May 2015 - Europe road trip

Sometime last year, I joked that because we love the wine so much, we should drive to Hungary and bring lots back.  Stuart suddenly looked really serious and declared this to be a brilliant idea and so the 2015 Europe road trip was born.  We decided it would be fun to see how many countries we could visit on our route rather then just bombing it straight to Hungary and back an
d our final route map is below.  Obviously although this was mainly a trip to get wine, there would be excellent opportunities for bird watching.

Black Redstart
The first night we stopped in Mulhouse, France.  Whilst there wasn't a great deal of wildlife around in the centre of town, we enjoyed the scratching of a Serin and the screeching of Swift overhead as we wandered around.

The first great spot we had was the next day, a low flying Black Kite in Switzerland.  This was a lifer for all of us and there was great excitement in the car! We saw a great number of Buzzard on our trip, as well as Red Kite and many Kestrel. As we got further East we noticed the Swift numbers dropping off and the Black Restart numbers increasing (and becoming more approachable!).

Purple Heron
We took a short pre-breakfast walk after our second night stay at Lake Bled, which was lovely.  We picked up our only Redstart of the trip (and in fact of the year so far), a pair of flying Goosander and an incredible bush that seemed to be entirely comprised of Marsh Tit!

Lake Bled
Lake Bled
We were in Hungary for 5 nights, 4 based at the lovely Kulacs Panzio in the wine valley of Eger and the last night in Tokaj.  As an Irish mildly alcholic person, the wine valley is pretty much heaven.  You wander round a horseshoe road with about 30 open cellars, trying all their wines, with a glass starting at 25p. I want to live there.  Anyway, back to the birds!

We decided to split our birding between using books and previous knowledge and hiring a great guy we'd used the last time we were in Hungary, Roy Adams.  Roy is brilliant as he knows excellent sites and is great to chat to.  The first one he took us to was Egerszolok for a pre breakfast wander.  It was already ridiculously warm despite being 6am and we got off to a good start with Cuckoo flying all around and 2 Golden Oriole flying past, swiftly following by a Hoopoe.  A small group of Bee-eaters noisely rose into view from behind a small hill and we headed towards them.  Roy picked up the call of a River Warbler so we waited quietly until it was kind enough to pop out of the bush it was in, so we got lovely views.  Then, a large warbler like bird flew into view and disappeared into the bush the River Warbler was in.  It did a lap of us (I think purely for the amusement of making 5 birdwatchers speedily turn 360 degrees on the spot!) and then disappeared into the trees, unfortunately not to be seen again.  It was quickly agreed that it was extremely likely that this was an Olive Tree Warbler.  Unfortunately, whilst we knew it wasn't common for the area, none of us realised quite how rare for Hungary it was!  The walk back to the car was uneventful and we headed back for breakfast.

Sedge Warbler
After breakfast we went out to the Borsod-Mezo Plain.  A lifer was quickly found as we entered the plains and saw Tawny Pipit on the ground to the side of the road.  It was driving along this road we also saw our first Roller for the trip, an incredible bird however many times you see it!  We got out of the car and had a wander around a reed bed.  There was a racket coming from the reeds and lots of small birds flitting around, often too quickly to get a good look at.  An obliging Savi's Warbler came and sat in front of us whilst a Bluethroat was elusive but seen by nearly all of the party.  I spotted a pair of raptors a few fields away and we soon realised they were a pair of Montagu's Harrier - lifer!  What stunning birds they are, we watched them for a while. Back to the car and around the corner, where there was the incredible sight of a nesting pair of Eastern Imperial Eagle.  Wow!

Eastern Imperial Eagle
Lesser Grey Shrike
Next I was hoping for a Little Bittern (one of my favourite birds) so we popped along to Mezokovesd Lakes.  This was where I had seen my previous Little Bittern the time we had been to Hungary before.  Unfortunately, it was not to be. However, I did get a lifer within the first ten minutes in the form of the beautifully coloured Ferruginous Duck, they are absolute sweeties.  A Great Reed Warbler put on a show for us, yelling from the top of a reed and a Marsh Warbler and Savi's Warbler were seen.

Great Reed Warbler
Our final visit of the day was to a small wooded area in Nozsvaj, an area we had seen Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Collared Flycatcher at on our last trip.  There was no Middle Spotted Woodpecker this time, but quite a few nesting Collared Flycatcher!  We also spotted our first ever Wood Warbler and enjoyed watching it for a while.

Crested Lark
The day after we headed out to a location Roy had told us about, that was supposedly good for woodpeckers of all sorts.  We drove around but felt weirdly like we were being watched so headed back to the main road pretty quickly.  However, metres from the main road a hefty Black Woodpecker flew in front of the car, then landed on a tree at the edge of the road, affording us brilliant views.  I unfortunately couldn't get a picture despite the proximity as I didn't want to get out of the car and scare it off!  It was then on to the Tard Valley, a lovely walk with a Bee-eater colony.

The Thursday was great for birds - an early morning walk in the Bukk National Park with Roy produced a White-backed Woodpecker and a trip to a local plant of some kind (where they were VERY unhappy we had binoculars and cameras) saw another lifer before 9am, Rock Bunting.  The list for the rest of the morning was great but the highlight for me was a Rose-coloured Starling I found, a lifer!

Rock Bunting

Rose-coloured Starling
In the evening we headed out to the Hortobgay and got a list of around 50 birds over about 3 hours (including driving from one end of the park to the other!).  We saw a few Common Crane and Great Bustard flying which was pretty amazing and a roost of beautiful Red-footed Falcon.  A couple of Whiskered Tern and 3 Saker Falcon completed the list.

Red-backed Shrike
We then spent the rest of our time in Hungary drinking wine in the oldest wine region in Europe, Tokaj, before heading home through Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and getting the boat from the Netherlands.  What a great trip!

Black Redstart

Yellow Wagtail

Great Bustard


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