Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Another Well orgainised circular trip taking in Czech Republic, Slovakia Hungary and Poland. Part One

Back in February I bought a ticket to Brno for around £24 on way and a return ticket from Prague 2 weeks later for £55. Not at all bad. The reason I chose Brno is that is in South Moravia and I have friends who live there I hadn't seen since 2001 when I went there with Grant. Plus it's easy travel to Budapest and right next to Austria and Slovakia. So, I packed light. By the time I went I had crambed my tent into my small rucksack, some clothes, Nick's camera and my recording stuff minus the umbrella into 2 bags. I didn't fancy paying the excess baggage fee that Ryan air charged, so didn't take a sleeping bag or sleeping mat (very bad move!). Of course I didn't care back then but was a little worried.

I arrived in Brno and David, Lenka and their kids met me at Turany airport, his elder son loves seeing the planes come in. David is a professional ornithologist/naturalist and I had first met him and his former partner Alice back in 1996. David said there had been a couple of Crested Larks just before I arrived but they proved hard to find. There was a lone Fieldfare on the grass outside the terminal and about 5 Kestrels hunting around the airfield. I had booked a hotel in the Bratislavská district of Brno, in a gypsy neighbourhood and there was a band playing just past the hotel that hailed from somewhere near the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Also all the museums in Brno were open all night, free of charge. We then had a nice meal in a pub, went to a square with series of impressive, expensive, high tech water-fountains which all kids for miles were drawn to, then took the now tired kids back to their apartment and me and David went out drinking till about 1 am and had a chance to catch up. Fourteen years is a long time!

The following day I went for a walk in a park called Špilberk where there was a singing male Collared Flycatcher and 2 Redstarts. I then caught a train to a village called Pouzdrany. When I tried to get of the train I couldn't open the door and ran to the next carriage got the door open only to find the train pulling off, I managed to jump out but couldn't shut the train door. The guy who had got off behind me waved his arms to say don't worry about it, so that put me at ease at bit. I forgot that the trains never stop at these small village platforms for very long.

That done I walked to a big reservoir complex called Nové Mlýny (New Mills). I have been here maybe 3 or 4 times. It's really best in the winter and during migration, but there were loads of good passerines (for UK standards anyway). There was a group of 53 Red-crested Pochard on a small lake just down from Pouzdrany, a Black Woodpecker flew across and landed on a small tree stump, again I wasn't quick enough to photograph it before it flew off. Along the walk towards the western side of the res there were more Collared Flycatchers singing, at least 9 Icterine Warblers, 2 River Warblers cicadering away from a scrubby field, Savi's Warbler reeling from the reedbeds, several Marsh, Reed and Sedge Warblers and at least 12 Great Reed Warblers croaking away, a Honey Buzzard displaying in butterfly-like flight, a Grey-headed Woodpecker, Syrian Woodpeckers, Serin, Nightingales, Penduline Tit, Hobby, Red-backed Shrike, a few Golden Orioles and more.

I was aiming for a camp site near Pasohlávky, but ended up staying again in a hotel called Terminal thinking the campsite had gone, but it turned out it was still there. I took a walk around the south of the reservoirs in the evening, though this meant walking the busy Mikulov - Vienna road along to the south, not particularly advisable.

In August 1996, a friend and I waded out to this church (then derelict) and slept
inside for the night, we had to swim one section of a few metres on a hot evening
seeing Night Herons en route.  Now I think it is very hard to get over there. 
Devin Hill and the Palava Hills, my next port of call. Main specialities here
are Barred Warbler (supposedly), Red backed Shrike, Wryneck, Hawfinch and it
is a wintering area for Wallcreeper but very hard to find  apparently.
This Great Reed Warbler was grating away right next to the main Vienna Road
On the Sunday afternoon, David texted me to say they were up on Pouzdrany Step, a great area for some rare flora and insects. He said he'd heard 5 singing Barred Warblers as well as 7 Bee-eaters (probably a colony nearby), plus a rare beetle.

