A Hortobagy winter

After the somewhat disappointing trip to Vasterboten in January, i will be going to Hungary mid February to photograph White-Tailed Eagles from specially erected hides. These hides are located in the Hortobagy. The hortobagy is a vast, flat area, also called Steppe and is a national park since 1973. In 1999 it was elected among the World heritage sites.

The Hortobagy is very important for birds. More then 340 birds breed, rest and winter in the Hortobagy. Among them the impressive White tailed Eagle.

The hides will give me (hopefully) ample opportunities to photograph these majestic birds. The birds are lured with fish and generally more then 10 birds, both juveniles and adults, can be present!  Among other birds that can be expected are Common Buzzard, Raven, Hooded Crow and Goshawk.  

I will try and update my diary daily and i hope you will find it interesting.

White-Tailed Eagle (image courtesy Janos Olah)

Tuesday 19th of February 2013

For what ever reason British Airways decided to cancel the early morning flight to Budapest. Thank god, there was still space on the afternoon flight and as a little gift to myself, i decided to treat myself to a Club Europe seat!

The flight departed on time and after a 2 hours and 20 minutes flight, i arrived at Budapest airport. It was nice to see Arpad again, as he has ferried me many times to and from the Hortobagy. The journey from Budapest to the Hortobagy takes about 2 hours. 

Tomorrow i would spend my first full day in Eagle hide 1.  Arpad told me that this hide had been particularly good the last few weeks, with more then 10 White Tailed Eagles visiting regularly. The hide was built next to a little pond . 

Around 20.00 i arrive at the hotel. I am the only guest and after a quick bite to eat i am off to my room. Tomorrow around 05.00 Janos will pick me up and hopefully the fun will start!

Wednesday 20th of February 2013

By 05.00 i am on the road together with Janos, one of the warden's of the Hortobagy National park. After a 30 minute drive, we arrive at Eagle hide 1. It is a very comfortable hide. It is large, you can even stand in it and it has heating. As with many of the hides in Hungary you photograph through discrete glass. You will lose a stop of light but it works perfect. You can see the birds but the birds will not see you. Still you need to be careful. A black curtain separates the front window of the window on the side of the hide. This is needed in order not to spook the birds...without the black curtain they might see movement and fly off!

The weather is pretty good. Sunny, snow showers and some cloud. By 07.00 the first Eagle arrives. Still it is too dark to photograph but around 08.00 there is sufficient light and i count 10 White Tailed Eagles. Young ones, immature ones and mature birds.

I happily snap away. The eagles are not alone. There are various gull species, Rook, Jackdaw and Hooded Crow. The setting is beautiful and i love it when the Eagles are perched in the dead trees that line the small pond.

By lunchtime things quieten down a bit. The weather becomes a bit more cloudy as well. Still i am happily entertained by the other birds that have gathered around the pond. Later in the afternoon the Eagles return. I prefer it when the birds are perched. If they feed on the ground, they are often surrounded by Gulls, making it hard to get a clean shot. By the end of the afternoon, one eagle decided to spend some time along the shore line of the pond. It gives me some opportunities to photograph an Eagle without Gulls!

By 18.00 i am back in the hotel. It has been a super day. Tomorrow i will be spending time in the Passerine hide to photograph Hawfinch and other small bird species.

White Tailed Eagle in snowstorm

Thursday 21st of February 2013

A leisurely start of the day. Today i would be spending photographing the smaller birds from the passerine hide so no need to get up at 04.00. Instead i had breakfast and by 08.00 i was on the road to Debrecen together with Janos Olah, the very friendly owner of Saker Tours.

The weather was cold and foggy but by the time i was sitting in my comfortable hide, the weather started to clear up. Soon birds were flying in and out. Either to visit the bird feeder or to have a drink. The small pond was frozen but with a little bit of warm water, i was able to open it up. 

The particular hide is excellent for Hawfinch. This time of the year they start to return to their breeding grounds and the birds look fantastic in their plumage. I counted more then 25 birds and they gave me ample opportunity to photograph them from the hide.

Other birds visiting were the various Tit species, Blackbird, Great Spotted Woodpecker and much to my surprise; 4 Waxwings that came down to drink. I have photographed Waxwings before but never drinking! 

