Mike Mockler

Hungary June/July 2013
- Bird Photography

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Hungary is a wonderful country for bird-watching.   There's plenty of space for wildlife as, compared with overcrowded England, the country is sparsely populated.  In fact, the entire population of Hungary is little more than that of London and the second largest city after the capital, Budapest, is no bigger than Swindon.  

Not surprisingly, therefore, there is an impressive variety of birds.  From raptors such as Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker Falcon and Red-footed Falcon and no fewer than nine species of woodpecker through colourful species like Roller, Golden Oriole and Bee-eater to a rich assortment of water-birds, the cast list is astonishing.  For British birdwatchers the appeal of Hungary is obvious as many species that are rarely if ever encountered in Britain are fairly easy to track down there. 

For photographers, however, Hungary offers another enticing prospect: excellent bird photography hides, designed and built by local nature photographers, are available for hire.  Although intensive hide photography, day after day, does not appeal to everyone, bird photographers know that it's necessary to put in many hours to get those special shots. 

The hides, which are extremely well-designed, are available for either half-day or whole-day use, depending on the location and the species involved.  Most of them seat 2-3 people and the occupants are more or less confined to their seats for the entire session.  In the larger hides, it is possible to stand up and even walk around a little to stretch one's legs. 

These hides are much in demand as photographers from many countries head for Hungary.  Meeting wildlife photographers from around the world is always instructive and stimulating.  On this trip, I enjoyed the congenial company of enthusiasts from several different European countries as well as an old friend from Britain.


Usually, our day began at the crack of dawn when the light is best for photography and birds are most active.  We were driven to different hides in the early morning and collected around mid-day (for half-day sessions) or late in the day (for longer sessions).  With outside temperatures at times rising above 30 degrees, it occasionally became very warm inside the hides in the middle part of the day so bottles of mineral water, thoughtfully provided by the organisers, were very welcome.  Unfortunately, as it was usually not possible to leave the hide for fear of disturbing the birds, drinking too much water could lead to personal discomfort later!  On being released from the hides, it was a great relief not just to stretch an aching back!     

During my stay in Hungary, I managed to photograph several striking subjects such as Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Roller, Cuckoo, Great White Egret, Red-backed Shrike and Hawfinch, as well as several species that I had never previously photographed, among them Red-footed Falcon, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Collared Flycatcher and Turtle Dove. 

Also, many familiar species presented themselves for the cameras, especially birds that came to drink and bathe at small pools where photogenic reflections enhanced the images.  These included Jay, Green Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Blackcap and Yellowhammer.  Mammals included Roe Deer, Brown Hare, Red Squirrel (a dull blackish colour in this part of Europe) and a pair of Weasels that appeared briefly in front of one of the hides but were gone in a flash.  

Plenty of other birds were seen, either from the hides or while driving the local roads.  These included Bittern, Purple Heron, Pygmy Cormorant, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, Great Bustard, White Stork, Black Stork, Montagu's Harrier, Hobby, Lesser Grey Shrike, Syrian Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker while Golden Orioles were repeatedly heard around some of the hides.  A major highlight of the trip was watching a family of five Saker Falcons, a little too distant for successful photography but close enough to enjoy wonderful views of this magnificent raptor.   


The wide open spaces and glorious grasslands of the Hungarian steppe country constantly recalled Africa and there were several occasions when I felt I was back on the Serengeti plains with those achingly distant horizons and vast skies.  Much of the time was spent in and around the famed Hortobagy National Park where old-style farming methods and traditional farm buildings are integral to the local life-style and add much character to the landscape.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable and successful trip.  The hides were very productive, not only for photography but also for fascinating observations of wildlife. Thanks to Janos and his team for their hard work and professionalism. 

Thanks also to all the friendly fellow photographers who shared the experiences (and their expertise) with me, whether they be Italian, Austrian, Swiss or British.


NOTE:  as well as the images accompanying this report, other photographs from the Hungary trip can be found in the Photographic Gallery > Europe > Hungary.


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