the Hortobagy bird spectacle plus wild Brown Bears





Spring in Eastern Europe can be a wonderful spectacle full of birds, butterflies and, in the wildest areas, awakening mammals. To spend time in two of its richest wildlife zones during this season inspired us, so we have set up this ten day tour to the famous Hungarian plains (the Hortobagy) and the unspoilt uplands of Romania.


Diversity and quality is high, with great birds such as Capercaillie,  Eastern  Imperial  Eagle,  Saker, Temminck’s Stint, Golden Oriole, Wryneck, Wallcreeper and Barred Warbler being just a few of the highlights. Spring migration always has a memorable colourfulness and urgency.


We have bear-watching permits for hides in Romania that are perfectly sited to see magnificent European Brown Bears feeding after their long hibernation. These are original wild animals, not those from the re-introduction schemes. In the same area there is a wide range of exciting birds to be found.


With our long-term partners at Sakertour we have arranged good quality transport, accommodation and food to make this a comfortable, rewarding holiday. Sakertour also have additional local contacts with access to special sites, to help us make the most of our time here.





After arriving in Budapest we will drive for three hours to the heart of the Hortobagy National Park and check into our excellent lodge, which has a lake and woodland in its grounds, for a two night stay.


The Hortobagy is simply one of the finest birdwatching areas in Europe. At the beginning of May, Great Bustard females are already on their nests, but the males of these magnificent birds still display in the mornings. In the southern part of the national park breeding Montagu's Harrier can be watched, and we will use local knowledge to locate the scarce Stone Curlew. Along the way we will see the Hungarian Grey Long-horned Cattle and the strange Racka Sheep with their long twisted horns. These hardy breeds wander over this vast plain, giving it the atmosphere of the Asian steppe.


A speciality of this area is the Aquatic Warbler, which has its southernmost breeding outpost in the Hortobagy . Despite this warbler’s global rarity, the marshy meadow depressions in specific grasslands provide a summer home for hundreds of singing males. There are plenty of other birds to be seen along the way including raptors, warblers, shrikes and buntings. Tawny Pipits are drawn to this area too. After this introduction we will be eagerly looking forward to our return to this superb park.



On day three we will journey further east, birding en route, to the uplands of Romania. We pass through Sighisoara in Transylvania, considered to be the most beautiful and well preserved citadel in Europe. We will stop and visit its castle area and original Dracula’s House. In the afternoon we will reach our hotel in Odorheiu Secuiesc, our base for the next three nights.


Over the course of the next couple of days we will explore a variety of local habitats, including the Hargita and Gorgenyi Mountains for Capercaillie and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. We will birdwatch along the roads and clearings of the Carpathian pine forests where Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Nutcracker, Crested Tit and Firecrest are all common. We will search for the large Ural Owl as well as the more elusive Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owls in this vicinity. This region is good for Red-breasted Flycatcher and we will make a special effort to find this canopy-dwelling gem. There are also orchid meadows and rich butterfly communities on the edge of these forests. In the afternoon we will visit our Brown Bear hides and hope to see this remarkable mammal. Nothing in nature is truly guaranteed but we have a great chance by being in the right place at the right time (around 3,000 of these huge animals survive in Romania and will be emerging hungry from hibernation). The next day we will drive to the spectacular Bicaz Gorge for the butterfly-like Wallcreeper. Sometimes they are not obvious on the huge surfaces of the limestone walls but with patience we should find them; at first, usually by catching a flash of red as they move. We will return in time to visit another Brown Bear hide, if we did not see them the previous day.



On day six, after a visit to the excellent Szentpal Fishponds, we will set off westwards to our next birding area. Along the way we will stop and look for Crag Martin, which is a localised bird in Eastern Europe. Then, in the afternoon, we will arrive in the tiny village of Rimetea at the foot of the Szekelyko Mountain beside a picturesque limestone valley in Transylvania. From this World Heritage village we can explore the surrounding hills. Male Rock Thrushes perform their superb display flight at this time of year, whilst Woodlarks and Rock Buntings will be singing. Golden Eagle is possible here, and we may also find Lesser and Great Grey Shrikes breeding side by side, a unique feature of this zone. In the evening we will search for Eurasian Scops Owl before enjoying a home-cooked dinner and settling into our especially adapted heritage houses for one night.


