Colonies of Red-footed Falcons will be keeping our cameras busy. Photo: Stuart Elsom
Hungary is incredibly rich in habitats that have all but disappeared from the rest of Europe, and as such has much to offer the visiting photographer. It is here that the vast Asian steppe reaches its western border. This once-continuous sea of grass, lakes and marshes was the stage for some momentous historical events. Surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, Hungary lies within the huge Carpathian Basin, with an amazing variety of habitats ranging from wet meadows, alkaline marshes and steppes, to extensive oak, beech, and evergreen woodlands, limestone slopes, and volcanic hills. A unique fragment of this habitat can still be found in the Kiskunsag National Park, south of Budapest, and the Bükk National Park in the north.
This two-centre tour encompasses these two very different habitats. The Kiskunsag, where magnificent Great Bustards still roam across the steppe and the huge wide-open skies are the domain of much sought-after raptors such as Saker, Long-legged Buzzard, and White-tailed Eagle. Mid-tour we move from those photogenic grasslands of the Kiskunsag to experience a dramatic change when we turn our attention to the stunning foothills of the Carpathian mountains and the Bükk National Park along the border with Slovakia. This quiet landscape of low hills, forested slopes, beautiful valleys, and meandering rivers is dotted with smallholdings, villages and fine castles which combine to create unforgettable images of peace and tranquility. Here we can find some very special birds, including the massive Eastern Imperial Eagle, Ural and possibly even Eagle Owls, up to nine species of woodpecker, and a host of passerines including Collared Flycatcher and Hawfinch. With low intensity agricultural methods still in use, along with horses working the fields, we will be ideally-positioned to capture memorable images created by flower-filled meadows, marvellous scenery and fascinating local culture.
Our Photographic tours are designed for both beginners and more experienced photographers alike. They run to a more flexible itinerary than one of our straightforward birdwatching tours, and we do not try to obtain snaps of a long list of species but rather concentrate on obtaining stunning images of the wildlife we encounter. This may often mean we spend long periods with just a few subjects.
All photographic tours are accompanied by Stuart Elsom LRPS, who was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Distinction in 2011. Stuart, who delivers training on nature photography and bird identification for The Royal Society of Biology, will be on hand throughout the tour to offer group or one to one tuition on all aspects of wildlife photography.
Sunbird Photographic Tours are also suitable for non-photographers or for those who require a more relaxed pace and less rigid itinerary. The tour will include evening sessions on photographic techniques or image critique workshops which are of course optional. If you have any queries about any aspect of our Photographic Tours please contact the Sunbird Office who can forward your query to Stuart.
Day 1: Our tour starts in London with a flight to Budapest from where we’ll drive for less than 100kms to Kondor EcoLodge, right in the heart of Kiskunsag National Park and our base for six nights. Within minutes of our arrival we could be watching Rollers and Lesser Grey Shrike while after dinner Scops Owl and Nightjar in display-flight could bring our day to a close. Night at Kondor EcoLodge.
Days 2 - 6: On our pre-breakfast walks around the garden we’re likely to see breeding birds such as Common and Black Redstarts, Red-backed Shrike and Spotted Flycatchers, with Golden Oriole and Hoopoe nearby. Non-avian species around our lodge could include Red Squirrel and European Souslik, with highly-prized butterflies such as Cardinal, Lesser Fiery and Large Copper, Queen of Spain, and Knapweed Fritillary, Mazarine Blue, Hungarian Skipper and Black-veined White are all possible.
During our stay, we’ll take excursions out each day to see the typically flat, Steppe grassland plains of the puszta. This is home to a vast array of highly-desired Eastern European species including Saker Falcon, Great Bustard, Pygmy Cormorant, and Collared Pratincole. While these species are shy and not prone to psing for the camera, the same could not be said for the colonies of Red-footed Falcons, and the numerous nesting Rollers and Bee-eater colonies, which often nest low down in the sandy roadside verges, and have a habit of sitting up in prominent positions, as do the smart Lesser Grey Shrikes that breed here. Besides the birds there may be stunning Sand and Green Lizards posing for the camera and butterflies could also include Green-underside Blue, European Swallowtail, and Pearly Heath. Mammals present here include Roe Deer, Steppe Polecat, Eastern Hedgehog and the entertaining European Souslik, although our views of these shy creatures is more lilely to be through binoculars than a camera lens. In the puszta many flowers bloom quite early but there should still be a good showing at the time of our visit and we’ll search for these amongst sand dunes and wet meadows, at the same time keeping an eye open for some of the many amphibians present.
Days 7 -9: On Day 7 we’ll travel north to the Bükk, Hungary’s largest National Park. Bükk’s important geological features include various karst formations within its limestone mountains - particularly caves once inhabited by pre-historic people. Our journey takes us through a mountainous landscape with spectacular gorges and the edges of the karst plateau form huge cliffs with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
This is a perfect area for photographing raptors soaring above the valleys such as Imperial Eagle or Goshawk, and where special birds of the area include the dapper Rock Bunting, often frequenting abandoned quarries. With good luck we may also discover an Eagle Owl, sitting quietly on a rocky ledge during the day. The dense deciduous woodlands below will provide opportunities to seek woodland species such as owls, warblers and woodpeckers including Ural Owl, and Black, White-backed, Grey-headed, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Although never easy to approach, we hope to capture some images of these woodland species during our stay. We may also encounter a herd of Mouflon or Red Deer, or some foraging Wild Boar. Nights in a village bordering Bükk National Park.
Day 10: We’ll have a leisurely morning before we head back to Budapest airport in time to connect with our late afternoon flight back to London, where the tour concludes.
Updated: 28 October 2015