Hungary has long been established as one of Europe’s top birdwatching destinations, but this beautiful land-locked country, at the heart of the continent, is less well known for its other wildlife treasures, in particular its butterflies. Although modern farming practices are on the increase, many areas are still farmed using a variety of low intensity, wildlife-friendly techniques, unchanged for generations. As a result butterflies still flourish and dancing clouds of these colourful sprites are still a common sight over flower-filled meadows and sunny woodland glades. Nearly 200 species occur here, well over three times the number to be found in Britain, and Hungary is sure to become a favourite with the lepidopterists amongst us, as it has already become with ornithologists. Indeed, it is one of the aims of this holiday, run in conjunction with Butterfly Conservation (to whose conservation fund 10% of the holiday cost will be donated), to raise the interest in butterflies overseas.
We begin our holiday with a flight to the nation’s capital, Budapest, a beautiful city that merits a few extra days for sightseeing prior to, or at the end of our tour, should you so wish. From here we travel to the Aggtelek National Park, which lies along Hungary’s border with Slovakia, about four hours’s drive from the capital. Aggtelek is situated within one of the most scenic parts of Hungary, a region rich in wildlife, history and folklore. Here, amongst a landscape which predominantly consists of rolling meadows that are still mown by hand and ploughed by horse, pretty villages lie scattered, together with patches of deciduous woodland, limestone karst and, along the River Bodva, damp water meadows. This diversity of habitats is home to a wealth of butterflies, as well as other fauna and flora, and we have our first three nights here to thoroughly explore the region in search of the numerous blues, whites, coppers, graylings, hairstreaks and fritillaries that abound. Species to look out for include Pallas’s Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Silver-washed Fritillary, Duke of Burgundy, Map Butterfly, Camberwell Beauty, Purple Emperor, Hungarian Glider, Dryad, Great Banded Grayling, Scarce Swallowtail and many, many others. The birdwatchers amongst us will no doubt keep an eye skyward in case a Goshawk or an Eastern Imperial or Short-toed Eagle should pass overhead whilst, at lower levels, such species as Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Woodlark and Rock Bunting may be seen.
Leaving Aggtelek National Park, we next drive the short distance to the Bükk National Park, our base for the final three nights of this holiday. The Bükk Hills lie at the southern edge of the Carpathians and rise gently from 300 metres above sea level to a maximum elevation of 960 metres. Although an upland area, most of our time will be spent exploring the deciduous woodlands and valleys in the lower reaches of the park and thus no strenuous walks will be necessary to fully appreciate this rich area. During our three full days here we will explore, amongst other areas, the Hoy Valley and the Nagymezo and Omassa regions of the Bükk Plateau. This is an extremely rich park for butterflies. Amongst the woods and over the flower-filled meadows and verges fly Scarce and Common Swallowtails, Wood Whites, Chestnut Heaths, both Brown and Purple Hairstreaks, Poplar Admirals, Large, Sooty and Purple-edged Coppers, Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Purple and Lesser Purple Emperors, Berger’s Clouded Yellows, and Chalk-hill, Short-tailed, Chequered, Turquoise and Reverdin’s Blues amongst many others. Woodland edges host Scarce Fritillaries and Black Hairstreaks whilst the Bükk’s fine old Beech woods are home to Camberwell Beauty and Hungarian Glider. The great Hungarian Plain begins at the foot of the Bükk Hills and we will also visit the grasslands and wetlands here in the hope of adding such species as Silver-studded Blue and Chapman’s Blue to our tally. For those with an interest in other wildlife, birds to look out for include Hawfinch, White-backed, Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, whilst dragonflies include Southern and Small Emerald Damselflies, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common and Migrant Hawkers, White-tailed Skimmer and Vagrant Darter.
This north-eastern region of Hungary is also famed for its full-bodied red and white wines, the fruity red Bull’s Blood being one of its more famous exports. There will be the opportunity to try some of Hungary's best over dinner each evening ... and perhaps raise a glass to the quality of the Magyar wildlife enjoyed during the week!
Another great trip with excellent leaders - extremely enthusiastic and helpful and never flagging, despite extremely hot weather.
One of my best trips ever.
Vic Tucker's knowledge of butterflies is phenomenal. How does he remember all the little variations in blues, fritillaries etc? ... Gerard Gorman's knowledge of all nature is truly amazing. His ability to mimic birdcalls has to be experienced to be believed.
Both Vic Tucker and Andras Schmidt were excellent - helpful and knowledgeable. The drivers were also good.
Hotels were comfortable. Good food, superb surroundings, very warm welcome. Both leaders knew every detail about the butterflies and were at pains to show good birds to those who were interested. Flexibility was necessary, but the sites chosen could hardly have been bettered. Vic Tucker’s knowledge of butterflies was mind-boggling. Andras Schmidt knew both butterflies and birds to an impressive extent. He was ably assisted by his wife, Ilona, and not-quite-7-year-old son, Richard, who caught two rare fritillaries for us. A word for our driver, Steve, who was much more than that: preparing lunch, helping people in and out of the coach, carrying luggage, and always smiling. This was a wonderful trip. My third holiday with Naturetrek - I certainly hope that it will not be the last.
Bukk Hills - Nomad Hotel - excellent. Very homely feeling with pretty rooms. The staff, especially Barbara, were most welcoming, friendly and helpful. Very good food. Marvellous breakfast buffet!
The participants ranged from expert to novice and Vic (co-leader) soon had us all working together, sharing knowledge and information. We certainly learned a great deal on the trip. The trip was a huge success. We were extremely lucky to have a week of unending sunshine. We were delighted to end with personal [butterfly photograph] totals of more than 70 species of which 40 plus were new to us. We will have no hesitation in recommending this trip to others.