The next day we continue west. Our birding will include the Bihar area which often has interesting migrants, notably Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Ferruginous Ducks and all three species of marsh terns. White-winged Terns are in full breeding plumage now and are a fabulous spectacle whilst hawking for insects. In this area we will also seek out the localised Ortolan Bunting with its distinctive song.



In the afternoon we will reach our final destination – a return to the Trofea Lodge within the Hortobagy for three nights. Our days will be spent exploring sites in and around the national park that we did not go to before, as the later migrants should have arrived. We will visit a breeding site of the handsome Red-footed Falcon. Reed beds will be alive with birdsong at this time of the year. Great Reed, Savi's and Marsh Warblers are common and even the secretive Moustached Warbler can be found. Great White Egrets and Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Purple Herons, Night Herons, Squacco Herons, Bitterns, Little Bitterns and Glossy Ibis also inhabit the reed beds. In the noisy Great Cormorant colony Pygmy Cormorants will also be nesting. There are great flocks of migratory birds on the drained and freshly exposed mudflats and it is an exciting time to look for rarities among the myriads of water birds roosting and feeding here. The huge flocks are frequently disturbed by raptors such as White-tailed Eagle, Peregrine or the sought-after Saker. Whilst exploring the various wetlands we will certainly see Bearded and Penduline Tits, and singing Bluethroats are common.


There are plenty of small, traditional restaurants, often on the river banks, where we can refresh ourselves over lunch if it is hot in the middle of the day.


Sandpits nearby hold breeding birds including Sand Martins and Bee-eaters while Hoopoe and Roller are also relatively common. We visit other fishponds for eastern gulls, waders, ducks, terns, egrets, herons and we will search for Ferruginous Duck, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes if we missed them before. Lesser Grey Shrikes will have returned to the forest edges by now, Red-backed Shrikes are everywhere and we will end one day watching a family of Long-eared Owls. We will visit the Great Wood of Debrecen to look for Short-toed Treecreeper, Black, Green, Middle-spotted, Lesser Spotted, and other woodpeckers. Sakertour maintain drinking pools in the wood which provide close encounters with small birds such as Hawfinches and, if we are in luck, Collared Flycatchers.


The northern part of Hortobagy is a slightly different landscape with the steppe here having more copses. The grassland is full of susliks - the favourite prey of Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker and Long-legged Buzzard. Northern Goshawk and White-tailed Eagles may appear above the forested patches and Lesser Spotted Eagle is possible. We will also visit the Dinnyés-lapos wetland, where Common Cranes are now present almost throughout the year.


On day ten, after a full morning’s birding, we will leave this remarkable area and make our way to Budapest for an early evening departure home.



Breakfast will normally be taken at about 7am, although we may rise earlier to look for Capercaillie. Visits to the mountains will involve uphill walking at a sensible pace. Day-long birdwatching excursions will be made with short and medium length walks. Bear watching involves a visit to a hide in the afternoon and evening.



Full-board accommodation is provided, with two nights at Trofea Lodge in the Hortobagy, three nights at Odorhein Secuieso, one night at Rimetea and three nights back at the Trofea Lodge, Hortobagy. All accommodation is of a high standard and all rooms have en suite facilities. Packed lunches will be taken when we expect to be away from the hotel during the day.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 1st, ending with lunch on 10th), local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, bear-watch permits, soft drinks at meal-times, international flights and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flights from Manchester to Budapest, using the scheduled services of Jet2. Outbound flight departs early afternoon, with return landing early evening. It may also be possible to join this tour from London Heathrow; please call for details.



9 nights:


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

16th January 2011):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:





1st to 10th May 2011


Roger Barnes


Zoltan Escedi/Sakertours


12 clients with one leader

and a local guide



£1790 per person sharing


£1890 per person sharing








click here to see the photographs in our spring Hungary Album





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