After a comfortable night and breakfast which I paid 8 euros for I took my stuff and went around the south of the reservoirs where I scanned a distant White-tailed Eagle, Med Gull and Night Heron (there being a small colony here) then up to the Palava Hills to look for Barred Warbler, as I had seen them here in July 2001. However, I could not locate any, though there were still good birds up here, Collared Flycatchers, Black Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and an amazing amount of limestone flora and some stunning views.

I spent a good deal of the Monday up here, then set up my tent in a campsite at the next village called Pavlov. 3 Bee-eaters flew over on my way in to the campsite. Then I returned to the hills for the evening watching Kestrels and Hobbies hunting and a group of about 4 Ravens which seemed to be keeping an eye on my movements, sometimes flying in very close to. It was a nice fairly hot, 26-28 centigrade during the day.

Female Black Redsart (abundant species in the area)

Burning Bush (Dictamnus albus) -  Devin Hill

Scarce Swallowtail - Devin Hills

Queen-of-Spain Fritillary (I think)
The Tuesday, I got a bus to Lednice and walked to Lednice fish ponds. I met a birder on the way standing outside an immense grand Austrian style hotel, He knew David and he was taking a birding tour around the area. He gave me the heads up on where to see singing Barred Warbler. But he sounded suprised I asked as they are common birds in the area. I eventually found about 3 males displaying along some hedgebanks between vineyards, and watch a pair of Bee-eaters hunting insects from high up on electricity cables. The birdlife along the edge of the reservoirs was thriving with basically most of the species I had a Nove Mlyny. A lot of Golden Orioles this time, more Nightingales, but not much on the fish ponds themselves, Marsh Harriers, Greylags, a couple of Caspian Gulls etc.

As it was hot during the day it wasn't too bad sleeping until it got past midnight, then it was pretty cold. There was a mad Icterine Warbler I heard outside the tent that even gave some bursts of song during the small hours. Plus the sound of distant Great Reed Warblers all night. So quite pleasant other than that.
Serin, another abundant species - I think I counted 8-10 singing
males one evening in Pavlov alone.
The following morning I left for a town called Breclav to catch a train to Budapest. Breclav is not the nicest of towns, rather grim and post industrial, so definately not the place to hang around. When I first came here in 2001 it was even stranger, rows of taxis lined the streets with apparently no one else about. David said they were there to collect the Austrian businessmen and take them to the brothels. No one else could afford to use taxis. 

Anyway today, I had 3 minutes to catch the train and I was off. Not far from hear is an area of floodplain forest on the aluvial plain of the Morava and Dyje rivers that eventually flow into the Danube. I visited this site (a game preserve) in February 2001. It is right at the bottom tip of the Czech Republic bordering Austria and Slovakia and has a series of oxbow river systems, dense forest and marsh. Here there is a now healthy population of breeding Imperial Eagles. I saw three here on that trip plus two pairs of Saker Falcon which have now gone apparently. 

The first bird I saw when I went quickly across the border to Slovakia was a Hoopoe. Not my first Slovakian species, as I have been in the country before but a good one. The train journey was pleasant enough, one exceptional looking place in Hungary was called Nagymaros.

I reached Budapest Kaleti station at lunchtime, had a quick walk around the area, it was a pleasant day, very warm. I was going to head for a place called Dunavarsány, about 15 miles south of Budapest. When I asked for a ticket in my perfect Anglo-Hungarian accent, the women at the booth obviously had no idea what the hell I was on about. So I got a ticket from the machine. I had to change trains at Ferencváros. I found a train going to Dunavarsány, but had to ask by showing my ticket to the guard. I found it hard to know which station was which, none seemed to have obvious signs!

There was a woman on the carriage begging for money in a dreadful state, alcoholic. One guy got angry with her, it was quite grim as she smelled terrible. I saw a station that looked like it had the right name, she got off too. I hopped off the train into a suburban town where I got lost for two hours. I could hear Bee-eaters at one point somewhere to the south, so that gave me hope I may be in the right area. I asked at several shops if they knew of a waterpark nearby, as that was were I knew there was a camp site but had no luck. One really helpful women in a small shop gave me directions to a penzion, so I spend an hour trying to find that only to find it closed. It was really humid and I couldn't understand why this town was so big.

