There are many interesting and beautiful places in the world. For some it is necessary to travel to the opposite side of the globe, others we have a little behind the house. The latter undoubtedly include the Hortobagy National Park in Hungary. An autumn visit to this jewel of the Pannonian lowland offers many amazing photographic and ornithological experiences.
Hungary is geographically Central Europe. By car from Prague to Budapest, if there is no traffic collapse on the highway, you can drive in a few hours. It is about a two-hour drive from the Hungarian capital. Hortobágy National Park is the largest Hungarian national park. It was founded in 1973 as the very first in Hungary. It covers an area of 801 km2 and a substantial part of it has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999. The average altitude of the park is 90 m above sea level.
In our eyes, the Hungarian puszta may seem like an infinitely monotonous and boring landscape. However, what it lacks in vertical variety, it catches up many times with horizontal variability. The breathtaking plain is a mosaic of grassy salt steppes with characteristic rocking wells alternated by extensive oak and beech forests. Together with rivers and streams, swamps, peat bogs and ponds, it creates a variable and varied mixture of completely different localities, which of course reflects on the species diversity of both plants and animals. And of course the birds.
The symbol of the autumn atmosphere of the Hortobágy National Park and its wide surroundings is the only bird species. Gray Crane. The populations of northeastern and eastern Europe spend the winter in the Mediterranean in the Balkans and in Turkey. After flying over the Slovak mountains, he finds a suitable refuge in the local landscape to rest and replenish energy supplies. Up to 70,000 individuals of this species gather here on countless bodies of water in the autumn. Their morning and evening flights between the night and the place of food collection are a fascinating spectacle. During our visit, we had an exceptional opportunity to look into the private life of the Gray Crane from its overnight stays, but also the family life of couples with teenage youngs.
However, cranes are not the only bird species that can be found here. On the way south, many species of marsh, seagulls, ducks, as well as herons and spoonbills stop here. Small songbirds or, conversely, large, raptors, move to the southern areas. Watching an eagle in the wild while bathing is a real rarity. If you catch a Imperial eagle and a White-tailed eagle while swimming, it is such a special moment that will probably never be repeated.
In addition to the clearly dominant bird species, the Crane, the local landscape of endless reeds has another bird phenomenon. It is significantly smaller and despite its colorful color is not so noticeable in the landscape. But just stop for a moment at the edge of the reeds and after a while you will hear its characteristic lure. Bearded reedling. The flock of these agile, beautifully colored songbirds are not too afraid of humans when crawling on the reed stalks, and they can often be observed at a distance of even a few meters.
Due to the vastness of the whole area and the number of suitable localities, it is often difficult to find the most interesting where the birds are at the moment. It all depends on the season, the weather, the water level in the locality. Amazing places for bird watching are also outside the borders of the national park. It is therefore advisable to set aside at least one full week to visit the Hortobagy National Park.
Although I visited this area in the fall, I was very surprised by the numbers of birds and bird species. If we add quality accommodation services and great Hungarian cuisine, a visit to the Hortobagy National Park is definitely worth it.