughout the year before rounding off an action-packed day by visiting a site for Long-eared Owl.

Day 9 Sunday 14 May 2017

This morning we transfer to the Zemplen area which is a quiet and beautifully forested landscape situated in the foothills of the Carpathians. The wonderful mosaic of small rounded peaks, forested slopes, beautiful valleys and rivers meandering through a countryside dotted with tiny villages creates an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. Oak and beech woods cloak the northern slopes, coniferous forests cover the tops, and the vineyards of the famous Tokaj wine stretch away out to the south. Dramatic Carpathian castles are a feature of the area and represent a transition between the medieval fortresses and the later baroque castles. In the protected tranquil old forests of the Zemplen lives the surprisingly small-eyed and long-tailed Ural Owl. Local knowledge is key and local guides will allow us to enjoy great views of this beautiful bird. This is also a fantastic area for woodpeckers with White-backed, Black, Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers all likely to be seen in the forest itself with Syrian and Green Woodpeckers and the amazingly cryptic Wryneck occurring on the fringes. Golden Orioles and dapper Collared Flycatchers are also present and we'll see Hawfinches around the clearings. We'll visit the floodplain meadows of the River Boron where Corncrakes will be 'rasping' and Barred, Icterine and River Warblers will be in full song. An abandoned quarry nearby is home to Eurasian Eagle Owl and Bee-eaters nest in the steep clay walls. This is a good area to see Black Stork and raptors are also abundant with Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Eastern Imperial Eagles as well as Honey Buzzard and Hobby on offer. To toast what will have been a remarkable trip we'll visit a cellar in the Tokaj World Heritage Area to taste the famous white wine of the same name, frequently called the wine of kings. Overnight in Komlska.

Day 10 Monday 15 May 2017

After a last morning birding in the Zemplen area we will travel back to Budapest to catch our afternoon flight back to London Heathrow.

 

Holiday Information 2017 Operating Dates

Sat 6th May

-

Mon 15th May

 

COST

£1995

 

Single Supplement

£150

 

DEPOSIT

£300

Group Size - maximum 12 travellers


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