Trip Menu


Buy The Birds of Hungary by Gerard Gorman from Amazon

In December 1999 we decided to take our first organised birdwatching trip and chose Hungary, travelling with BIRDING, the company formerly run by John & Robbie Gooders. With hindsight this was a wise decision. Very few people spoke English, road signs were confusing or non-existant at times and maps were not easy to read, even for our guide who had lived there for 15 years.


Buy Birds of Europe (with North Africa and the Middle East) from Amazon

Comprehensive background information on all aspects of the trip was provided by ‘Birding’, including a birding checklist and details of species seen on previous trips. With a local guide and all transportation covered there was no need to buy maps or research birding sites. However The Birds of Hungary by Gerard Gorman provides excellent background to the area as well as covering a systematic distribution of species. At the time my favourite identification guide was Birds of Europe: With North Africa and the Middle East (Helm Field Guides) by Lars Jonsson.


Budapest street sceneWe flew from London Heathrow with MALEV the Hungarian State Airline on their scheduled service which left LHR at 07.55hrs on 19th May, arriving at Budapest at 11.25hrs; a two and a half hour flight with Hungary being 1 hour ahead of BST. The onward journey to our first destination, the Tengerszem Hotel at Josvafo in the Aggtelek National Park, took between 3 and 4 hours with stops along the way for a picnic lunch and the occasional bird.

We were met at Ferihegy Airport by Gerard Gorman who was to be our guide for the trip, along with 2 local experts. Gerard has been living and working in Hungary since 1985 and is one of Eastern Europe’s leading birders. Our return journey on 26th May left Budapest at 18.20hrs, arriving LHR 19.55hrs and giving us the opportunity to spend some time in Budapest.

The Tengerszem Hotel was a little Spartan but scrupulously clean with attentive staff and a good local menu. The hotel is set at the head of a heavily forested valley and, all in all, provided a very comfortable location ideally placed to tour the Aggtelek area. It appears the same remains true to date (6/07).

Riverside BudapestWhen we moved on after three nights to the Hortobagy National Park to the Patkos Motel at Tiszafured, for the remaining four nights of our stay, the contrast could not have been more marked. The motel was (and remains) little more than a truck stop on one of the main routes from Budapest to the former Russian Republic. The rooms were cold and dank with really ancient furniture and beds; consequently the whole place felt dirty. The shower barely functioned and the towels were wafer thin and wet before you had dried your hands. Subsequently we have occasionally stayed in the odd dodgy hotel on birding trips to Africa and India, but none to match the Patkos Motel. The food was very bland, ethnic and despite different titles on the menu, almost always tasted the same. In its favour the Motel is on its own, almost in the centre of the National Park and hence its apparent popularity.

In view of the early departure from London and the need for car parking facilities, we stayed overnight at The Comfort Inn Hotel, near the airport with the room costing £79, car parking £28 (7 nights @ £4 per day) and transfers to Heathrow at £3.50 per person. The “Birding” trip cost £870 per person for travel, accommodation, all meals and services of leader plus local guides. Although it was very convenient to have everything laid on in one complete package we have subsequently never used a birding holiday company preferring to have more control over the food, accommodation, company and pace of birding.


Aggtelek National Park

Typical small village scene

Situated north east of Budapest, the park covers an area of nearly 20,000 ha, was established in 1985 and has been a World Heritage site since 1995. The impressive limestone scenery covers an extensive cave system which in itself supports nearly 500 cave dwelling plant and animal species. Some areas are heavily wooded, mainly with pine forest, with rolling hills, low intensity agriculture and numerous small villages, giving a diverse habitat range for a variety of bird species.

Hortobagy National Park

The Hortobagy covers an area of 80,000 ha and was established in January 1973. This area, almost due east of Budapest and in the north of the Great Plain, is much more than an empty grassland: in addition to extensive natron pastures, there are also numerous large fish ponds and c40% of the area is marshland. The apparently barren, scorched ‘puszta’ (grassland) is home to many birds, whilst the marshes and old reedbeds provide ideal roosting and feeding sites for numerous nesting and migrant birds. The fish ponds provide an ideal habitat and food supply for waders and other waterbirds.


For us, the potential for Western Palaearctic lifers was mouth-watering and although we had a few minor disappointments, by and large we were well satisfied with the birds Gerard was able to locate for us.

