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Budapest Birding

with Gerard Gorman

My local patch is an urban one and a place that I can get to in ten minutes from home… the deciduous woods of the Buda Hills. Walking here on a weekday amongst the large beech and oak trees, I often feel that I am away in the countryside but these woods are in fact within the city limits of Budapest, the busy and bustling capital of Hungary.

Black Woodpecker feeding tree, Buda Hills

Common resident songbirds in the Buda Hills include Marsh and Great Tits, Tree Sparrow, Eurasian Nuthatch, Hawfinch and both Short-toed and Common Treecreepers. The latter two can be hard to separate being very similar and often the only way to be 100% sure of safely identifying them is to hear them sing as they have totally different songs. Sometimes, when walking in the Buda Hills parties of Long-tailed Tits suddenly appear most with all white heads, unlike those in Britain. In spring and summer Collared Flycatchers and the odd Nightingale and Common Redstart sing here too and Yellowhammers perch from the tops of bushes in scrubby areas that are regenerating. This often surprises birders from the UK who usually regard these buntings as farmland birds.

Tawny Owl and Stock Dove also breed in these woods, the latter often nesting in Black Woodpecker holes. And indeed, ultimately, it is the woodpeckers that consistently draw me back. Seven species of woodpecker are resident here living side by side but each with their own niche and on a good day, armed with a knowledge of their calls and a little luck, all can be seen. Lesser, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, Green, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers are resident in the woods proper and Syrian Woodpecker are usually found in the nearby gardens rather than deep in the woodland proper. My favourite areas lie off the road from Normafa to Janos-hegy (Janos Hill), which is the highest point in Budapest. There is an old observatory building here with panoramic views of the city. It used to be topped by a massive Red Star but that, along with all the other former Communist symbols, was taken down in the early 1990s.

Away from the woods Budapest has several other fine birding spots. The city is dominated by the River Danube that for most of the year is not particularly good for birds, though there are usually some gulls and cormorants about. But in autumn and winter comes into its own. My favourite spots from which to scan the river in these seasons lie in the north by Arpad Bridge (Arpad-hid) and on Obuda Island (Obuda-sziget). Common Pochard, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Velvet and Common Scoters, Goldeneye and Smew are all regularly seen on the river here. Black-throated and Red-throated Divers also use the river on passage and there are sometimes a few Caspian Gull amongst the more regular Yellow-legged Gulls. The larger Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) is a recreational area and best birded on a weekday as it can be very busy at the weekends. Most of Budapest’s typical urban birds such as European Serin, Hawfinch and Black Redstart are here and in winter flocks of Bohemian Waxwing, Eurasian Siskin and Common Crossbill often drop in. By the way, it’s worth noting that both Syrian and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are found in Budapest’s parks.

Some years ago after realising just how good the birding in Budapest can be, I decided to offer one day and half-day bird finding trips for visitors in and around Hungary’s beautiful capital. And over the years many birders over in Hungary on business or attending conferences have taken advantage of this service with the number one target often being one of my favourite birds… Black Woodpecker!

About the author

Gerard GORMAN is author of The Birds of Hungary (Helm), Birding in Eastern Europe (Wildsounds), Woodpeckers of Europe: A Study of the European Picidae (Bruce Coleman Books), Central & Eastern European Wildlife (Bradt). The Black Woodpecker (Lynx Edicions) Woodpeckers of the World (Bloomsbury).

Check out his website and blogs:

Birding in Eastern Europe: Probirder

Woodpeckers

Birding Eastern Europe

Bucharest Birding

Gerard Gorman chills out with the Pygmy Cormorants

There can’t be many European capital cities in which a “Globally Threatened” bird species occurs, but that is the case with Bucharest. The bird in question is the Pygmy Cormorant that not only just occurs but it is almost guaranteed in Romania’s capital in winter. And there is even better news… they seem to be increasing in number every year turning up on most unfrozen urban wetlands from October through to March.

Fairly reliable places in Bucharest to see Europe’s smallest and rarest cormorant are the Parcul Carol (Carol Park), Parcul Titan (Titan Park), Parcul Plumbuita (Plumbuita Park) and the man-made lakes of Herastrau and Floreasca along the River Colentina in the north of the city near the Village Museum. In the depths of winter from December to February the cormorants like to sit in lakeside trees at these sites. Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Grey Heron, Great White Egret and Yellow-legged Gull are other wintering wetland birds whilst a search of the conifers in the parkland at Herastrau can turn up roosting Long-eared Owls. Syrian and Green Woodpeckers are resident and in passage periods waders such as Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Common Snipe drop in.

If you find yourself in Bucharest in spring or summer you probably won’t be able to chill out with the Pygmy’s but there will be many other urban birding delights in store. I have actually seen Ferruginous Duck, Little Egret, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Green, Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers, Spotted and Collared Flycatchers, Golden Oriole, Common Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike, Crested Lark, Icterine Warbler, Tree Sparrow and Hawfinch all within the city limits.

Many of these birds occur in the Gradina Botanica (Botanical Gardens) along with resident Grey-headed Woodpecker and in summer Common Scops Owl. Parcul Tineretului (Tineretului Park) is home to several of the woodpeckers and in summer Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike and Hoopoe. Gradina Cismigiu situated opposite the Mayor’s office off Boulevard Regina Elisabeta and Parcul Plumbuita are other good urban parks with the usual suspects breeding.

Local birders tell me that Hobby is often seen hawking over the Parcul Herastrau and I once saw a superb male Levant Sparrowhawk over this same parkland though I am not sure if this a regular site or not. Parcul Herastrau is in the north of the city and best approached from Boulevard Aviatorilor to the south.

Now, all this is capital birding by any standards, but just a short way out of Bucharest and there is even more. Nesting White Storks, Western Marsh Harrier, Turtle Dove and Lesser Grey Shrike amongst others, all come into play. Padurea Baneasa (Baneasa Forest) lies roughly half-way between the airport and the city centre and has breeding Eurasian Hobby, Common Buzzard, Grey-headed and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Golden Oriole. Just east of Bucharest is Padurea si Lacul Cernica (Cernica Lake and Forest) that has these same birds plus Black Woodpecker. To find this site head in the direction of the monastery that shares the same name. In passage periods, particularly August and September, flocks of White Stork pass this way and raptors such as Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle and a few Levant Sparrowhawks move through. Be warned however that on at weekends and on public holidays with fine weather some of these places see an influx of folks from the city that like to play loud music whilst tending their smokey sausage barbecues!

About the author

Gerard GORMAN is author of The Birds of Hungary (Helm), Birding in Eastern Europe (Wildsounds), Woodpeckers of Europe: A Study of the European Picidae (Bruce Coleman Books), Central & Eastern European Wildlife (Bradt). The Black Woodpecker (Lynx Edicions) Woodpeckers of the World (Bloomsbury).

Check out his website and blogs:

Birding in Eastern Europe: Probirder

Woodpeckers

Birding Eastern Europe