The Cranes on Hortobágy
I have been a long time follower of Sakertour, both on Facebook and their blog. And when I saw a possibilities of visiting their hides, I made contact with János Oláh. He was of great help, and together we went through traveling route and booked a bed & breakfast for two nights. There is also an hotel in the area, if you prefer that over B&B.
Most Scandinavians would probably hired a photography hide at Hornborgasjön (Lake Hornborga) in southern Sweden. Interested can contact Falköping Tourist Information.
Getting to Hortobágy
Just as the migration of the cranes in the autumn, I fly also in the direction Hungary. The only difference is that I fly comfortable with Norwegian. From the Ferihegy airport I took the intercity train to Debrecen. Tickets can be bought at the airport, and remember that on parts of the trains you will need a seat reservation as well. The time schedule to Debrecen can be found at MÁV-START. In Debrecen you change train to Balmazújváros, a town only 27 km away.
A characteristic town of the Great Hungarian Plain with 18,800 inhabitants, located 25 km from Debrecen at the north-eastern edge of the Hortobágy National Park, bordered by the tourist area of Hajdúszoboszló-Debrecen-Hortobágy. The settlement gained the privileges of a market-town already in medieval times.
Darassa Puszta, which is the most valuable and colourful part of the Hortobágy National Park, is situated near the town.
Tourists are attracted by the all year round open medicinal thermal bath with 6 pools and the growing number of places for private accommodation. The hotel were the photographers are accommodated is next to this bath and only a 100 meters from the railway station. Visitors of the hotel have free access to the thermal bath, a good thing if you are staying for more then one day!
Hortobágy is both the name of a village in Hajdú-Bihar county and an 800 km² national park in Eastern Hungary. It is the largest continuous natural grassland in Europe. The area became a national park in 1973. A major part of the area of the National Park is formed by natural habitats, alkaline grasslands, and meadows, smaller and bigger marshes enclosed between them. Some artificial wetlands covering a much smaller area are of considerable importance: these are the fishponds, situated on 6 thousand hectares. The marshes and fishponds are breeding habitats of birds and important sites for the migrating birds.
The system of fishponds of Hortobágy-Halastó covering 2073 hectares was created in 1915 in a alkaline grassland area called “Csúnyaföld” (Bad Lands). Formerly there were seventeen ponds, while now seven are out of use being covered by reed or other marsh vegetation. 14 bird lookouts can be found here. The appearance of 340 bird species has been registered in Hortobágy, of which 160 species nest in the National Park. Among them are the Common Crane, Dotterel, Stone Curlew and Great Bustard (The Great Bustard programme). It cannot be doubted that one of the most spectacular sights is the migration of the cranes in the autumn. Tens of thousands of Cranes, which is also the symbolic bird of the Park, can be seen every October as they fly above the grasslands to their overnight roosting places. The Hortobágy Great Fishponds are considered as one of the most important waterbird habitats in Europe.
The Hortobágy National Park has been inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO on the 1st of December in 1999 in the category of cultural landscapes, since the Hortobágy Puszta have been used by humans for grazing their domestic animals for more than two millennia.
The Hortobágyi Bridge
A great stone bridge makes the symbol of the watery puszta (great plain). It was built between 1827 and 1833, and can be said to be the nerve centre of Hortobágy. The bridge has 9 arches and is 167,3m long. The stones for the construction were delivered fom Tokaj. It served as a significant commercial route from the Middle Ages regarding salt and cattle trade, and connected Transylvania and Pest-Buda.
The bridge is often photographed, it is extremely well known in the country, to such an extent that every year on August 20, a Bridge Fair is held here. This major event is the chance to rediscover the traditions of fairs dating back to the last century.
The Crane Hides
Sakertour has three crane hides, two mobile hides and the roosting hide. I stayed in the roosting hide for a day. The hide is 125 cm wide, 250 cm long and 125 cm high. The size of the photo-through window is 210 cm by 40 cm. It is comfortable for two photographers. I saw at once that the hide was made by Bence Maté.
The roosting hide has a strict regulation on its usuage, as the cranes are very shy birds. The hide cannot be abandoned during the day. I could enter the hide at 07:30 pm, and first leave it the next day at 16:30 am. That allowed me to take photos of the morning fly-in and the afternoon fly-out.
The migration of cranes (Grus grus) is a memorable late autumn experience. The number of cranes passing over the Hortobágy in October can be as high as a 100.000 birds.
The cranes arrive from North Europe to Hortobágy. Their most important breeding sites are in Sweden and Russia, but can be found in other Baltic states, in Norway, Poland and in Germany as well. Cranes once used to nest in Central Europe, but due to the deterioration of their preferred breeding sites, such as large and undisturbed wetlands, the breeding population disappeared from the region. Cranes most probably nested also in Hungary until the middle of the 19th century.
In Europe cranes use a western and an eastern route for their autumn migration. The cranes migrating on the eastern route have a rest in Estonia and Hungary (the western route leads to Spain and Portugal). Depending on the weather, they stay in Hungary for about 2 months, preparing themselves for the rest of their migration route to their wintering sites in Nothern Africa. In the southern part of the Hungarian Plain smaller flocks remain also for the winter. About 700-1000 individuals spend the entire summer here.
Sakertour lists some other birds visiting the hide: Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, and the White-tailed Eagle.
A Few Words About Sakertour
I thought I should end this blog entry with a few words about Sakertour. The company has specialised in birdwatching and hide photography, and has over 30 years of professional experience in habitat conservation, biodiversity research and ecotourism. Sakertour is university based and led by János Oláh. They organize birdwatching trips in Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.