One of many White Stork nestsIn the first few days in the Aggtelek region our highlights were Lesser Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Black Woodpecker (a nesting pair in the woods behind the hotel), River Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Barred Warbler and a nest-building male Penduline Tit. We were unlucky with Corncrake (which would have been another lifer); despite hearing several birds, one of which we must have been virtually on top of, we were unable to locate any. Although not lifers, the following birds were special :- a splendid male Golden Oriole perched on a branch out in the open for all to admire, Honey Buzzard floating gracefully overhead, good views of a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker after it flew in to a nearby tree, numerous Hawfinch fly-bys, Goshawk and nesting Collared Flycatcher in the wooded valley immediately below the hotel. On our first morning in the area Gerard persuaded a few of us to head off into a belt of mixed woodland to search for the elusive Hazel Grouse. We spent the best part of an hour scrambling through thick undergrowth, with no marked paths, without any success. Indeed we saw hardly any birds in the area. Subsequently it was a little annoying to find we had been on something of a wild goose chase as Hazel Grouse had not been seen on a spring tour for over 10 years.

Moving on to the Hortobagy we had not really been prepared for the amazing number and variety of species we would find in this bird rich area. Lifers came thick and fast with a lone Red-breasted Goose remaining with a flock of Greylag, an immaculate male Red-crested Pochard plus several Ferruginous Duck on the fish ponds along with the numerous other waterbird species and a soaring Long-legged Buzzard which we were able to scope to confirm identity. Saker were found at their nest sites on electricity pylons and Whiskered Tern graced virtually every stretch of open water along with hundreds of accompanying marsh terns. A pair of Syrian Woodpecker was nesting in the sparse woodland near the hotel and on one of our early morning walks we found a splendid Icterine Warbler nearby – didn’t even need Gerard for this one! A singing Savi’s Warbler was eventually located, as were two calling Aquatic Warbler, although the views of the latter were far from satisfactory. We found another nest-building Penduline Tit and whilst watching the spectacle of numerous species overflying the marshes from a raised bank, we had an all-to-brief fly-by of a small flock of 7 early Rosy Starlings.

Bridge over the River Danube, BudapestAmongst other highlights were close-ups of displaying Bluethroat (white-spotted variety) at the fish ponds, occasional Roller on the overhead wires and, most memorably, five Bittern in the air at once over the marshes as we were setting up our picnic lunch one day. Near the hotel numerous Red-footed Falcon hunted overhead and perched on the wires and memorably, one morning, were joined by a splendid Hobby. Several Pygmy Cormorant were visible in the distance at the fish ponds near their nest site, a male Little Bittern briefly flew overhead and three Glossy Ibis joined the numerous egrets and herons which grace the Hortobagy.


Despite the dire accommodation on the Hortobagy we had an enjoyable trip with 149 species seen and a further 7 only heard. We had 18 lifers and would have had another if we had been able to pin down the elusive Corncrake. An added bonus was meeting Pat and Judy Hayes on the trip. We have remained friends ever since and shared many memorable birding holidays around the world.