There was nothing else for it. Beer. I found a small bar populated by a young couple, a bar maid and her boyfriend. I felt better after a beer. It was clear that thunderstorms were building up in the distance. From the couple at the bar I managed to get the idea I had got off at the wrong station, they pointed towards the bus stop, so I caught a bus south, the next town was Taksony, there was a sign to Bugyi, that was great. It turned out I had got off the train at Dunaharaszti  (a lot of towns have Duna at the beginning of their name as it means simply Danube). I walked a few miles along the road to Bugyi (as this was the place I intended to go birding). Then I saw the sign post to the Rukkel-tó waterpark, it was 3kms away. I walked along a busy unrestricted road with trucks going to and from sand quarries. I passed an abandoned quarry with a couple of Great Egrets on it. There were Nightingales singing from the Robinia scrub. Then I came to the waterpark with its impressive water slides, it was empty.

The owner and another younger guy were at the gate. They said the weren't open but didn't mind me camping in the park. They were both very pleasant. The younger guy spoke perfect English and gave me bus times and showed me where to camp. He said the toilet block was open but there was no hot water. That didn't bother me at the time. I think it cost something like 1500 forint a night, 4.5 euros. He also added before he left that there was a guard dog here at night, 'he's quite friendly but don't wander too far at night' At night. Quite friendly, that sounds okay.

This is what it's like in the high summer.
I put up the tent and sat by the lake and had a couple of beers. Thunderstorms began to roll in across from the South-west but looked like they were passing way off. The clouds were impressive.

And this is what it looked like when I came here
I sat there enjoying the cooling air. It was getting apparent the thunderstorms were going to come right across me as it got dark. I decided to move everything into the toilet block and left the tent.
A massive and quite violent series of thunderstorms hit for most of the early part of the night, the sky was incredible, with an awesome display of lighting. There was a strong gale blowing, wind was blowing the doors of the toilet block open. This, the thunder and the sound of the huge quarry trucks rolling past with all the spray from the road added to a rather intense atmosphere. The weather was cooling. I tried to sleep on the cold tiled floors of the block but found it very uncomfortable. During the storms in the middle of the night, a bird landed on the door with a beak full caterpillars, it was a Black Redstart, she had a nest in the woman's toilet block next door. Strangely I only entered the women's toilet block once as it felt wrong, but that's strange, there was only me here!

Eventually the storms subsided and I went out, rain had set in with a feel of permanence, I looked for the tent but couldn't find it in the dark. Then I found it, it was flattened and looked like a deflated children's paddling pool of water in the middle. That's that then. Off to the toilet block for a very uncomfortable night. The temperature had dropped considerably.

After a fairly shitty night I awoke (if I slept at all, I'm not sure) to the sound of Golden Orioles above me and a pair of Black Woodpeckers flying from tree to tree in the dim light. Great Reeds continued grating off in the distance.

I walked to the bus stop to get a bus to Bugyi, using the timetable the kind gentleman from the office written for me. Bugyi was a small village. I scanned fields looking for signs of any Bustards, but there didn't seem to be anything on the fields at all. I walked along a road and came to an open playing field that had a few Mediterranean Gulls on it, behind that I could see a Marsh Harrier. That looked good, I continued along to a junction that led to long straight road in very bad repair, that looked even better, From here I walked along a track through some reed beds. Savi's Warblers were singing with Great Reed, Reed, Sedge, Marsh Warblers and a male White-spotted Bluethroat appeared. A male Montagu's Harrier was hunting the field nearby, then another along with several Marsh Harriers. This was it. the northern end of the Kiskunsag National Park. Blue headed Wagtails flew over, I walked back the road, a Long-eared Owl was flying in and out of the hedgerow along the road and disappearing, then reappearing, even in front of the odd passing car or lorry (of which, here there were relatively few). I continued along the rutted, tarmacked road. I came across some huge fields to the south. Scanned across. There was an object moving along a bank between the field. I looked automated like some kind of brown and white buggy. Is that a Great Bustard, I couldn't comprehend it at first, it was a Great Bustard, a displaying male. Way too far off to photograph. Then 2 females. Then several in flight, then more behind me. I counted 11 in all. Then I could hear a Collared Pratincole, which landed in a field to the North, again a long way off.

