I regularly travel to Hungary because Vivien, my girlfriend, comes from there. Fortunately, her parents live near Kiskunság National Park, where the largest population of Great bustards (Otis tarda) of the country can be found. Needless to say, those endangered big chickens have become quite an obsession of mine!
In October, I had some fantastic days in the field which I want to tell you about. Ladies and gentlemen, follow the guide :D
We are starting in the east, in Hortobágy National Park. That world-famous biodiversity hotspot is a stopover place for Common cranes (Grus grus) in the autumn, and they have been more and more numerous since feeding started (think 75,000 of them in the region, no less!).
Seeing them take off in the morning, one small group after the other, was a phenomenal experience. My friend Yves Adams took me to a great spot in the puszta (the Hungarian steppe), and we watched, in awe.
In the afternoon, we encountered a few Eurasian dotterels (Charadrius morinellus) on migration. After greeting them on their breeding grounds, in the Finnish tundra, it was fun to see them again.
Back in central Hungary, conditions were just as misty in the morning. It was a warm October (I think it went up to 22ºC during the day), with the unexpected joy of dealing with mosquitoes again… but the bustards hang out in a field that was somewhat close to the road, or at least closer than usual. I still had to work on loose compositions, but for once I could create images that I was proud of.
As a grassland bird that evolved around extensive cattle grazing, the Great bustard has suffered from the spread of monoculture. Around the national park, patchy croplands have offered them a habitat in which they can thrive, provided they are not too disturbed. As a matter of fact, I only ever see them around the protected area, not inside, and I like how some of these images reflect that while being artistic. Aren’t these crop leading lines amazing?
The Great bustards are pretty much impossible to approach by foot, they are very skittish. Since they are not very mobile, it’s also difficult to set up a hide and wait for them to show up, because it might take a long while… However, I discovered that Hen harriers (Circus cyaneus) and Grey partridges (Perdix perdix) can be completely oblivious of my presence if I’m under camouflage. On a warm afternoon, that’s how I witnessed amazing hunting scenes, with the harriers lazily gliding over the fields as they tend to do, and then all of a sudden it’s the explosion and the partridges take to the air to escape the threat. This scene repeated several times, with the poor partridges bouncing from location to location, never allowed to rest. I didn’t see any catch though, they all managed to flee unscathed.
Above: hunting scene between a Hen harrier and a group of Grey partridges (Perdix perdix)
In the distance, the Roe deers were always faithful companions.
In the Great Hungarian Plain, the air is usually hazy, dusty. That makes golden hours really weird, with sunrise actually happening later than the official time, because the sun needs to rise above the haze before becoming visible. In such conditions, there’s no way to take pictures in the very best low light that I love, because it simply doesn’t appear. At the same time, I can shoot the sun itself longer and still end up with colours in it, so there are upsides to the situation. I must confess it was difficult to edit the first images, because it was so dark. Even though I removed noise in DxO PureRaw, the colours went bonkers when I touched various exposure sliders. In addition, I didn’t really know what result I wanted, which didn’t help. In the end, I like them, they are special to me, though I wish the bustards were a bit more discernible.
Did you enjoy this Hungarian excursion? Let me know in the comments below!
Sign up for the email list and never miss any Story from the Wild