Hortobágy National Park – Trip Report – Spring 2011
I arrived in Balmazújváros late afternoon after an uneventful journey from the UK. The rest of the group were sitting outside by the pool in temperatures of 30 C. There were three guys from the England, one guy from Switzerland and Derek from the republic of Ireland. After a quick chat with the the other photographer’s I decided to visit the Red-footed Falcon hide the following day and hopefully, get a few images of these birds mating. I was warned that it would be a hot, long day and that I would be wringing my T-shirt out by the evening.
The next day, I was picked up at 4:30 am by the guide and taken to the hide. The red footed falcon hide was in a magnificent location looking out over the vast grassy plains of Hortobagy. The hide was at tree top level, some 15 feet above the ground and entered through a trap-door in the floor. There were several nesting boxes built-in to the hide itself and there were at least five pairs of falcons and the kestrel who had taken up residence. One of the great advantages of the Sakertours hides is the special reflecting glass used in their construction. You can see out but the birds and wildlife cannot see you. The guide left, informing me that he would be picking me up at around eight o’clock in the evening.
I quickly set up my camera and tripod and within minutes I was able to photograph the mating display of a pair of falcons. This was the best possible start to the day and I was in heaven! Every few minutes, a falcon would return to it’s nesting box with a dragonfly or other insect. Flight shots of the birds was very difficult, but there was always something to photograph and the hours quickly passed. Around lunchtime, it became unbearably hot. Even though the windows were slightly open, there was very little breeze. I opened the trap door in the floor to increase the ventilation but with very little respite. I stripped down to my T-shirt and boxer shorts but was still very uncomfortable. I continued to photograph the falcons, kestrel, and the odd passing roller until about six in the evening, when I finally packed up my gear and retreated to a safe distance to await to the return of the guide.
The first full day had been very tough! So the following day I opted for an easier option and chose a morning session in the Passerine hide. This hide (and its sister hide over the road) are situated in mixed broadleaf woods, just outside the city of Debrecen.These hides are partly submerged into the ground with a long drinking pool in front and a perfect for photographing small finches and other passerines. Visitors to the hide that morning included: three species of Woodpeckers, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer , etc. It was wonderful to be able to photograph these birds in a very natural setting, hunting for food, drinking from the pool, and taking a bath.
Later in the week, I visited the sister hide over the road and managed to get some great photographs of a Red-backed Shrike and a Turtle Dove, together with some amusing shots of a Middle-spotted Woodpecker performing its early morning ablutions. Unluckily, I did miss the opportunity to photograph a very young fox club that visited the hide early in the morning and was so close, it had its little nose pressed up against the glass! Unfortunately, too close to photograph with my 500 mm lens.
One afternoon, I took the opportunity to visit the reed-bed hide with my good friend Derek. Another very hot day but at least there was a breeze. We quickly set up our equipment and waited for the birds to arrive. A grey heron appeared first but was just too close to photograph with my long lens. However, its smaller cousin, a night heron appeared later in the afternoon and we were both able to get some terrific shots as it perched in the middle of the lake. Other highlights included a ferruginous duck and a muskrat that was quickly chased away by a moorhen.
Perhaps, the most colourful birds I photographed during the trip with a Bee-eaters. A small portable hide was situated adjacent to a sandbank, where both the Bee-eaters and Sand Martins were nesting in small holes excavated in the sand. It was a delight to observe these beautiful birds catching bees and dragonflies and sharing the spoils with their partners. The Bee-eaters were only a few metres away and it was very easy to get some extreme close-ups of these stunning birds. We were both excited and surprised to see a Golden Oriole stop by for a brief moment, with its beautiful bright yellow plumage it was definitely a bird that I was keen to photograph. Halfway through the morning, we were interrupted by a woman herding about 1200 Greylag geese. Derek noticed that their breasts seemed rather pink and we learned later that they had recently been plucked for their down. One of the birds tried to escape but was quickly caught and dispatched by one of the dogs. The morning passed far too quickly and we both left satisfied with some fantastic images.
The final morning dawned rather wet, so Derek and I decided to visit the passerine hide once more. It continued to rain for most of the morning so Derek and I competed against each other to photograph the bubbles on the surface pool caused by the raindrops. I’m not sure who won the game but it was an interesting diversion. The next day, we both returned home with some fantastic memories and some super photographs. I would like to thank all the guides, János Oláh and Sakertours for their expert advice and for organising such a wonderful trip. I would also like to thank fellow photographer Derek Lynch for his great humour and sage advice. I hope we meet again soon!