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Friday, 20 June 2008

HUNGARY & SLOVAKIA from 1st to 6th June 2008

At the beginning of June, my wife and I (as assistants to four Hungarian staff) had the job of looking after a very select group of people (only eight of them) on a de-luxe train ride through Hungary and Slovakia, stopping each night in comfortable hotels. The tour focussed on the gastronomy of the countries, plus some tourism, and scenic train travel. It involved joining in when lots of good food and drink were consumed - tough, but somebody had to do it!

There was quite a lot of frustration as interesting looking birds were glimpsed from the windows of the moving train, most of them flying away unidentified as the train flushed them from the track-side. However, there were times when I was able to take a little time off – mainly in the mornings before breakfast, but occasionally during the day. The following is a glimpse into what I managed to find during those times.

Budapest (Hungary) on 1st June 2008

We arrived in Budapest late morning. After a lunch-time meeting with the head of the Hungarian team we had a free afternoon until meeting up with the group at 6 p.m., and so my wife (who is not a birder) and I decided to spend a couple of hours visiting the park on Margit-sziget – an island in the Danube in the middle of the city. It was just a general visit, and little was seen in the way of birds at first. Suddenly I was struck by a very loud song in a dense clump of trees and shrubs beside me. It took me about 20 minutes to locate the songster, although I was able to walk round the clump and the bird was never more than 4 metres away. Eventually, by crouching down, I found a ‘tunnel’ through the foliage, and there was the Nightingale. There were also numerous Nuthatches on the island, with one family of 5 making a charming sight together.



Nightingale
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Nuthatch

Kremnické Bane (Slovakia) on 2nd June 2008

Our only birding opportunity this day was at Kremnické Bane, just north of Kremnica in Slovakia. Here we had 20 minutes at the station, waiting for our transport to the historic, and very fine, town of Kremnica. As my background is with railways, I know that, in Central Europe, you can be almost certain of finding Black Redstarts at country railway stations (railway yards are also good). This location was no exception with a pair of birds nesting inside a station building (access through a broken window) beside where we were waiting. There were also House Martins under the eaves of the same building, and Serins on the wires above the tracks in front of the building.

Serin
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Black Redstart
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House Martin

Banska Bystrica (Slovakia) on 3rd June 2008

After an early breakfast in the tour hotel in Banska Bystrica, I had time to have a wander round the park next to the hotel. There were many Fieldfares here – some looking as if they were juveniles. Just as I was reaching my deadline for leaving in order to be in time to pick up the group, this warbler flew into the tree beside me. As it arrived, I got the impression of a bird with a rather yellow underside. I was then struck by the bright red appearance of the beak. Unfortunately duty called, and I was not able to hang around in the hope of getting a better view, so it remained unidentified. Subsequently, experienced birders have identified it as an Icterine Warbler.

Fieldfare
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juvenile Fieldfare ?
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Icterine Warbler

Palomka (Slovakia) on 3rd June 2008

We had a short wait with our train at Palomka station (waiting to cross a train coming in the other direction on a single line). This gave us time to stretch our legs, and four Serins were active on the electric wires.

Serin

Dobšiná (Slovakia) on 3rd June 2008

In the early afternoon, whilst the rest of the group visited the Ice Cave for which this place is famous, I had a wander round the station area, as I had seen White Wagtail and Serin on our arrival. Having taken some photos of White Wagtails, and Woodland Ringlet butterflies, much to my delight a Common Rosefinch landed on a bush close to me on the station approach road. Unfortunately it did not stay long – I subsequently read that you can often call these up with a high-pitched wolf whistle! After this I found Willow Tit, Serin and Whinchat. It was the Rosefinch, however, that made this hour special for me.
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White Wagtail

Woodland Ringlet




Common Rosefinch


Willow tit
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Whinchat
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Serin

Štrba (Slovakia) on 4th June 2008

An overnight stop in the Tatra Mountains at a hotel in Starý Smokovec (few birds seen here, probably due to virtually all of the trees having been torn down by a .tornado in November 2004), was followed by a trip by narrow gauge railway to Štrbské Pleso, and then by rack railway to Tatranská Štrba. Here, whilst waiting for our special train to arrive, there were nesting Swallows, White Wagtails, and Serins to be seen, and also Woodland Ringlets again. On our way to Hungary, at a place I did not note the name of, I managed a record shot of a male Marsh Harrier from the window of the moving train.

Barn Swallow
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Woodland Ringlet
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White Wagtail
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Marsh Harrier (male)

Hidasnémeti (Hungary) on 4th June 2008

Having entered Hungary, we had a longish stop at Hidasnémeti station. Here there were nesting House Martins that were also actively hunting. Also there were Tree Sparrows, and the inevitable Black Redstarts. Later in our journey, in the vicinity of Szerencs, I managed another record shot through the train window. This time it was of a Common Buzzard. A later attempt at a large Egret (unidentified) in a field as we passed did not work at all although it does show yellow legs and bill, with some grey in the wings?


Tree Sparrow
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Bee on Flowers


House Martin

Deer

Common Buzzard

Egret (unidentified)

Lillafüred (Hungary) on 5th June 2008

Our overnight stop was at the amazing Hotel Palota in Lillafüred. In the morning I got up early so that I could explore a little. There was a lake, and a waterfall beside the hotel which was in a forested valley. As scenic as the surrounds were, the most productive area bird-wise was the hotel’s garden. Here there were Black Redstarts, a Nuthatch and, just as I thought I should go into breakfast, a Hawfinch flew down near me and slowly started making its way towards me. Unfortunately it stayed in the shade, although the majority of the garden was in sunshine, and my camera was set up for the sunshine. I was so mesmerised by my first sighting of this bird and also certain that it would fly before I took a shot that I just fired away without increasing the ISO (which is what was needed). The results, therefore are a little disappointing.


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Black Redstart


Nuthatch



Hawfinch