Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hungary for Birds - Day 4: Big Bird Bonanza

I woke in the middle of the night to a familiar sound from the UK, that of heavy rainfall outside. Its looked like the forecast for the fourth day of being less than favourable weather was going to be correct. I drift back into sleep for what seemed like a moment before the alarm clock burst in to life. A couple of coffees later and we were waiting in a puddled filled car park under grey skies to be collected for the day's photography in what was known as the 'Egret Hide'.

A short drive later and we came off the main road and bumped our way along a dirt track across the grassland plains. A small tree line in the distance marked our destination and as we drew near a number of large birds took flight and glide off to land several fields away. In the middle of the grassland was a small muddy pool approximately 60 metres long by 25 metres wide with two hides set at one end. One of the hides was only used for winter Crane photography and we took up our position in the other.

Each of the hides in Hungary has its own specific set of rules to prevent disturbance to the birds. The rule for this hide was that you couldn't leave it until our driver returned in the evening. He pointed to a bottle and bucket in the corner and we were told to use as the call of nature demanded.

I am going to split this day across two blog posts otherwise it will be a post with a huge number of images from what proved to be another very productive day in Hungary. For this first post I will concentrate on three of the day's species Grey Herons, Great White Egret and Spoonbill. The others I will save for my next post.

The pool in front of us had been emptied of birds by our arrival, so while we waited for their return Gerhard decided to have a snooze to catch up on some sleep. The repeated early mornings were starting to sap our energy levels. It was not long before the first bird swooped in in the shape of a Grey Heron, then another appeared and another until there were seven birds poised in motionless stances around the pool.

A large black shape glided across the surrounding plains and came in to land like a stalling barn door, the first Black Stork had arrived. Over the next 5 minutes this was joined by a further 17 young non-breeding Black Storks ranging in colour from young to adult plumage together with 5 White Storks, A Great White Egret and a Spoonbill. The small pond was now very crowded with these large fish-eating birds looking for breakfast and they all went on an early morning fishing spree. This was not a good place to be a fish and Crucian carp of between 15 to 30 cms in length were being pulled out all over the small lake.

It was interesting to compare the different fishing techniques of the birds. The storks walked purposely up and down stabbing the water to the left and right until they made contact with a fish. The herons stood motionless waiting for a movement in the water at which to lunge their attack. The spoonbill waded up and down the lake scything its long bill backwards and forwards through the water until it made contact with its scaly snack. The Great White Egret just followed the Spoonbill around and chased it until it dropped the fish it had just caught. As you can imagine given this high density of large birds the inevitable squabbles broke out between birds whenever a fish was caught. Hopefully you now have a picture in your mind of the scene so I better post some photos starting off with a familiar bird from home, the Grey Heron.

We had brief heavy showers through the day.
Another carp bites the dust. I have not seen a heron stab a fish like this before but when you have three Black Storks in pursuit any method of carrying the fish away to safely eat will do.
It was good to finally get up close to a Great White Egret. I have seen these birds on a couple of occasions in the UK, and they have successfully bred here  the first time this year in Somerset. Hopefully a sign of greater numbers being around in the future. I have also seen these birds in Mallorca, however on both occasions they have always been a little distant for my liking. On this occasion they were often too close being right in front of the hide, so that all you could fit in frame was a head.
Preening those long breeding feathers during a brief down pour.
They are elegant looking birds in flight.
Spoonbills are another bird I have seen in the UK but only at a distance that is too far away to photograph. Again I had an encounter in Mallorca with a young bird which provided my first photographs of this species. I am not sure what it is about Spoonbill but I must admit I find them very appealing birds. The Spoonbill that visited the Hungarian hide was in full breeding colours with a yellow tipped bill, red and and yellow throat patch and apricot coloured shoulder band. There could have been three Spoonbills but this bird made sure no others used the pond by chasing them away every time they tried to land.
Again this bird came incredibly close, unaware of the photographers concealed behind the one-way glass of the hide. It was great to see that amazing ridged paddle bill in close-up.

Despite the weather it was turning in to another special day in Hungary. For me the real star birds of the day were the Black Storks, a species I have only previously admired in zoos, and which will be the main focus of my next post.


Christian said...

Absolutely stunning images, the speared carp is especially incredible.

Robin said...

Rich, Stunning shots!

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Magical, so wonderous, it just seems that you never miss a beat, these are rich in every quality that counts for making exceptional photographs~

earthenmagic said...

...plain natural awesomeness! ~ thankyoU! ~ sO much for this amazing share! ~ blessed be!... ...xXx... ...Samantha...

Marc Heath said...

Brilliant shots Rich.


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