Hortobagyi – Possibly the best birding site in Europe

Since it’s impossible to fly directly from Israel to Kuwait we had to make a forced layover somewhere en route. I’ll refrain from making any sarcastic commentary on this, anyways we decided to make a short stop in Hungary. The Saker Falcon is possible to get in Israel, Turkey and almost anywhere in  South-eastern WP.  They breed in Hungary though so we decided to go there.

Out of chance I saw a comment on our FB from a birder with a Hungarian sounding name and I reached out to Bence Kokay who provided perfect instruction to a pair of nesting Saker Falcons one hour south of Budapest. The birds were perching on pylons close to a nest box mounted high in the air on a pylon.

Saker Falcon
Saker Falcon

We had allocated yet another day to search for the Saker, so we decided to go to Hortobagyi National Park for some general birding.

We disrespectfully wrote on our FB once the Saker was secured, “It took us five minutes to clean up Hungary! Saker falcon, near Dömsöd”. We’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to Hungary for that comment. Hortobagyi is possibly the single best birding site in all of Europe, it cannot be cleaned up in 5 minutes. It’s situated on the famous Hungarian steppe, the Puszta, some two hours drive east of Budapest. Vast steppe and enormous reeds with lot’s of water (fish ponds) We had a full day of amazing birding, totalling 111 species making this day our best so far during the year.

Penduline Tit
Penduline Tit

Savi’s warbler was very common with maybe up to 50 singing males during the day.

Savi's Warbler
Savi’s Warbler

Also Bearded Reedling was common.

Bearded Reedling
Bearded Reedling

Whitestared Bluethroat was nice too, the Bluethroat race with a white patch on the throat.


At the very end of the day, we bumped into a group of French birders who said that they had had a group of 120 wintering Lesser White-fronted goose far out into one of the lakes. It was already getting dark, and it was 7 km walk to the place. Strenuous, but worth it. Spectacular birding at the tower at the end.

Tower at Hortobagyi
Tower at Hortobagyi
Tower at Hortubagyi
Tower at Hortubagyi

Thousands of Black-tailed Godwits, thousands of everything except the White-fronted Goose. A flock of approximately 120 birds could be seen on the grass on the other side of the lake, the birds were small and had a clear white front. This could very well be the birds, too far to make sure though. We decided to wait into the dark and hope for the birds to choose to spend the night on the lake instead of on the grass. They didn’t.

On the way back in the dark, freezing and tired we had awesome views of calling Barn owl and Long-eared Owl. Especially the spooky Barn owl is something extra.

Thanks Hungary, we’ll meet again.

3 thoughts on “Hortobagyi – Possibly the best birding site in Europe”

  1. I just saw your Hungarian list, and picked up, that you have seen 3 Lesser Kestrels at Hortobágy-halastó.
    The Lesser Kestrel is a major rarity in Hungary (with records in every 5 to 10 years), but a few pairs of Common Kestrels breed at the nestboxes there.
    If you sure about your observation (a photographic evidence would be nice), please send a detailed description to the Hungarian Rarities Comitte (nomenclator@birding.hu), but if not, I suggest to delete it from your list.



    1. Ok, and the views we had – claiming Lesser – were far from perfect, thus this was string. Thanks, we’ll
      delete the observations from our list. Thanks.

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