Hungary Map – Districts, National Parks etc

Hungary Map – Cities and towns

Hungary Bird Species Checklist

Bird Species List

Name Species Comments 
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Birds seen Aggtelek 20th, journey south 22nd & Hortobagy 25th. 
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Small numbers seen almost daily on Hortobagy. 
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis Seen almost daily on Hortobagy with maximum 8 on 25th. 
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus A few birds seen at fish ponds on Hortobagy on 24th and 25th. 
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Seen daily on Hortobagy. 
Little Egret Egretta garzetta Common on Hortobagy with good numbers seen on 24th and 25th. 
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Common on Hortobagy with birds also seen Aggtelek on 20th. 
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Common on Hortobagy with good numbers seen 23rd, 24th & 25th. 
Great Egret Ardea alba Common on Hortobagy. 
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides Birds seen at fish ponds on Hortobagy on 24th and 25th. 
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax Common on Hortobagy, especially at fish ponds, birds seen daily. 
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus Good view of a fly-by adult male on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Bittern Botaurus stellaris Good numbers on Hortobagy with max 6 birds in flight on 24th. 
White Stork Ciconia ciconia Seen on nests throughout trip with 40+ birds seen in one field. 
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Three birds seen on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Common on Hortobagy with max 10 birds seen on 24th & 25th. 
Mute Swan Cygnus olor Rare bird for area with pair seen near Tiszafured on 23rd. 
Greylag Goose Anser anser Quite common on Hortobagy. 
Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis Lone bird seen on Hortobagy on 25th with Greylag flock. 
Gadwall Anas strepera Quite common on Hortobagy with birds seen almost daily. 
Teal Anas crecca Birds seen on 23rd and 25th on Hortobagy. 
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Common on Hortobagy with birds also seen Aggtelek on 20th. 
Garganey Anas querquedula Quite common on Hortobagy with maximum 25 birds seen on 25th. 
Shoveler Anas clypeata Birds seen on 24th only on Hortobagy. 
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina Male seen on 24th only on Hortobagy. 
Pochard Aythya ferina Birds seen almost daily on Hortobagy. 
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca Small numbers on Hortobagy fish ponds, max 12 birds seen 24th. 
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula Birds seen on 24th only on Hortobagy. 
Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus Single bird on 20th with two on 21st near Aggtelek. 
Black Kite Milvus migrans Single birds seen on 23rd and 25th on Hortobagy. 
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Birds common on Hortobagy & also seen Aggtelek 20th & 21st. 
Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus Single males seen on 24th and 25th on Hortobagy. 
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis Single birds seen Aggtelek on 20th and journey south on 22nd. 
Buzzard Buteo buteo Birds common everywhere. 
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus Good views of soaring bird on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina Good close-up of bird sitting in grassy field and subsequently flying on 21st near Aggtelek. 
Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca Bird seen Aggtelek on 21st with a pair in Zemplen Hills on journey south on 22nd. 
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Fairly common on Hortobagy with bird also seen Aggtelek on 21st. 
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus Birds quite common on Hortobagy with max 20 birds hunting 24th. 
Hobby Falco subbuteo Single bird flew close overhead on 23rd on early morning walk near hotel at Tiszafured. 
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Bird seen at pylon nesting site on 24th with another nesting pair on 26th on Hortobagy. 
Grey Partridge Perdix perdix Just a few birds seen on journey south 22nd and Hortobagy 23rd. 
Quail Coturnix coturnix Birds heard daily. No sightings though, despite best efforts. 
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus Common throughout in small numbers. 
Corncrake Crex crex Birds heard only near Aggtelek on 20th and 21st. 
Water Rail Rallus Aquaticus One bird heard only on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus A few seen near Aggtelek on 20th and on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Coot Fulica atra Common in small numbers on Hortobagy 
Common Crane Grus grus Calling groups seen on three days above fish ponds on Hortobagy with maximum of 150 on 24th. 
Great Bustard Otis tarda Distant sighting of 3 males in heat haze near Nagyivan on 24th. 
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 3 birds at fish ponds on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Birds seen on 24th and 25th on Hortobagy with maximum of 20. 
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus Good views of 6 birds near Nagyivan on 24th. 
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola Two birds seen Hortobagy on 24th. 
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola Adult male seen in almost pristine summer plumage on Hortobagy on 24th plus one juvenile. 
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Few birds seen Hortobagy on 23rd and 24th. 
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Birds locally common throughout. Seen on 5 days. 
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago Single birds seen Hortobagy on 23rd and 24th. 
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Fairly common and seen on three days on Hortobagy. 
Curlew Numenius arquata One bird only seen on Hortobagy on 23rd. 
Redshank Tringa totanus Quite common in small numbers on Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days. 
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Four birds seen on Hortobagy on 23rd. 
Little Stint Calidris minuta Twenty birds seen at fish ponds on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Dunlin Calidris alpina A few birds seen Hortobagy on 23rd and 24th. 
Ruff Philomachus pugnax Two females seen on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis Birds seen on three days with up to 200 on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Very common on Hortobagy and seen on 4 days. 
Common Tern Sterna hirundo A few birds seen on three days on Hortobagy. 
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus Common at fish ponds & marshes on Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days. 
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus Very common on Hortobagy and seen on 3 days. 
Black Tern Chlidonias niger Least common of the marsh terns on Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days 
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Common throughout. 
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Common throughout. 
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Very common throughout. 
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Common throughout. 
Little Owl Athene noctua One on farm rooftop near Nagyivan on 24th. 
Swift Apus apus Only a few birds seen Aggtelek on 21st & on Hortobagy on 23rd. 
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Single bird heard near Aggtelek on 20th. 
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster First seen on journey south on 22nd then on next 3 days on Hortobagy, including a nesting colony. 
Roller Coracias garrulus Good views of single birds on Hortobagy on 23rd and also journey back to Budapest on 26th. 
Hoopoe Upupa epops Several good views of single birds near Aggtelek & on Hortobagy. 