A scene like this looks rather unimpressive, but that is not the case, this is a fantastic area!
Penduline Tit. What a shot!
A Great Grey Shrike appeared, 3 Red backed Shrike. A pair of Black winged Stilts in the distance, alarming Black tailed Godwits, drumming Snipe, Quail calling, Tawny Pipit on the fields, lots more Mediterranean Gulls. 2 Bee-eaters flew over.  Several Corn Buntings singing.

Obviously my award winning photos of Red-footed Falcons mating on the wing
'Great capture, Genghis' was not going to happen, couldn't find one. Seen loads anyway.
Mind you I got this shot of Great Grey Shrike. No comments
The weather actually looked like it had improved for a short while, then rain set in again and I retreated back to the waterpark. I had a look around the waterpark for anything that could help keep me warm, I found a towel (I had gone to buy a towel in Bugyi too). I found a sleeping pad, bonus, a bit dirty, but it would do. I found a sweatshirt that smelt of putty and paint. These would help. No they wouldn't as it turned out, the tent was leaking continuously, everything got wet, the rain would not cease. It was an even worse night, hardly slept at all, constantly moving between a cold tent and a cold toilet block. It was a long night, I eventually slept from about 3am till 5am. Woke up to 2 or more Golden Orioles singing which was nice. Right today I'm off to Budapest to get a sleeping bag.

So I spent a rainy day wandering around Budapest. Walked from Ferencváros right to the city centre, bought an army surplus sleeping bag, then found my card wasn't working, had to phone the bank, they said the chip was faulty. So I transferred money from my other account on to my credit card. Not ideal. Anyway that's a boring story. I was trying to get to the Danube river. Every time I thought I was going the right direction, I was heading the opposite way. I found myself in some strange area of False Acacia scrub in the middle of a railway junction. I even heard a Marsh Warbler singing in here, amongst the Robinia, odd habitat. I walked the wrong way along Róbert Károly Street but then realised my error and walked around to the Danube, where the rain set in good and proper. However, it was an enjoyable walk and in spite of the weather, a very beautiful city.

Budapest Wash-out!
A Cinderalla shop

Reminds me of Istanbul old part of the city
I got a metro back and then got the bus to Taksony and walked from there. A Crested Lark fed along the roadside on my way back. The trucks on the road seemed even more intense this afternoon.
With my new sleeping bag, I decided to dry the tent and put it up under a sheltered 'stage' area I had seen. I tied the ropes to the poles, banged in a few pegs. Now the tent was completely out of the rain, it began to dry. I went to bed really early, being so tired. The sleeping bag was warm, like a womb. It felt good. The best sleeping bag I've slept in. I was out. Then after no time was awoken by a sound. A dog barking by the tent. shit! It was the guard dog, he's seen an unfamiliar shape in the dark and he's barking at me. There was nothing for it. Beer? No, I let out a rather high pitched 'It's okay, it's okay'. This seemed to work, he started walking off barking at something else in the distance only dogs could hear. Then suddenly there was something sniffing at the front of my tent. I left food out! Fuck! Hang on, I could hear the dog further over in the distance, so what was this animal, Beech Marten, Fox? It didn't stick about. The dog actually came back a couple of times, but it sounded like it was quite an old dog with a rather gummy sound, old with no teeth, just there as a deterrent.

As I left the Waterpark this gorgeous Hoopoe took off from the grass and landed
next to a Woodpigeon in a tree. Record shot of course. I have a much better one.

In my next instalment I head back to the Czech Republic, meet a nice girl in Trutnov who lets me have a penzion all to myself in the Krknose mountains where I take walks every day, and live in peace and harmony and luxury.

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