This summer tour to Hungary concentrates on two of the country’s very best national parks, the Bükk and the Hortobágy. The latter will already be familiar to many Naturetrek travellers as one of Europe’s finest bird areas and the centre-piece of our spring and autumn tours. For this holiday, however, we visit in August, when warm weather is the norm, when many butterflies and dragonflies are on the wing, and when Hungary’s breeding birds are supplemented by return passage birds from northern Europe.
Our holiday begins with a flight to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. From here we drive to the Bükk National Park in the north-east of the country and stay for three nights on the edge of a small, quiet village surrounded by flower-filled orchards and vineyards. Our hotel has its own grounds, complete with woodpeckers and Hawfinches, and an adjacent lane lined with fruit trees that attracts both birds and butterflies. The Bükk is an upland area, comprised mainly of forested hills which, in effect, are the foothills of the Carpathians. The region was given national park status in 1976 in order to protect its geological (including many cave systems), archaeological, historical (several castle ruins), floral and faunal treasures. The hills rise gently from some 300 metres above sea level to a maximum height of 960 metres, so no strenuous walks will be necessary to fully appreciate this rich area.
Most of our time here will be spent in the southern Bükk, where we will explore the mixed hornbeam-oak forests, fine old beech woods, oak-dotted pastures, rocky dolomite-limestone slopes and hand-managed vineyards that all create such a diverse patchwork of habitats. This is one of Hungary’s most famed wine producing areas — the red, fruity Bull’s Blood being one of its more famous exports. The flower-laden southern slopes of the Bükk are also blessed with a good range of butterflies. Various whites, yellows, blues, coppers, skippers, graylings and fritillaries are to be found here, including clouds of Silver-washed Fritillaries. The forests and hills of the Bukk are also home to a wide diversity of birdlife. Raptors such as Eastern Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Goshawk and Honey Buzzard soar on rising thermals and in August are often seen in the company of their newly fledged young. The forests are also excellent for woodpeckers, indeed up to nine species may be seen on this tour including Black, Grey-headed, White-backed and Syrian Woodpeckers.
The second part of our holiday focuses on the famous Hortobágy National Park. This flat region lies at the north of the Great Hungarian Plain and is typified by grazed steppe-grasslands (the so-called puszta), marshes, fish-pond systems, Robinia copses and farmland. August is one of the very best months in the year to visit; at this season the already phenomenal birdlife here is joined by wildfowl, waders and raptors from the north and east crossing and loitering in the area as they move southwards on migration. Each day we will explore the very best habitats in search of the region’s specialties. Wetlands hold Pygmy Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, numerous herons, crakes and grebes, Spoonbill, Black Stork, White-tailed Eagle, Ferruginous Duck, all three ‘marsh terns’, Penduline Tit and many others. Drained fish-ponds attract flocks of migrating waders. Dragonflies such as Southern Emerald, Small Emerald and Blue-tailed Damselflies, Southern Migrant Hawker, White-tailed Skimmer, and Ruddy, Vagrant and Southern Darters will be on the wing.
The puszta is home to parties of Great Bustard, Stone Curlew, Common Crane, Tawny Pipit and hunting raptors such as Long-legged Buzzard, Saker and Red-footed Falcon, whilst roadside wires provide perches for Rollers, Bee-eaters, Lesser Grey Shrikes and Corn Buntings amongst others. Endearing colonies of European Souslik (a small ground squirrel) are also common here and are a favoured prey of the larger species of raptor. During our stay, we will be based near Lake Tisza. Here, bird passage will be in full swing, dragonflies will be hawking over the lily-pads and butterflies feeding on the grassy banks. There is much to see, and we are sure to encounter some of the region’s traditional livestock — Mangalica Pigs, Racka Sheep and Hungarian Grey Cattle, often tended by shepherds with ‘puli’ dogs. Indeed, this itinerary has been specifically designed to take in the very best of Hungary’s hill and plain landscapes and habitats, folklore, cuisine and wildlife and is sure to remain in the memory a long while after we return to Budapest to catch our flight home.
The trip was excellent - largely due to the expertise of the trip leaders, in particular the local expert, Gerard Gorman. The quality of wildlife sightings was really good and very well interpreted.
Hungary was a very pleasant, interesting country to visit. Our itinerary was good, our first hotel was very good, comfortable, friendly and served excellent food. Gerard Gorman was an excellent bird leader.
We were made very welcome. The food was excellent, especially the variety in the evenings. The leaders were extremely knowledgeable, but can pass this on in such a way that it was riveting and easy to understand; they took care to ensure we all saw as much as possible. The driver was excellent and I felt completely safe at all times. All in all, I could not have wished for more.
The leader knew where the group would have the greatest chance of seeing the rarer birds and took us to these places. He made sure that everyone in the group saw as much as possible. I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and would like to thank both the Naturetrek staff and Gerard Gorman for their hard work.
I would like to express my absolute pleasure with the organisation and expertise of everyone involved in this holiday. A special mention must be made of your leader Vic Tucker, who showed extreme skills in identifying the birds, often from great distance. He was professional, communicative and above all, down to earth. I feel privileged that I was in the company of this man during the holiday, and can state with all sincerity, that he is a superb representative for your company, and I will be booking with Naturetrek again in the near future.
Thanks for a brilliant experience.