Wryneck Jynx torquilla Single birds common at Aggtelek with birds also seen on Hortobagy. Seen on two days in both areas. 
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor Bird seen in woods near Aggtelek on 20th. 
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Quite common throughout esp near Aggtelek. Seen on 5 days. 
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus Pair seen nesting near hotel on Hortobagy on 23rd. 
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius Bird heard in woods behind Aggtelek hotel on 21st with pair seen on 22nd responding to guide’s calls. 
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis Bird seen on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Crested Lark Galerida cristata Fairly common throughout esp near roadsides on Great Plain. 
Skylark Alauda arvensis Fairly common throughout. 
Sand Martin Riparia riparia Common in small numbers driving south on 22nd & on Hortobagy. 
Swallow Hirundo rustica Very common and widespread. Seen daily. 
House Martin Delichon urbica Common throughout especially near settlements. Seen daily.. 
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris Birds seen at Nagyivan on 24th. 
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Single bird seen at Aggtelek on 21st only. 
White Wagtail Motacilla alba Common throughout. Seen daily. 
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava Common in and around Hortobagy. Mainly Blue-headed race. 
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Single bird Aggtelek 20th & on way there from Budapest on 19th. 
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Seen at Aggtelek on 20th only, but freqently heard. 
Robin Erithacus rubecula A bit of a skulker but single birds seen on 3 days near Aggtelek. 
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos Seen at Aggtelek 20th & Hortobagy 25th. Birds heard most days. 
White-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica cyanecula Excellent views of singing males around nest sites on fish ponds on Hortobagy on 23rd and 24th. 
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Common near Aggtelek and seen on three days. 
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Bird seen on 20th near Aggtelek. 
Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata Common roadside bird throughout. 
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Birds seen near Aggtelek on 21st and on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Blackbird Turdus merula Common at Aggtelek with birds seen on journeys to and from Hortobagy on 22nd and 26th. 
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Common at Aggtelek with birds also seen on journeys to and from Aggtelek 19th and 22nd. 
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Birds seen on 20th near Aggtelek. 
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia Reeling bird eventually located with subsequent good views on Hortobagy on 24th. 
River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis Calling bird seen well near Aggtelek on 20th & one heard 21st. 
Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides Singing bird seen well on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola Poor views of two singing males near Nagyivan on 24th. 
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Numerous birds seen on 23rd, 24th and 25th on Hortobagy. 
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceous Bird heard singing only on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris Good views of singing birds near Aggtelek on 20th and journey south on 22nd with birds also heard on Hortobagy 
Great Reed-warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus A few calling birds seen well on three days on Hortobagy. 
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Heard only near Aggtelek on 21st. 
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina Single bird seen well on early walk near hotel at Tiszafured 25th. 
Whitethroat Sylvia communis Single bird seen near Aggtelek on 20th. 
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Birds heard on Hortobagy on 23rd and then several calling birds seen well on 25th. 
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria Skulking males responded to guide’s calls near Aggtelek on 20th and 21st plus male showing well in Zemplen Hills on 22nd 
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Birds frequently heard near Aggtelek and on Hortobagy with single bird found near Aggtelek on 20th. 
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix Birds heard near Aggtelek on 20th and seen well on 21st. 
Goldcrest Regulus regulus Bird seen at Aggtelek on 21st. 
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata Relatively common in small numbers throughout with good views on Hortobagy. Seen on 5 days. 
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis Single birds seen in woods near Aggtelek on 20th and 21st and also heard on Hortobagy on 22nd. 
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus Birds heard calling around fish ponds on Hortobagy 24th & 25th. 
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Birds seen on 20th only near hotel at Aggtelek. 
Marsh Tit Parus palustris Bird seen on 20th near Aggtelek. 
Coal Tit Parus ater Bird seen near hotel at Aggtelek on 20th. 
Great Tit Parus major Only seen at Aggtelek on 20th and 21st. 
Nuthatch Sitta europaea Birds seen feeding young near Aggtelek hotel on 19th and 20th. 
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Bird seen near Aggtelek on 21st and heard on 22nd on Hortobagy. 
Penduline-tit Remiz pendulinus Bird seen near nest on small river near Aggtelek on 20th and on Hortobagy on 25th. 
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus Numerous views of fly-bys throughout with prolonged views of male perched in the open near Aggtelek on 20th. 
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Very common at roadsides & particularly at Aggtelek. Seen daily. 
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor Excellent views daily on Hortobagy with birds also seen on journeys to and from Hortobagy on 22nd and 26th. 
Jay Garrulus glandarius Few birds seen near Aggtelek on 20th and 21st. 
Magpie Pica pica Common throughout. Seen daily. 
Jackdaw Corvus monedula Common locally on and near Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days. 
Rook Corvus frugilegus Common on Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days. 
Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix Common throughout and seen daily. 
Raven Corvus corax Birds seen at Aggtelek on 20th & 21st and on Hortobagy on 23rd. 
Rosy Starling Sturnus roseus Small flock of 7 birds flew swiftly by on Hortobagy on 24th. 
Starling Sturnus vulgaris Very common throughout. Seen daily. 
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Very common throughout. Seen daily. 
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Very common throughout. Seen daily. 
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Few birds seen on four days throughout. 
Serin Serinus serinus Birds seen near Aggtelek 19th & 21st, more frequently only heard. 
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Few birds seen near Aggtelek 20th & 21st & on Hortobagy 22nd. 
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Quite common throughout esp on Hortobagy. Seen on 6 days. 
Linnet Carduelis cannabina Few birds seen near Aggtelek 20th & 21st & on Hortobagy 22nd. 
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Several fly-by birds seen well near Aggtelek on 20th and 21st. 
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Quite common throughout and few birds seen almost daily. 
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Quite common on Hortobagy. Seen on 3 days. 
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra Common throughout especially on Hortobagy and usually on roadside wires. Seen daily.