I also tried something a little bit different on the common bird species. I wanted to get 2 or 3 birds in one frame. This proved to be harder then i anticipated. Sometimes i was just too slow releasing the shutter, or the birds were sitting too close together, or one would just fly off....rather frustrating but at the end i managed some images.

By 16.00 Janos picked me up! Another fabulous day came to an end. Tomorrow my last day in the White tailed Eagle hide. Lets hope it will be as good as the first day!

Willow Tit and Blue Tit

 

Hawfinch

Friday 22nd of February 2013

Up at the crack of dawn again! It was snowing and it was very windy. Not good if you want to photograph Eagles. Eagles prefer to stay put when there is a lot of wind, so i could only hope and pray that they would show up!

Janos took me to the hide and by 05.30 i was ready for the arrival of the Eagles. By 07.00 the first Hooded Crows arrived, feasting on the fish and by 08.00 the first of 14 White Tailed Eagles arrived!

It turned out to be a fantastic day. The Eagles were flying in and out the whole morning and the added bonus of snow made it even more special!

There were also far more Hooded Crows and Rooks then the previous day. I tried things a little different this time and trailed my 600mm on the flying hooded Crows and Rooks. Their flight path is so unpredictable that it is really hard to track them. i did manage eventually to get some nice images of them. 

Still i prefer to have my White Tailed Eagles perched up in the dead trees that are positioned around the small pond. Photographing the eagles on the ground often ends up with an out of focus Hooded Crow, Rook or Gull in the frame!

This time i had the added bonus of some Hooded Crows in the same tree as the Eagle making the image just that little bit more special.

The day flew by and by 16.00 the Eagles had vanished to their roosting trees. The weather had changed, from snow it had turned into rain! 

I can honestly say that these 3 days have been really good for bird photography. The weather was very changeable with sun, snow and clouds but all the birds showed, which gave me great opportunities to get some nice images. Tomorrow, before i depart to London, i will try my luck on a large roost of Long Eared Owls. Whatever happens: i had a fantastic stay and i can really recommend this trip for anyone keen on some different bird images!

Fighting White Tailed Eagles

Saturday 23rd of February 2013

This morning there was no need to get up early! The intention was to, quickly, pay a visit to the roosting Long-Eared Owls in Balmazujvaros if the weather was reasonable. After the rain the evening before i was not too hopeful, but much to my surprise the weather was fine!

I had a leisurely breakfast and around 08.00 Arpad picked me up. i had just 20 minutes to spend with the owls. In a few tress along a small road were arond 20 birds roosting! Fantastic to see but as often with these birds; they are always obscured behind twigs. Still i managed to pull of some images and after 20 minutes Arpad and his trust Skoda stopped by to pick me up to go to Budapest, a 2 hour drive!

The trip back was uneventful and by the time we arrived at the airport it was raining steadily. No delays and after a smooth flight back, i arrived safe and sound at home!

This short trip was really excellent. I have been lucky in many ways. There were plenty of Eagles, the weather had everything in it, from snow showers, sun to rain and the smaller birds showed well, especially the Hawfinches and the added bonus of the fantastic Waxwings!

Long-Eared owl

 

A drinking Waxwing

 

Fact sheet White-Tailed Eagles in the Hortobagy, Hungary 2013

This short trip was booked through Saker tours in Debrecen, Hungary. I have been on various trips with them and they have all been well organized and the guides are top notch!

The cost for this short trip was approximately £800. This includes lodging, all meals, transfer to and from Budapest airport, usage of hides. It does not include alcoholic drinks but cost of a beer and a glass of wine is cheap!

The hides are very comfortable and have a basic heating system. It is important to know that you are not allowed to leave the White-Tailed Eagle hide till dusk! Days are long! You are in your hide by 05.30 and will be picked up around 17.00.

The hotel i stayed was Thermal Hotel Balmaz in Balmazujvaros. A comfortable hotel, quiet and room and food were of a good standard. The hotel also provides you with a packed lunch.

I flew with British Airways from London Heathrow. A return flight will cost approximately £250 for economy class. I flew business class, which was just £150 more.

The equipment i used in the hides were; Canon EOS1DX and Canon EOS5DMark3 with a 600mm, 70-300 and 2 converters. For snap shooting i used a Canon S100. A tripod is essential.

Feel free to contact me in case you have any questions or remarks.

 

The only hotel in the village

 

Me in the passerine hide