Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Hortobágy National Park – Trip Report (Part 2)

My last day in Hungary was spent in the Passerine Hide on the outskirts of Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary and only a short stay from where I was staying in Balmazújváros. I was asked to be ready for 7.00 am so I had the luxury of a lie-in. János picked me up in his Skoda from outside the hotel and twenty minutes later he parked the car by a busy road on the outskirts of Debrecen. A ten minute walk through the melting snow and we had arrived at the Passerine hide in the middle of a forest of birch and oak. This was a little smaller than the Eagle hide and with an equally small entrance door. Again, it had the luxury of a gas heater and a special reflective glass window.

In front of the hide were various perches and feeders. There was also a water pool but despite the thaw, this was still covered in thick ice. János fired up the heater (nearly removing his eye-brows in the process) and said he’d return to pick me up at 3.00 pm. So I was left to my own devices for seven hours—alone in the middle of the forest. I hoped the ‘Big bad wolf’ didn’t come knocking on the door!

Marsh and Great Tits were the first to arrive and I quickly got into a photographic rhythm. Perched on a small chair with the end of my 500 mm lens only inches from the glass I swung the lens to- and-fro on my Sidekick head and tried to obtain a focus lock on the fast moving birds. I was delighted to see a Hawfinch for the very first time; complete with it’s winter coloured ivory beak—definitely a pair of nut-crackers on wings.

I was also very pleased to witness the acrobatics of a wonderful Nuthatch as it munched the seeds and climbed acrobatically, head-first down a tree trunk. I turned off the heater after thirty minutes as it was melting the snow on the shingle roof and this in turn, was dripping off the eaves and splashing off the frozen ice onto the glass below. At times, the hide felt a little cramped and I wished that the floor was another eighteen inches lower so that I wouldn’t have to stoop. All this discomfort soon evaporated when I saw my first Woodpecker up close.

This was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a species that was familiar to me from back home in the U.K. but I was warned by János to look out for its east European cousin, the Middle Spotted Woodpecker. It was only after I had returned home and managed to review my images that I was absolutely elated to find that I actually had two photographs of this beautiful bird.

Technically, the only problem I encountered was that of depth of field. My 500 mm lens was ideally suited to this location but as the majority of the birds were only fifteen feet or so from the camera I had only a few inches of useable focus. Yes, I could have stopped down to f/11 or f/16 but even with the snow reflecting the light, the conditions were pretty dim at this time of year and I was already using a film speed of between ISO 1000-1600.

The time soon passed and at least I was able to leave the hide and exercise my legs every hour or so. János arrived dead on 3.00 PM to pick me up. I wished that there had been more time but the following day I had to catch a plane back to the U.K. in time for Christmas.

I would like to thank János and the rest of his team at Sakertour for making this such a memorable trip. Even though my adventure had been cut short due to the wintery weather, I had enjoyed every minute. I hope to return to Hortobágy National Park in the very near future and perhaps get to photograph the colourful rollers, bee-eaters and the pygmy cormorants. Do check out the details on the Sakertour web-site if you’re interested.

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